A seven-year project to enhance the living quarters at Iona Abbey is complete following a refurbishment worth in the region of £3.75million.
The project, carried out by Iona Community and designed to make the space accessible to all, was the brainchild of the Reverend Peter MacDonald, who died last year.
Iona is recognised historically as the birthplace of Christianity, dating back to 563AD when St Columba established his community on the island.
The living quarters of the abbey have not been upgraded since the 1960s.
Back then it was part of a rebuilding project that began in the 1940s before being halted by the Second World War.
Now, following extensive renovations and fundraising, with donations coming from 22 different countries across the globe, the project is complete.
‘The abbey has gone green’
Reverend Ruth Harvey, the current leader of Iona Community, expressed her delight at the finished product, which will support up to 30 jobs at the height of season.
Rev Harvey said: “It is looking fantastic. The team has been working up towards this reopening for the last few months.
“We were all set to go a year ago and the pandemic closed us down with just about two weeks of the work to complete.
“People who come can expect a warm welcome, beautiful space to live and to join with us in community.
“Then of course there is the scenery, the island, and the worship and engaging with the themes and concerns of the community.
“I am absolutely delighted with the quality of the finished product and the quality of the welcome that folk will receive.”
A lift has been installed to allow greater access for those with mobility issues, with an environmentally-friendly eco heating system installed.
A dumbwaiter has also been installed, much to the relief of staff who have often had to carry kilo bags of ingredients up stairs.
Rev Harvey added: “We say the Abbey has gone green.
“How you can do that to a 12th century building and retrofitting to make it fit for purpose for the 21st century is a big thing, but working with our architects they advised and supported us.
“We wanted the whole building to be warmer, accessible and welcoming.”
The Princess Royal will visit on Monday to officially open the living quarters after supporting the capital appeal project.
Boy sold toy to fund project
With more than 2,500 donations coming from 22 different countries, each donor is to be recognised in a specially constructed book.
In a design similar to the Book of Kells, their names will be etched in by a calligrapher to mark their generosity.
Behind each donor is a different story, with one nine-year-old boy, Joshua, selling one of his toys and donating the proceeds to the project.
Iona Abbey is a space for everyone, we are as excited as Joshua for him to come and see the refurbishment and enjoy a hot chocolate and bisucits in the Common Room again. Joshua was generous enough to sell one of his toys to help raise funds for the refurbishment. pic.twitter.com/vTvoTo5189
— The Iona Community (@ionacommunity) May 18, 2021
Other donations have come in the form of the offering from funerals, the month’s takings from a Stonehaven charity shop, and even from the local postmaster, who donated an extensive stamp collection to be auctioned off to raise funds.
The project has also been blessed by good faith too as a Miracle in May fundraising drive delivered the required £300,000 to allow phase two to begin, saving on costs of contractors having to relocate before returning.
Reverend Christine Jones, the co-ordinator of the capital appeal, said: “The stories behind each donation are stories of great generosity and how people’s lives have been touched by living in community.
“I think after this pandemic that is going to be a really important message.
“The appeal has raised all this money but underneath it, it has done something more profound in terms of the relationships and access.
“It has been a phenomenal experience to be part of.”
We can't wait to once again be able to welcome people from all over through the doors of the Abbey. Starting with our reopening on the 7th of June. (Photo Provided by Urzula Glienecke) pic.twitter.com/6wQDaVI0tc
— The Iona Community (@ionacommunity) May 23, 2021
The book of donors is to be digitised with a selection of stories to be accessible behind each name.
Plans are also in place to digitalise more content to allow it to be consumed by a wider audience.
Rev Harvey added: “We have to say a big thank you to our donors.
“They have been the ones who have really ploughed the furrow and paved the way so that the community can now open their doors again to folks across the spectrum of society.”
‘We would never want finance to be the final deciding factor’
Now complete, the Iona Community cannot wait to welcome guests, including those who have dug deep to make the vision a reality.
A week’s stay at the newly-refurbished living quarters will cost £595 per person for a week from Saturday to Friday, however, the community is seeking to make it accessible to all.
Rev Harvey added: “Many of the people we really want to prioritise to come are folks who could never afford that.
“There are standard subsidies for people who are on benefits, or unemployed, or students, or those on pensions, and then there is always additional subsidy available.
“We would never want finance to be the final deciding factor with folk who felt they weren’t able to come.”