In 2001 the Scottish Episcopal Church determined that St Margaret’s was no longer required by the diocese. In seeking to secure a future for the building, the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney offered ownership to Historic Churches Scotland, a national charity established for the preservation of historic places of worship. Instead, the SRCT opted to work with the diocese and the Braemar community to first identify an opportunity for St Margaret’s that would be beneficial for the building and the village. But consultation and appraisal failed to yield solutions and in 2003 the church, disused and deteriorating, was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register.
Efforts by Historic Churches Scotland and Diocese continued, joined in 2009 by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust, who undertook further public consultation to hear what the community needed and wanted. Again, the appraisal process had only limited success. Braemar was well provided for in terms of halls and meeting places, and any additional facilities required by the community proved a poor fit for an important historic church.
A turning point came in 2011 when a group of four local residents, the St Margaret’s Project Group, put forward their vision for the building. The group’s main aspiration was for St Margaret’s to become an asset to the community and to support the development of the local economy. Their intention was that the building should be used in a way that would help draw more visitors to the village, complementing established attractions such as Braemar Castle and the Braemar Gathering, and benefitting local businesses. Associated with this was the rescue of a deteriorating building within the village and an important part of Braemar’s Victorian heritage and townscape. The means of achieving this, the group proposed, was through the arts – and at a cultural level that matched the outstanding natural environment of the Cairngorm’s National Park.
With support from a range of stakeholders, including Scottish Enterprise, Aberdeenshire Council, and Historic Scotland, the Project Group began holding events in St Margaret’s. This enabled the building’s suitability for arts use to be tested and its profile to be raised. The exceptional acoustics and the enthusiastic support of musicians of international renown established the potential of St Margaret’s as a unique performance venue. Support from the Braemar community in attending, helping with and participating in a wide range of events became central to the regeneration of the building.
Encouraged by the success of the Project Group’s pilot events and with the viability of arts use confirmed, Historic Churches Scotland accepted ownership of St Margaret’s for a token £1 in September 2013. Since then, Historic Churches Scotland has worked together with the local Project Group to investigate and develop a regeneration project alongside Simpson & Brown Architects and, most recently, Jura Consultants.