Plans lodged to turn former church into circus training school

Community Circus Paisley hope to transform St Ninian's Church into a school for budding performers.

Plans lodged to turn former church into circus training school iStock

A community group have lodged plans to turn a former Paisley church into a training school for budding performers.

Community Circus Paisley (CCP) is looking to make the old St Ninian’s Church building in Ferguslie Park its first permanent home where people of all ages will be able to learn the flying trapeze, juggling, plate spinning and more.

The community interest company was started up in the summer by directors Scott Craig, Catherine Knowles and Shirley Alexander, all of whom are keen to bring meaningful artistic expression to a district that has had more than its fair share of twists and turns.

“I think this will be a big catalyst for a positive change in Ferguslie Park,” said 37-year-old Scott, who started learning circus in his birthplace of Australia before moving to Scotland, where his parents are from. 

“People are keen to change the perception of the place and improve things. They want more things to do.”

Ferguslie Park was regarded as the most deprived neighbourhood in Scotland for many years.

But it began to shed that reputation last year when it finally lifted itself off the bottom of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation table.

And Scott is determined to use circus activities to continue altering how people view the area.

He added: “Everyone we speak to is really into the idea because it’s not just about circus. The community is all about family and survival and we can create that vibe through circus and help people.

“Sometimes there’s not a lot of outlet for young people and I think Ferguslie Park is an area where people have been looking for some more artistic activities.”

After spending time working with Aerial Edge circus school in Glasgow, the trio were keen to set up a group with more of a community focus.

The team are also on a mission to get rid of the misconception you can’t perform in the circus if you’re older or you have to be super fit and flexible to take it on.

While Scott learnt the tricks of the trade when he was a child and spent years as a performer, coach and rigger with the likes of the Cirque Du Soleil, Shirley and Catherine – aged 52 and 62 respectively – had no background at all and got into the art later on in life.

“We’re keen to reverse these stories you have to start when you’re a child,” said Scott.

“It’s also a total myth you have to slow down when you’re older.

“Catherine started when she was 50, about ten years ago. She did not do anything physical really before that but then got into circus. Shirley’s background is in finance.

“We are really passionate about reversing all of that and showing how it can benefit young people too because we can teach them things like how to manage risk and express themselves.

“The sky’s the limit really. There is no upper age limit. It doesn’t matter if you’re not super athletic or you’re not really into acrobatics because they’re not the only things you can do and we believe in everyone.

“We’re planning on offering free or cheap classes for people in the local area as well.”

The search for a venue proved tough to begin with, but CCP was delighted to have an offer accepted for the Blackstoun Road church a few weeks ago and has now applied for planning permission to turn it into a circus school.

The church has not been in permanent use since the final service last September when dozens of people tuned in via social media for an emotional farewell.

Although the application has not yet been formally accepted, Scott is confident the plan will come together in a matter of weeks.

He said: “Looking for a venue was really difficult. There are hardly any big open spaces in Glasgow for community groups and we found ourselves trying to fight off developers coming in with crazy bids.

“St Ninian’s came up and the fact it doesn’t need much done to it is very unusual. 

“The minister Stuart Davidson has been really great. I think sometimes with organisations like the Church of Scotland it’s not always about the highest bidder, it’s about what the building is going to be used for.

“The council have been absolutely great and really supportive so far.

“We’re hopeful everything will be fine and we’ll have the keys by the end of the month.”

Reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Steph Brawn

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