work is due to start next month on a development project which experts believe is a first for the UK.
Houndwood Church, near Grantshouse, has been redundant since its final sermon in 2003. But from next month Edinburgh-based Carlton Group will oversee conversion work to transform part of the 175-year-old building into a crematorium.
Forecasts suggest it would host two cremations each working day from the Berwickshire, East Lothian and Northumberland areas.
The restoration will also see the main body of the listed Georgian building restored to include pews in the nave, a pulpit and lectern to allow for religious services to return once more to Houndwood, the Church of Scotland having also accepted an invitation from the Carlton Group to return to Houndwood Church for requested services.
Industry experts believe Houndwood will become the first building to be used for both cremations and burial services.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said: “I am not aware of any church building that has been converted into a crematorium. I believe Houndwood is unique.”
Local minister Reverend Norman Ross Whyte, who arrived in the parish in 2006, welcomed the forthcoming developments at Houndwood. He said it will once again give people the choice if they would like to use Houndwood Church for a religious service.
“I think some people would like to use the church for funerals and we will wait and see if there are any requests for weddings or christenings,” he said.
Houndwood Church was built throughout the mid 1830s to accommodate the Grantshouse and Reston communities. The first service, at what was initially called Renton Chapel, took place in 1836.
Houndwood became a parish within its own right just 15 years later. Considerable alterations were made to the building at the start of the twentieth century, coinciding with the opening of the church’s own graveyard.
Financial pressures forced the church’s closure in 2003. In 2007 Scottish Borders Council rejected a controversial planning application from development company West Park Properties to convert the church into flats.
But a revised application from the same company to convert the church into a crematorium was approved in 2009, and the Carlton Group bought Houndwood Church from West Park Properties earlier this year.
Project director Mark Lamb, from the Carlton Group, said interior furnishings had been sourced from a church in Wales. “We now have everything held in storage in Edinburgh,” he said. “We want to return Houndwood Church to its former glory.
“Several residents who worshipped at Houndwood have safeguarded many items from the church and we would like to thank them for offering to return them once the building can once again accommodate worship.”
As well as considerable restoration work to the main preacher-box design building, the Carlton Group has acquired neighbouring land to create a memorial garden.
Talks are underway with a local company to landscape the area, plant indigenous rowan and birch trees, and place occasional benches around the garden. Plans have also been drawn up to create parking bays outside the church, and introduce new safety measures on the access road.
At present, families wishing to cremate loved ones have to travel to either Edinburgh or Blyth, requiring round trips of up to 100 miles, although a new crematorium is being built at Melrose.
With almost 70 per cent of the UK population now choosing cremation over burial, forecast figures suggest the planned facilities at Houndwood will be well used from people across the region.
Mr Lamb added: “Cremations remain the preferred options for many and it is only right that the people of Berwickshire and surrounding areas have their own crematorium.”