Former church ascends to climbing glory

Above Adventure climbing centre within former church. Children on climbing wall. Stained glass windows in background.

Former church ascends to climbing glory

ABOVE ADVENTURE HAS SUCCESSFULLY RESCUED a former church in Kilmarnock and brought it back to use as a climbing and bouldering centre.

The completion of this £4million project represents the culmination of ten years of work to develop the concept, fundraise and deliver it on site.

The centre brief was to provide a regional climbing centre, as defined by Mountaineering Scotland / Climbing Scotland, within the confines of the existing church, while faithfully conserving the building and retaining as many historic features as possible.

The Kilmarnock-based charity was supported by a design team including John Gilbert Architects, Narro Associates and Reid Associates, with the construction work by local contractor Emtec.

Above Adventure relied on funding from a range of sources including SportScotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund along with significant financial and in-kind support from East Ayrshire Council.

The project consists of three elements – the former church hall, now a bouldering hall, changing rooms and classroom; the former church which holds the climbing hall and a new link block creating a new reception and cafe.

At the core of Above Adventure’s brief was to create a space as accessible as possible and to provide opportunities for everyone to engage in climbing and bouldering. This is reflected in facilities to support wheelchair climbing, the inclusion of a changing places toilet and a sensory room.

In 2009, the congregation moved out of the building and in the intervening years, the church’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Works required to bring the building back into use included major works to the roof, external masonry, repairs to the stained glass, significant structural repairs internally and a full re-servicing.

Project Architect Scott Abercrombie said: “We are delighted to see the project completed and the community making such great use of the building, after such a long journey to get to this point. The client must be highly commended here; they set out to deliver a sports and community project, and ended up delivering a really high-quality heritage project at the same time.”


Scott Abercrombie –


All images copyright Ross Campbell


Above Adventure is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) based in Kilmarnock, set up with the aim of delivering outdoor sport activities within the local community. The project was established to provide a permanent home for the charity who were operating from Dumfries House and a mobile climbing tower. When the former Grange Church in Kilmarnock was vacated by its congregation, the idea of forming a climbing centre emerged, but took years of dedication and hard work to develop and fund.

The project was developed in response to multiple needs:
– the charity, Above Adventure, had been operating successfully utilising other organisations

facilities, but felt that they could expand what they were delivering as well as being able to open up climbing and bouldering to a much wider range of people by creating their own bespoke facility.

  • the building, the Grange Church on Woodstock Street, had lost its congregation and attempts by a developer to convert it to other uses hadn’t gained any traction. It is a category B-listed building, part of the John Finnie Street and Bank Street, Kilmarnock Conservation Area, and a significant landmark in Kilmarnock, but it was falling in to disrepair and the costs of reuse were growing exponentially. If the building hadn’t been brought back in to use when it was by the organisation there was a significant risk it would have moved beyond being economically feasible to repair. At a time when the Church of Scotland is expecting to close hundreds of churches over the next decade, this provides a vibrant case study of how buildings like these can continue to serve their community for decades to come.
  • Mountaineering Scotland / Climbing Scotland identified areas that were in need of investment to support the development of climbing and bouldering in areas where there weren’t any local facilities. This gained further attention and traction with the inclusion of climbing and bouldering in the Olympics for the first time.
  • The opening of the centre brings with it significant benefits for the local area, supporting the wider local economy by increasing the number of visits to the town centre, encouraging visits to the town from outwith Kilmarnock, providing employment and training opportunities, providing a new sport and health facility in the town to encourage a more active lifestyle.

Prior to the opening of the centre the nearest facilities for climbing and bouldering in the local area were either in Glasgow (for bouldering), in Cumnock (for a limited climbing wall, where climbing sessions were delivered by Above Adventure), or Above Adventure’s travelling climbing tower.
Therefore the opportunities to engage with the sport in Ayrshire were limited, but Above Adventure was at the heart of trying to drive up community participation in the sport for over a decade.

The centre and extended outreach programme will offer many volunteering, training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities – a direct pathway to the burgeoning outdoor tourism sector.

The transferable skills learned & honed when participating in the sport in groups will also help users and beneficiaries of the charity’s outreach programmes be better placed for work.

The centre now has two full-time and 12 part-time staff, and has been able to provide training for all as well as as six volunteers, in a range of subjects including good governance, climbing instruction and barista training.

Above Adventure is local people who have already been empowered to deliver this project, and they are spreading empowerment through this and their outreach projects. With the support of East Ayrshire Council, it is maximising the physical asset of the church and the immeasurable asset of themselves – identifying and using their skills and strengths.

With the centre now open, it primarily caters to the local community including community groups, kids clubs and school groups. The board remains primarily constituted of trustees who live in East Ayrshire, and the centre is primarily staffed by people from the local area. The majority of beneficiaries are also local to Kilmarnock and East Ayrshire, although the charity is increasingly reaching out to deprived and disadvantaged communities in North and South Ayrshire.

At the core of Above Adventure’s brief was that the centre be as accessible as possible, and provide opportunities for all to engage in climbing and bouldering. This is reflected in the provision of facilities to support wheelchair climbing, the inclusion of a changing places toilet, and the provision of a sensory room.

Above Adventure now has a new climbing instructor who is a wheelchair user, has undertook his training at the centre, and has overcome his life changing injuries which put him in his chair to become the first ever climbing instructor in the UK with his impairment. Above Adventure is also Disability Confident Employer at Level 3, the highest level that can be obtained.

Above Adventure is a fair and inclusive organisation, where all have a voice and can participate: their trustees and youth committee include single parents, several people with disabilities, one young person who was excluded from school. The fully inclusive ethos was evident in their securing £11K for specialist equipment so more profoundly disable climbers can be accommodated. Their minibus is fully accessible, the Mobile Tower takes their offering to those normally difficult to engage with, often excluded.