Greyfriars Charteris Centre

2021 | Client Greyfriars Charteris Centre

The Charteris Centre in Edinburgh – a community centre housed in a former church – has been refurbished and extended to create a welcoming social hub containing spaces for hosting events, office accommodation, hot-desking facilities and a quiet ‘sanctuary’ room for peaceful reflection.

Exterior view of the Greyfriars Charteris Centre after extensive conservation work to the historic church building, refurbishment and extension. Between the former church and sandstone offices there is now a contemporary extension in timber with terrazzo render. the photograph shows twighlight with traffic and people passing - blurred with motion.

The centre was initially established by Greyfriars Kirk in 2016, in the former Charteris Memorial Church and its adjacent buildings, as a place to offer outreach support to the local community. It also provides a base for social enterprises, charities and other local groups. 

But the centre’s design was considered somewhat detached from the community it was meant to be serving, with a number of different, often concealed entrances and, once inside, confusing circulation across multiple levels. 

The church restoration project was therefore conceived to make the centre more visible, outward-facing, accessible and functional for all its users.

Link building provides distinctive entrance

To achieve this, a timber-framed atrium with extensive skylights was constructed in the gap between the church and the adjacent building, which is also part of the centre. With white terrazzo cladding and striking vertical timber fins, this extension now provides a clear and distinctive entrance point to the centre as well as access to all floors via a lift. 

And with the different parts of the building opened up to this entrance hall on all levels, visitors can now easily navigate their route through the centre.

Exterior view of the Greyfriars Charteris Centre showing a section of the former sandstone church and the three storey sandstone office building. In between is the new extension in timber and terrazzo cladding.
Our extensive reconfiguration of a former church building to form modern, attractive spaces for community use, the Greyfriars Charteris Centre, has fulfilled all our best expectations and looks stunning.
Greyfriars Charteris Centre
Interior view of the Greyfriars Charteris Centre, Edinburgh, a refurbished and restored church with contemporary extension. Looking though large glass doors to the nave and down the stairs to the undercroft.
Detail of lancet windows extended downwards and fitted with new double glazing - in Greyfriars Charteris Centre Edinburgh and part of an extensive refurbishment and restoration project of the historic church building

Response to ‘outward-facing’ brief

The former church’s lancet windows were extended downwards to allow passers-by to look in at the proceedings inside and thereby encourage participation. A new tiered staircase leading from the main hall to the lower ground floor, complete with seating area on a wide landing, links the hot-desking hub below with the community functions above and is also visible from outside.

Timber and glazing are combined imaginatively throughout the new and refurbished parts of the building to transmit light into the interior and also to allow visual connection between the building’s multiple users.

In the new stairwell to the undercroft in the restored and converted former church at Greyfriars Charteris, Edinburgh. A member of staff walks down the wide, open timber stair - blurred by motion.
In the undercroft at the Greyfriars Charteris Centre. A flexible and bright space for activities and events in the refurbished and converted former church. Wooden flooring and a wide timber stair case. Original supporting iron columns are painted ochre yellow
Greyfriars Charteris Centre in the nave prior to refurbishment and conservation work commenced. Carpet borders the wooden floors and the ceiling is dark stained timber panelling.
Before works began – the original single glazing.

Improved energy efficiency

Energy efficiency was a central feature of the client’s brief and the environmental performance of the overall building was improved by the addition of loft and floor insulation, double glazing, a new heating system and low-energy lighting. Solar panels were also added to a large south-facing roof.

Cost advice in delay-hit construction

The construction stage was affected by delays from the start owing to the first COVID-19 lockdown. The contractor was required to vacate the site during the initial downtaking and demolition. As quantity surveyor, we assessed the full financial implications of these initial delays and reported these to the client and the wider team. 

We provided regular and ongoing updates as the COVID-related stoppages continued through the project. In this period of great uncertainty, clear communication of cost and contractual advice to the client was crucial. 

Good record-keeping was also key in being able to separate delays due to COVID from those due to other issues and thus allocate costs appropriately.

In the newly constructed stairwell at Greyfriars Charteris, Edinburgh. Timber clad stairs and bannisters in the foreground, looking though internal windows to a further stair in the restored church.
Large skylight at Greyfriars Charteris Centre, Edinburgh. Contemporary conversion of a church into a community centre. Wooden floors and pale wood solid bannister for the stair.
The nave at the restored and converted former church at the Greyfriars Charteris Centre, Edinburgh. The timbered ceiling is lighter, the floor has been polished and new apse screen erected. It is a bright space with better light from new unleaded, windows.

Steps to mitigate risk of historic church restoration

Conservation projects involving major alterations to an old building are generally risky, due to the increased likelihood of unforeseen problems. We helped to reduce this risk by adopting a traditional approach to procurement. 

We were also aware of additional risks to the schedule from likely supply issues following lockdown. We encouraged the client to reduce these risks by, for example, paying manufacturers directly for bespoke windows and joinery to ensure timeliness of delivery, and by reserving key materials through up-front payments in advance of their delivery to site. 

In such cases, steps were taken, as far as possible, to protect the client from loss.

Exterior of the restored and extended buildings at Greyfriars Charteris Centre Edinburgh. A motorcyclist passes the door to the new extension, which is timber clad in terrazzo. The restored church is on the left, with the victorian three storey sandstone office building on the right. Cherry blossom frames the image.

Successful management of the change process

Excellent cost reporting allowed us to keep rigorous control of the change process in order to deal with hundreds of variations and four ‘extension of time’ claims. And throughout the project we provided accurate cost advice to the church committee to help them with their decision-making. 

Ultimately, despite the significant impact of cumulative delays on the schedule and the reopening of the building, the agreed final account turned out to be very similar to our initial cost estimate.

Detail of the pale, sandy coloured terrazzo cladding at Greyfriars Charteris Centre, Edinburgh. Textured decoration sits beneath the sign. To the left, the glass door at the entrance.
Detail of restored timber church ceiling at Greyfriars Charteris, Edinburgh
There were challenges along the way through covid-related delays and cost pressures, and Thomson Gray were our key advisors in navigating through them to a successful and affordable conclusion.
The link between old and new parts of the building at Greyfriars Charteris Centre Ediburgh. Timber on balustrades and stairs, Timber-framed glass doors, pieces timber screen and restored stone-framed lancet windows.


Architect Konishi Gaffney Architects
Joinery Old school fabrications
Services Engineer
Irons foulner
Quantity Surveyor
Thomson Gray
Images and video
Nanne Springer


2023 Scottish Design Gold Award: Retrofit
2022 EAA Large Project Award: Commendation