As transformations go, the conversion of a former church into a stunning gallery and visitor centre showcasing the work of Orkney jewellery designer, Sheila Fleet, has been a spectacular one.
A year on from opening its doors to the public, Sheila Fleet’s Kirk Gallery and Café, situated in Orkney’s east mainland, has firmly established itself as a key attraction in the islands, drawing in over 34,000 tourists and local people alike in 2018. It’s also secured a shortlisting in the Best Store Design category of the UK Jewellery Awards 2019.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the project,” says Martin Fleet, managing director of Sheila Fleet Jewellery, and son of the designer.
From the outset, we wanted to create a unique atmosphere for customers, whether they’re here to view and buy our jewellery, or just enjoy a coffee, cake or meal in welcoming surroundings.
“As a retail experience, and tourism attraction, we think it’s pretty special and it reflects the attention to detail we strive for with our jewellery,” he continues. “Suffice to say, we’re thrilled to have now been shortlisted for Best Store Design in the UK Jewellery Awards and are very much looking forward to July, when we’ll learn if we’ve been successful.”
The project was years in the planning. The Fleet family first bought the former St Andrew’s Kirk – sited next door to the Sheila Fleet Jewellery workshops in Tankerness - from the local community in 2006.
Work to renovate and convert the 175-year-old Kirk only commenced in December of 2015, but the gentle pace of transition was deliberate as the Fleet family sought to sympathetically give new life to a building of great significance to the local community.
Ultimately, the Fleets’ vision was made a reality by award-winning architect, Mark Fresson. The path to the final layout involved stripping the kirk down to its bare walls and replacing the roof, but the fabric of the old building was fundamentally sound.
The interior conversion to jewellery showroom, paired with café, incorporated many original features including the kirk’s pulpit, lectern and communion table.
Still unmistakably a former church, the Kirk is now a light and airy space that’s both contemporary and welcoming. Jewellery cabinets flank the aisle of the showroom, leading up to a raised platform and a special display area for engagement and wedding rings.
The large café area next to the showroom has been fitted out to the same standards, with bespoke furniture – including a 12-seater Scottish tiger oak table – created by local craftsman, Leo Kerr. Some of the café furniture has been created using wood from the kirk’s old pews.
A mezzanine area above the jewellery display and sales area showcases the work of other designers and hosts exhibitions and other special events.
The Fleet family haven’t stopped there though, recently opening a stunning new store within Glasgow’s exclusive Princes Square mall, one that repeats many of the themes used within the Kirk Gallery, and with the same attention to detail.
“Orkney’s perhaps unique in that local businesses, across all the sectors, have a real pride in their community,” concludes Martin. “We share a collective sense of responsibility towards the islands. Whether it’s through our jewellery, or in the creation of high-quality visitor facilities such as the Kirk, and our new Princes Square shop, we’re always determined to do our very best to ensure Orkney’s reputation as a place to visit, and live, is protected and enhanced.”
The Digital Media Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.