Fringe Society in official talks for community building in Edinburgh’s Old Town to be new Fringe community hub
19 April 2023
Next week, on Tuesday 25 April 2023, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Finance and Resource Committee will consider our request for approval to start formal discussions for a long-term lease of the South Bridge Resource Centre, our preferred location for a new Fringe community hub.
We've identified this building for a variety of reasons, with its proximity to the existing footprint of the Fringe a key consideration. Canongate Youth community group, who are based in the building, have been receptive to the idea of us working to improve the building and make it more accessible by securing and maintaining the space for community and cultural use. Part of our proposal is that Canongate Youth will remain a tenant of the building, and other small arts and cultural organisations may also be offered the opportunity to co-exist there, creating a vibrant, mixed-use community space for all and a hub for the Fringe Society’s services and team during August and year-round.
First identified within the 2017 Fringe Blueprint, the proposed development of a new, year-round space for artists and creatives across the Fringe landscape has been made possible due to funding from the UK Government, announced during the 2023 Spring Budget. The announcement followed many meetings with Ministers and officials from various departments, during which we advocated for a range of support across several key areas. We will continue to use our convening power to lobby for additional financial support for artists and venues, with funding for the new community hub fully ringfenced against a capital investment to meet the Levelling Up agenda. Since the announcement, our Chief Executive and Chair have asked the Government whether some of this fund might be apportioned to other areas of the Fringe in crucial need of support, such as direct to participants via the new Keep it Fringe fund. To date there has been no indication that this investment can be allocated to something outwith the capital investment project.
If the Council approves our request to enter into formal discussions, we will produce a detailed business case to present to UK Government, with full costings on development of the proposed hub. These elements will include any structural changes required to maximise the space, a detailed breakdown of what facilities may be available, and what will be required to make the building fully accessible and sustainable for the long term. All current services and usage of the Resource Centre will continue while this work is carried out and there will be no interruption to the Fringe 2023 operations for Greenside Venues, who use the building as their Infirmary Street venue each August.
In order to ensure the new hub meets the needs of its many user groups and all those within the Fringe community, we'll consult over the coming months and during this year’s festival with artists, producers, educators, community groups and industry bodies.
Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Fringe Society, said: ‘Following the UK Budget announcement of funding for this project, there has been understandable interest and comment on where, when and how the new Fringe community hub will be created. Next week marks the next step in this process, with an ask to the City of Edinburgh Council that we enter into formal discussions about the space on Infirmary Street. This is very much a long-term project and one that will take a few years to establish.
'We are excited at the prospect of revitalising an important city centre space that has such an established history with the Fringe through Greenside, and is a vital hub for the excellent work with young people and communities that has been the hallmark of Canongate Youth. The conversion of this space into a year-round Fringe community hub will allow local cultural organisations, artists and our community partners the opportunity to utilise this space too. In the long-term it will allow a permanent home for our August participants' hub, known as Fringe Central, which artists, arts industry, media and international delegates access each summer for a range of workshops, networking and industry events. We look forward to working with colleagues at the Council as plans for this space evolve, as well as deepening existing and building new relationships with community groups in the city.'
Tara and Darren, Greenside Venue Directors, said: ‘The possibility of losing Infirmary Street has loomed over us for some time as, when we started our journey, we were told that it was not a permanent option, and while its reality is undeniably bittersweet, we find solace in knowing that this beautiful, historic building will remain an integral part of the Fringe landscape for many years to come.
'Today's announcement does not affect our operations in 2023. We have been meticulously planning for this moment, ensuring a seamless transition to ensure we can continue to provide a welcoming Fringe home for almost 200 shows every year across our venues. Greenside is excited about our future and we look forward to embracing the new opportunities that lie ahead. We have ambitious and exciting plans for Fringe 2024 and beyond, and we eagerly anticipate sharing more details with you in the near future.'
Clare Jamieson, Canongate Youth Manager, further commented: ‘We are delighted to be involved in early-stage conversations around the future of South Bridge Resource Centre with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. The building has huge potential, and we welcome the opportunity to explore this further, and most importantly how future developments could benefit children and young people who use Canongate Youth services, and the wider local community’.
We recognise the challenging environment that currently exists for artists and venues and are continuing to lobby and advocate for greater support across a range of areas, including the Keep it Fringe fund. We've asked the UK Government's Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for further support for Fringe participants, and we continue to lobby for this from non-capital funds. With just weeks until the launch of the full 2023 programme, our focus remains on supporting the artists and creatives coming to Edinburgh for this year’s Fringe, and in helping audiences navigate through the array of work available.
Thumbnail photo credit: Blizzard (2019), Assembly. Photographer: David Monteith-Hodge.