The origins of the new home for the Fringe
07 December 2023
The need for a new home for the Fringe Society was first identified in 2017 in the Fringe Society Blueprint. This public ambition was repeated in the Fringe Society’s more recent development goals, launched in June 2022. It should be noted that in the aftermath of the pandemic, we were seeking public funding support on multiple fronts to alleviate the financial pressures on the Edinburgh Fringe, and we are still actively lobbying on all of these, including direct support for artists, tax relief for venues, and a concerted effort around the issue of affordable accommodation. On the Fringe home/hub project, a number of buildings had been brought to our attention as at risk or available for future re-purposing – including our preferred option, the South Bridge Resource Centre on Infirmary Street.
In March 2023, in the UK Government’s annual Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced up to £7mn was to be made available to realise a new hub for the Fringe. The funding was allocated to the Fringe Society with the stipulation that it was for capital spend on a Fringe home. Following the Budget announcement there was understandable interest in how the funding would be used; the Fringe Society responded to these queries at that time. It should be noted that, at that time, there was no route open to us to acquire funds for revenue spend, or to support wider Fringe costs.
Since 2019, the Fringe Society has met several times with representatives from various Council departments, officials, councillors and Canongate Youth (both their team and Board) to gauge the potential of the Infirmary Street building, and the fit / appropriateness. A formal expression of interest was submitted to the Council in autumn 2019.
When the UK Government money was announced in March this year, the proposition for the Infirmary Street building was publicly put to the City Council Finance & Resource Committee in April 2023, and given agreement to enter into formal discussions. The Fringe Society is a not-for-profit registered charity whose preference would always be to see capital funds reinvested into a heritage building. Our ask is for a long-term lease for the building from the Council, to invest in its long-term environmental sustainability, and ensure it is fully accessible. The intention has always been a positive one: to provide a public-facing, accessible and environmentally sound space for the services of the Fringe Society, and for its wide range of stakeholders; to tell the story of Edinburgh’s Fringe, and to ensure we provide the greatest benefit to artists, residents, audiences and the wider festival community; and crucially to restore this beautiful Old Town building and retain it for cultural / community purpose.
It was and is our intent to work with one of our existing community partners, Canongate Youth, to ensure that they can continue to run their programmes within the building and that we can develop collaborative initiatives in the future. It has always been made clear that it is for the Council to source appropriate solutions for their other services and user groups within the building and that the process for this does not sit within the remit of the Fringe Society. We have been advised that Council are in ongoing communication with all occupants to find suitable alternative space within their footprint to ensure they have the space they need.
There is no doubt that the funding allocated does not solve the wider challenges faced by the many stakeholders of the Fringe. While it has been a positive and welcome contribution, we have had no indication that the UK Government see capital funds as the solution to this unique event’s sustainability. We are in continuing conversation and lobbying for support for artists and the wider infrastructural needs of the Edinburgh Fringe.
There are various milestones to pass before we can fully secure the allocated funds. If awarded in full, the money allocated (up to £7mn) will be distributed through DCMS.
This money is restricted to the new Fringe home project, and we are putting all our efforts into making the best possible use of it.
The preferred building is in the Old Town and centrally located; it is a heritage building but not A-listed, it belongs to the City Council and is on their asset disposal list. The Council Committee approved the ongoing conversation to consider a 100-year lease to the Fringe Society to support long-term planning and justify the capital investment. This new funding is very much being used to save a heritage building for cultural purpose and public good, and to retain an existing resident youth community group within the space.
The Fringe hub will have multiple purposes: while it will house Fringe Society staff and our year-round services to artists, audiences and diverse communities, it will also allow cost savings for the significant annual outlays associated with the delivery of Fringe Central – our artist support centre during the festival – and all the services we provide during the summer. It will also provide a public-facing space for year-round engagement with artists, stakeholders and partners. The project will not duplicate any existing Fringe venue as the Fringe Society does not programme or curate.
There is already a direct association between the preferred building and the Fringe – the venue operators Greenside used the building as one of their sites every August for several years. The Fringe Society values and recognises the supportive role that Greenside has played in the emerging discussions about the building. Greenside were aware the building was on the City’s asset disposal register, with other organisations considering it for repurposing. Greenside recommended the building to the Fringe Society in 2019 as an appropriate site for a new Fringe home, as a preferred candidate to take on the building and to retain a Fringe legacy. The Society in turn advocated for Greenside to retain the venue for as long as possible, and we have been active in our support of Greenside in sourcing a new venue in the city, and celebrate their recent success with the RSE in George Street.
Key objectives and benefits:
- to provide a permanent, fully accessible and inclusive home for the Fringe Society, offering long-term operational security in service to the Fringe, cost savings, and improvements for disabled service users
- to support the Fringe Society in its efforts to become a net-zero organisation by 2030
- to modernise and broaden the services offered by the Fringe Society to artists, audiences, industry participants and residents, both during the Fringe and year-round, focusing on supporting disadvantaged and marginalised artists and citizens to maximise the opportunities presented by the Fringe
- to embed the Fringe Society within the cultural infrastructure of Edinburgh and offer affordable tenancy and working space for a community partner and for individual artists and creatives
- to ensure the Fringe remains a significant cultural asset to Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK, and maintains its position, locally and globally, as essential to the cultural ecosystem of the performing arts
- to ensure the Fringe is a platform for professional and emerging artists to thrive
- to secure the long-term future of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a world class expo for the development and growth of the performing arts of Scotland, the UK and international participants, and that it creates the best opportunity for talent discovery, career development and onward life for shows.
Principles of working
- Spending priorities in relation to the fabric of the building will focus on reducing its carbon footprint and maximising accessibility.
- Investment will be based on long-term sustainability and effectiveness.
- We will aim for a building that offers a welcoming meeting place for the wide-ranging Fringe communities.
- The building will offer new opportunities and a year-round home from home for Fringe artists, partners and community groups.
- The Fringe home will add value and complement surrounding and existing cultural infrastructure.
- During the year the building will house all Fringe Society services, with shared space for resident community partner Canongate Youth and access to facilities for other partners and local artists, creatives and community partners from across Edinburgh.
- During August the hub will house Fringe Central and all our public-facing services for artists, arts industry and media.
- A core purpose of the new home is to collate, develop, curate and communicate the historic story of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Next steps in the process
We are engaging in continued conversation with City of Edinburgh Council and their officials with regard to the preferred site.
The outline business case was submitted to UK Government per the deadline in early October; the full business case must be submitted by February 24. The proposal for the preferred building leads with ensuring it is carbon efficient, wind- and watertight, and is fully accessible. It will be kept very much ‘as is’ internally. It will not be a shiny headquarters, but a working space for the Fringe Society, Canongate Youth and the wider Edinburgh arts community, and will consciously not compete with any existing provision.
We are working to ensure the building offers added value and the needs of the city are reflected in its design. We are developing a communication and engagement plan to provide ongoing updates on the project’s development, and as things progress will publish regular news on the project here on edfringe.com.