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Portobello Community Buyout

Portobello Old Parish Church, Edinburgh 

Objective : Test the feasibility of community purchase and use of a Category B Listed public building.

Vision: to bring the empty Bellfield Parish Church building back into use as a mixed-activity centre, owned by and operated for the benefit of the Portobello community.

Project : The Church of Scotland was in the process of merging three Portobello congregations into a single church. One of the obsolete properties had already been sold. A group of people in the community were concerned that sale of the second building would result in a further loss of hall spaces which were in regular use by local groups and clubs, and for arts and cultural events.

In addition, the building was an important landmark which had been used by generations of local people for important events in their lives, as well as day to day activity such as use of the volunteer cafe held daily in the premises. Intensive public engagement found very strong local support for the project and a clear ambition to bring the building into community use.

The building is in fairly good structural condition, although it requires some maintenance and upgrading. It has the potential to operate as a basic community venue with limited intervention and investment. It is capable of providing spaces in the short term for the proposed uses – rental of spaces by community groups, ceremonial and arts or cultural events, cafe and bar facilities and heritage displays.

However, there is a need for more significant investment and alteration to create a modern facility which can fully meet the needs and expectations of its end users and customers. Upgrading work would include improved toilet facilities, enhanced access for all-abilities, new energy efficiency measures and internal alterations to improve flexibility of the various spaces.

We worked on this project with Sam Foster Architects and Athena Solutions, for our clients Action Porty – a Portobello based community development trust. Our work included close liaison with building surveyors, valuers and quantity surveyors, Historic Scotland and Edinburgh Council, as we explored options for maintenance and upgrading, within affordable cost parameters.PortobelloCommunity

Our Feasibility Study examined the potential use of the building and site as a community-owned facility. Uses would include ceremonial events such as weddings and memorials in the main church space. Cultural and music events would also use this space. The two church halls would remain in community use for meetings, sports clubs, after school care and the whole range of local needs.

The Feasibility Study, Options Appraisal and subsequent detailed Business Planning found that the facility should be able to cover its running costs and ultimately produce profit which can be reinvested to secure further community benefit. The proposed mix of uses would help to achieve the necessary income from rentals, events, ceremonies, a cafe and a bar, with uses identified across the whole day, evenings and weekends.

Action Porty purchased the building on behalf of the community in September 2017, with assistance from the Scottish Land Fund. It was the first urban use of Scotland’s community right to buy process. Action Porty plan to open to the community in June 2018.