Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Rethinking the City

Over the weekend SOOT participated in the Rethinking the City event held at Riddle's Court. 

This event kicked off on Friday evening with Alberto Magnaghi from Florence talking on the Urban Bioregion as part of the Edinburgh Lecture series. The weekend organised by FORCE (Friends of Riddle's Court Edinburgh) sought to bring people together to confront issues of the day, in the same spirt as the Patrick Geddes summer schools of the 1890's and was driven by local examples of action within the city and included presentations, talks, walks and discussion.
 On Saturday evening many returned to enjoy the Ceilidh.

In addition to the local groups involved, the mix of guest speakers (who come from very different backgrounds including land reform, accountancy, philosophy and biology) also contributed and provided greater understanding of many of the wider issues involved. The talks from Andy Wightman, Jan Bebbington, Mike Small and Dr Keith Skene were inspirational and encouraged great discussion throughout the weekend.

Unfortunately our elected representatives and senior council officials, who could also have learned alot from the lively debates and perhaps even gained some understanding of the issues of concern to the communities they seek to serve, did not attend!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Died peacefully, on Wednesday, 8th September, 2010,
at St Columba’s Hospice, Edinburgh

Prisccilla (Pru, Cilla) was known and loved by many in the Old Town community. As a member of the Old Town Community Council, Treasurer of SOOT and a Director of the Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust she made a great contribution to the lives of many who work and live in and around the Old Town.
As the guiding light behind the Coinyie House Close Gardens Project she brought residents, officials and heritage groups together to create a lasting example of creative community spirit.
She was a compassionate and loyal friend to many and her warmth, generosity and humour will be greatly missed.

Service to be held at Daldowie Crematorium, East Chapel, Glasgow,
Friday, 17th September, at 1.30pm.
Family flowers only.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Canongate Revisited

The historic Royal Burgh of CANONGATE has been home to many craft and trade guilds, artists, writers musicians and poets over the centuries, none of which felt the need to rename the area.

Caltongate is a name synonymous with bad planning, bully boy developers and corrupt councillors and should be dumped along with the plans which have now been abandoned as no such place exists.

Many still remember the area as a hub of creative activity. Most recently the Old bus depot, now demolished, was the birthplace of the Bongo Club and Out of the Blue, a home to many other arts groups, local traders and community groups. The Canongate Venture which is remembered by some older members in the community as a school (both as a primary and later as a school for building trades), it has also provided affordable workshop space for craft workers and independent businesses for over 30years.

Surely it is now time to open the doors to new tenants and community groups who can contribute to the cultural and creative heritage of the building, answer calls to relet the council flats  on the Canongate and  restore this area as hub of creative activity.

Monday, 23 August 2010

New Masterplan for the Canongate?

Latest news today from The Scotsman indicates the Council have been busy looking for alternative developments for the East Market Street Site.
The latest plans which have not  been revealed to the public or community groups suggest the demolition of the former market building, described as "an eyesore garage" (which forms part of Edinburgh's Common Good assets and generated nearly 80,000 quid as a garage last year according to the Councils recently published Common Good Accounts). This will be replaced with some MORE offices and a small supermarket -another Tescos? despite one now planned for Holyrood Road.

It is disappointing the council are not making greater use of the research which has been undertaken by many local and heritage groups, including the outcomes from the Canongate Project, which demonstrate the need for more affordable, social and family housing for the area and the real need for affordable workspace for start up business and crafts/artists AND space for good local markets and shopping! If a new masterplan is to be drafted for the area it needs to be an open and inclusive process this time!
(and not pushed through proposals by a deluded committee)
 Whilst consent exists for the Mountgrange plans it is clear any rethink by the council of the public land on East Market St will impact on any new developer interested in buying the Hole in the Ground next door. In the meantime lets get the place productive again....fill the housing on the Canongate (even for temporary residencies) and relet the empty units in the Canongate Venture and bring in some income. Why not use the bond for an arts exhibition
The council have a very poor record in creating good architecture and development in the Waverley Valley but now have a chance to make good the promises to the community and demand the administrators cooperate in a temporary art scheme for the site and plans for a truely sustainable development in the Waverley Valley

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Caltongate Collapse

Great news announced today

Edinburgh Council have finally seen the light and admitted that they will "draw a line" under the whole Caltongate scheme
The scheme will now be scrapped as Edinburgh Council have pulled their assets from negotiations.

Lets hope the old school and tenement flats on the Royal Mile can now finally be brought back to use and relet to those who need them.
  News from the Guardian, Scotsman, STV and BBC was welcomed today by SOOT

Monday, 21 June 2010

Women of The Old Town

Tonight at 7pm the Scottish Storytelling Centre will host the premier of SOOT's community film 

This community documentry will be supported by another community documentry 
A film made by adult learners from North Edinburgh for Gude Cause last year.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Friday talks and workshops

On fridays as well as visiting the SOOT art Exhibition
there is also the opportunity to find out more about the benefits of creativity in learning
and have a go at some recycled art work.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The SOOT art exhibition will  launch  tomorrow at 2.30pm at Blackfriars Community Rooms,
Coinyie House Close Gardens
(access through gates from South Grays Close or New Skinners Close, off Blackfriars St)
The exhibition will be on during the Old Town Festival  which was launched today at Riddles Court

Our exhibition includes banners  produced by SOOT and Space 44,
junk art/mask stuff,
A study of uses for the New St gapsite- workshop with students from ECA,
Posters created by the community
Photographic studies of people around the Old town,
A display of the Reggio Emillia approach to learning
And a display of the development of theCoinyie House Close gardens where residents have recently completed a major environmentlal improvements project.

People of the Old Town Exhibition - Tuesdays and Fridays 2.30pm - 5.30pmAlso
on Fridays Illustrated talk 2.30pm-3.30pm and puppetmaking for all ages
4pm-5.30pm -ALL at Blackfriars Community Rooms, Coinyie House Close
Gardens (behind St Ann's school, Cowgate)
Women of the Old Town film screening 7pm Monday 21st at 7pm at S...cottish Storytelling Centre, High St (Royal Mile)

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Caltongate Jig

The Scotsman have revealed that a deal is being negotiated between Edinburgh Council and Mountgrange's administrators Deloitte, with Allied London over the redevelopment of the Caltongate scheme.

The good news is Allied London are said be considering how to amend the plans to avoid the demolition of 2 Listed buildings and McRae tenements as they do not see the provision of a 5 star hotel as being integral to the redevelopment. However, it does not appear that much consideration has been given to the sale and demolition of the public buildings and Common Good Land on East Market Street which is now under investigation by the European Commission. 

The prospective new developers have indicated they would rather see the development more focused on 'government and commercial' uses (this sounds like offices,cafes and supermarkets). Still no talk of providing the much needed family homes then?

The residential character of Edinburgh's Old and New Towns is a fundamental characteristic of the place and something valued by visitors and citizens alike yet little is being done to ensure we continue to have a mix of residential properties in the City Centre. Throughout the planning process for the Caltongate development the urgent need for affordable and family housing was raised and ignored. More recently, during the consultation on the redevelopment brief for Argyle House and King Stables Road, the local community again raised the need for more affordable family housing and development to support the existing residential needs in the area, yet the focus still appears to be on commercial development and temporary accommodation (for students or visitors).

When is CEC Economic Development going to wake up to the changes happening elsewhere.
Many other councils have now recognised the value of communities developing public assets. Why sell them off in the hope that a sweet deal will encourage a speculative private development to start when the assets can meet an identified community needs simply by renting or transferring management of them to housing associations, community trusts and other third sector organisations?
Is it not about time Edinburgh caught up and started taking a more enlightened approach to economic development and allowed more resilient redevelopment plans to be considered.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Old Town Festival

SOOT is busy preparing our events for the Old Town Festival which starts on 14th June.
The full programme is now out and can be dowloaded from the Scottish Storytelling Centre website. Copies of the programme are also available in many of the venues and other community centres and libraries.

During the festival there will be lots of oportunities to find out more about some of the famous characters who have lived in the Old Town as well as finding out more about the residents who live there now.

SOOT will be presenting a community art exhibition which will include a mix of work by and about the characters who inhabit this precious place. There will also be opportunities to get involved in some art workshops and join with residents to celebrate the refurbishment of the Coinyie House Close Gardens.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Community Venture

The Canongate Venture has had a varied history. First built as a primary school, then changed to a school of building, then craft and small business space for affordable rent. Now it lies almost empty while the Council and Mountgrange's administrators scurry around looking for a new developer to demolish it. Its long overdue to relet this space for local crafts, makers and small and start up businesses. 
It can also provide much needed space for the community, space for community recycling, space for community organisations to meet, and the potential for a landscaped play area. 
There is lots of potential and it cannot be considered surplus to requirements any longer.

SOOT continues to call on Edinburgh Council to bring our building back into use

Come and play at Canongate Venture playground on Sunday 9th May from 2pm

Friday, 30 April 2010

Free seeds for May Day

Earlier this year SOOT undertook some junk art where we created masks of urban wildlife. We then took our creatures out on World Community Arts Day to look for spaces where they could flourish.

On May 1st we will meet up to sow and share seeds, learn how to make planters and seed trays from junk, and have a wander round the Old Town to explore the streets and spaces and contribute ideas and actions for improvements.

We will be meeting at Chessel's Court Gardens, just next to The Canon's Gait pub on The Royal Mile at 2pm, all are welcome to join us.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Spring into action

This Sunday SOOT will be at Forest Free Fair  from 2 - 5pm alongside One Mans Junk

Come along and get involved with some junk art and meet up and find out more about whats going on!
Throughout the spring we have a number of projects running as we prepare for the Old Town Festival in June where we will be displaying film and artwork produced in and by the community, and hosting talks and workshops. In addition we will continue to campaign on actions identified in the Canongate Project Report.
Like most community based organisations we are dependant on volunteers to help fund raise, organise and contribute to the success of these projects. We welcome any offers of time, skills or ideas from individuals or other organisations. Donations are also always welcome!

Upcoming Events for your Diary

(Meet SOOT at 2pm - Chessels Court Garden)

Sun 9Th May Playground Fun and Games
(Meet SOOT at 2pm – Canongate Venture, New Street)
 Mon 17Th May “Women of the Old Town” Film Group
(SOOT film development meeting - time and venue TBC )

Monday, 19 April 2010

Back to the drawing board

Now that the sale of public assets and Common Good Land at East Market St to Mountgrange has been successfully challenged through the European Commission it is time for the council to rethink their strategy for the Waverley Valley.
Back in 2005 when the Caltongate Masterplan was first revealed to the public, members of SOOT put forward alternative ideas for development which would address the real needs of the area and provide a strategy for development.

Despite numerous concerns being voiced during the masterplan consultations  (in particular at the workshops and the well attended Community Planning Day ) Mountgrange's Caltongate masterplan was agreed with little consideration given to the issues and aspirations raised in consultation. This then formed the blueprint for approving the planning applications which followed.

It was clear to many at the time that the plan was not a masterplan but a detailed plan for an enormous, speculative, commercial development which allowed one developer total control over a very big site (which had been enlarged by the councils agreement to the off market sale of public assets). Many also felt the whole planning process was heavily influenced by the land deal with Mountgrange and should have been called in by Scottish Government.

Now we have an opportunity to review the sale of this key piece of land, and reconsider if it really is surplus to requirements.
Perhaps those in control will now recognise the true value of the site on East Market Street to support the economic, social and environmental health of those who live and work in the Canongate as was highlighted in the Canongate Project film
It is time to tear up the Caltongate masterplan and start again, but this time work alongside heritage and community groups to create a new more resilient development brief for the area.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Caltongate scheme or scam?

The latest news on the Caltongate scheme throws up some serious questions for the future of the council owned East Market Street and the huge gap site in the Canongate in todays Scotsman.
SOOT have been questioning the council on the return of publicly owned buildings since Mountgrange went into adminnistration  in 2009 and calling for the return to use of Canongate Venture (which had provided much needed affordable workshop space until the deal was struck to sell it to Mountgrange for demolition in 2005) and the council flats on the Canongate.
Perhaps now the Council will finally consider returning the common good land and other publicly owned  buildings to productive use for the benefit of the community and look at opportunities for a more sustainable and responsive regeneration of this important area in the World Heritage Site?

Monday, 12 April 2010

SOOT Spring into action

Come along and join other SOOT supporters planning events for the spring and to prepare for events during the Old Town Festival.
There will be opportunities for all to get involved in some creative work (writing, painting, junk art, puppet making etc) or just catch up with friends and enjoy some free activities.

Do you have a particular interest in local history  gardening  scrap art  film or photography? Then this is the time to get involved and help shape new community projects underway. Do you have ideas and skills to share or storys to tell?
All welcome and activities are suitable for all ages.
Experience is NOT necessary enthusiasm only required.

FRIDAY 16th APRIL   3pm - 6pm
Blackfriars Community Rooms,
Coinyie House Close
Edinburgh, EH1 1NL
(access from New Skinners Close)

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Moray House Sports Complex

The Moray House Sports complex on Holyrood Road, which was refurbished and extended in 2001 to accommodate the merger with Dunfermline college of Physical Education. Now it is the subject of proposals for demolition to redevelop the site for student housing.
An exhibition of the proposals will be on display to the public at Thomson's Land on Sat 17th April.

Where to develop next?

This week we heard from Dave Anderson ,Edinburgh's Director of City Development, that plans are afoot to build another 'city expansion' this time at the western edge of the city. The area is to be provided with some £30 -£40million of infrastructure, and will of course be well connected to the tram (at least it is at the end of the tramline where a tram depot is being constructed!), and aims to promote creative design capturing the elegance, walkability and livability of the New Town!
Yet, it appears to be another case of a very large development being promoted by a single developer. City Planners are rumoured to have employed architects 7N Architects to draw up a design framework for an Arena, hotels, office blocks and of course a public square.

Whilst some suggest this may be due to development being pushed out of the city by the ever increasing costs of developing brownfield sites in town, there is also a significant number of large scale developments being proposed in the city centre.
With the new planning process well underway, large developments must now include pre-application consultation. This should allow for discussion early on with all stakeholders and of course the costs of consultation are to be borne by the developers but does it work? Is it an improvement to the previous system at either informing the public how to participate or listening to the communities when they do?

The city centre now has many large new developments going through the new system yet the evidence collected and concerns raised by communities in the last 5 years appears to have had little or no impact in shaping the proposals now being brought forward.
In 2008 SOOT undertook the Canongate Project. This community action research highlighted the need for much more affordable and family housing, as well as the desire for more sustainable development and making better use of existing public resources to meet local social and economic needs.

Many of the developments being proposed in the city centre now still are focused on student housing, hotels and apart-hotels, offices and retail/cafes. They still are designed on large scale sites where the existing buildings and structures will be demolished regardless of their potential adaptability for other uses and the plans are usually fairly well advanced by the time the public are invited to comment.
Most recent to be announced is the redevelopment of sites at Sugarhouse Close and the demolition of the Moray House University sports complex on Holyrood Road.

This adds to the additional student accommodation planned for the rear of Festival Theatre and around the Meadows. The Council are also undertaking a consultation on Student Housing however as the draft planning guidance does little encourage spreading student accommodation across the city we are left to wonder if the city centre will still be home to families in the future.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Election is On!

The Election has now been set and it is time to ask who to vote for? Or maybe you are asking Why Vote? or How do I vote?
Most importantly you must be registered by 20th April to be able to vote. If your not registered by 20th April you WILL NOT be able vote on May 6th.
Check you are registered, do not assume you are because you already pay council tax, don't forget you can still register even if you don't have a fixed address.
Many young adults will also not be registered, often due to moving around for college or work. The NUS have helpful advice for students available online.

Don't forget the many over the world and over time who have died (and continue to die) in the struggle for the right to vote. Find out what the candidates for your area stand for, ask them questions during their campaign, will they represent the wishes of those who may vote for them or will they compromise to follow party lines? Check out what they have done if they have been elected before.
Do a bit of research, there are plenty of websites out there to help.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Open and Close

Dunbar's Close Gardens or the mushroom garden, is also known by many locals and children as the herb garden, is a gem in the heart of the Old Town.
However it is also one of the Canongate's beautiful wee green spaces which seems to get less accessible each year! Now managed through CEC parks department it is closed on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm and locked!
It is disappointing that there are so very few small green spaces open and available to the local community that are safe for children to play in, but on weekdays this particular one is often closed before school comes out.

Luckily gardens at Coinyie House Close and Chessel's Court have not become gated and the public access through these areas ensures their protection as PUBLIC SPACE
The closes are a much loved feature of Edinburgh's Old Town, the intimate nature of these streets provide playspace and often a glimpse of something else. They allow us all to experience and understand the compact nature of the medieval city.
The closes also give a hint to the history of the place, and the people who inhabited them, through their names and local children have always enjoyed them as playspace, often renaming them to reflect uses round about.

The closes and wynds also provide a safe alternative for pedestrians to the busy main roads around the Old Town but better access to green spaces and routes is needed. As Edinburgh Council have now invited responses to their Open Space Strategy, perhaps now is the time to look for opportunities to reopen some of the closes and spaces which have been blocked off and suggest new safe routes through the area.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter Alternatives

Many of you may be preparing for the onslaught of another commercially driven Easter and
perhaps saw the recent Panorama programme Chocolate: The Bitter Truth or you already have concerns about where your chocolate comes from.
Maybe you have children you dont want to fill with sugary treats or just want to do something more creative than munching through choclate and watching telly. Perhaps you dont have the cash to splurge on Easter treats and trips but there are alternatives. Dont forget this is a time to celebrate Life, rebirth and renewal. Easter is a happy time! An opportunity to get together with friends and family and enjoy LIFE! and a great chance to try new things, get creative and and explore new ideas, it doesn't have to cost money.

Why not try out different dyes or create characters by painting and drawing on boiled eggs (free range of course!) and explore your area by taking a walk up a hill to roll your eggs.
Create something new from junk, and join in at a free scrappage salvage workshop.
Or how about some guerilla gardening with recycled eggboxes from SEEDBOMB or have a go at making your own.

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer (well slight hiccup here in Scotland with the return to snow!) lets remember Easter is a time of joy, a time to look forwards with renewed hope for the future.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Graffiti and gap sites

Here we see a terrible example of neglect!
Although the graffiti adds some colour to the otherwise sterile space left after the demolition of New St Bus Depot, don't forget the community were promised a temporary landscape art scheme to be implemented if the redevelopment of the site was delayed at all.

However, the only work to continue on this site is the regular repainting of the blue hoardings around it by CEC staff to remove graffiti or fly posting. Whilst many may object to graffiti and consider it vandalism it must be considered in terms of it's location. Is it really vandalism when it is located on the walls of a BIG UGLY GAPSITE? A big ugly gapsite which speculative developers gave up on when it was revealed a year ago to be toxic. A big ugly gapsite which is controlled by administrators who still expect the public purse to cover the costs of maintaining security fencing round it and who insist that council owned workshops and houses are kept empty.

Many of those who remember the bus depot and the mix of creative enterprise and talent which emerged from it will remember the art work which was created inside there both in car park/Sunday market and Old Bongo Club and studios.
Now Edinburgh's official graffiti wall is to be removed at Potterrow maybe it is time to recreate space for street art in the Canongate's biggest gapsite! After all there is little other space available for artists to practice in the Old Town since the New St studios and workspaces were demolished and CEC closed down the Canongate Venture.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Caltongate or Canongate

After 5 years of pr spin, dodgy dealings, speculative profiteering, and legal wranglings the debate around the huge gap site in Edinburgh's Canongate continues.
This week a rash of letters emerged in the local press in response to the to new designs for an alternative to the Caltongate scheme.
The latest plans to be produced by Anta Architecture propose a stronger 'Scottish identity' but still refer to the site as Caltongate. Whilst many may agree smaller blocks with some traditional features would be an improvement to the anywhere architecture of Mountgrange's Caltongate fantasy the Anta plans fail to recognise that the big problem is the Council's view that Caltongate exists as a place.
The name is as unrelated to the identity of the place as the monolithic blocks proposed in the Caltongate Scheme.
If we are to move forward with a more realistic and sustainable development for the Canongate lets start by referring to the 2 sites being considered by names which relate to their place.
Canongate Venture (previously North Canongate Infant School), Jeffrey Street arches, and the market building are on New St and East Market St. The demolished bus depot (and site of the original Gas Works for Edinburgh) lies beside New St and Calton Road. Both lie in the North Canongate area.
Caltongate is created by the same team who redeveloped Greenside and called it Calton Square as is just as unconnected to the community where it has been placed.