Kate Wimpress – Innovation in Edinburgh
18 December 2023
In our latest blog, one of our Directors, Kate Wimpress, writes about her experience of community landownership at North Edinburgh Arts in Edinburgh.
North Edinburgh Arts
North Edinburgh Arts (NEA) is an arts centre based in the heart of Muirhouse in Edinburgh. NEA has served the whole of North Edinburgh for over 20 years. Their 2-storey building, which they leased, incorporated two studios, a 96-seat theatre, recording studio, offices and a café with children’s play area and large garden.
Well-loved and well-used, the charity knew it had to expand to meet the growing needs in the area and to secure its future. In 2019 NEA received over 96% support for the plans to bring the land and building into community ownership.
The local area has been undergoing re-development over decades, meaning the natural, communal, and shared spaces of Muirhouse and surrounding areas have periodically shifted, been demolished or re-purposed for new buildings. This has had an impact upon social interactions and the sense of community among strangers and friends sharing the neighbourhood and its amenities.
NEA grasped the potential of owning their building, and is working closely with partners to deliver a new type of regeneration, one with arts and community ownership at its heart.
A New Approach to Regeneration
As a critical part of the ongoing regeneration programme in Muirhouse, NEA took full community ownership of their land, building, and a nearby plot of 38m2. Completed in August 2022 via a community asset transfer from the City of Edinburgh, landownership enabled NEA to partner to develop an innovative and creative and community hub for the area, due for completion early 2024.
Muirhouse, one of the most deprived wards in Scotland, is currently the focus of regeneration, building 1000 new homes, a health facility, a new nursery and creating a new town centre around MacMillan Square. The new ‘MacMillan Hub’, of which NEA will own and occupy a third, has been developed through a partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council.
The combination of community ownership of a £4.3m asset, NEA’s twenty year history of grass roots engagement, careful place-making, the co-location of Council and third-sector services, will lead to multiple routes for access, ownership and circular investment.
Practically, the refurbishment and extension programme is increasing the NEA venue by 380m2, wrapping around the existing theatre and going up two storeys, adding 10 new studio spaces, a wood workshop, new office spaces for creative and community organisations, a hot desking mezzanine and an expanded café. These additions open up new streams of income, and employment opportunities, helping to underpin the financial stability of the organisation for the long term.
Community Owned Town Square
NEA aims to be the go-to, communal, accessible, shared space for the community in the long term – owned and shaped by those who use it. The vision is to become the de-facto ‘town square’ where people meet, hear and share news, support one another, develop ideas, celebrate and console. A place where people connect, feel a part of, and contribute to, something bigger. It will be secured in perpetuity, as community owned land and buildings, where local people can control what happens.
The new spaces will build social capital and a sense of belonging amongst local residents, both existing and new arrivals, will be strengthened. Young people will develop increased skills, confidence and self-esteem. Families and children will have safe and inspiring places to enjoy locally, and older people will be part of a connected community engaging with and supported by their neighbours.
Once open and operating the NEA venue should prove to be transformative; harnessing the nimble and creative approach of community-led organisation, partnered with the council and other bodies. NEA creates places where people want to be; with meaningful impact and long-term positive change rippling out from a community-owned core.
Art and Community Ownership at the Heart of Regeneration
NEA is delivering a major capital project closely with partners, with community landownership at the heart. This innovative project shows the future– where arts, and community-led and owned approaches, are central to regeneration. Too many of Scotland’s communities have top down regeneration applied to them, or live in communities designed and owned by others. Projects like the MacMillian Hub should be a normal option for all of Scotland’s communities – where cherished local institutions, such as NEA, can take ownership of significant resources and spaces, delivering local democratic control, building partnership, and making things beautiful (and fun!).
Blog by Kate Wimpress, Director of North Edinburgh Arts