Bid to save arts cafe halfway to success

Eric Brooks is auctioning his art to raise funds for the Forest Cafe
Eric Brooks is auctioning his art to raise funds for the Forest Cafe
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the campaign to save free arts centre the Forest Cafe has raised almost half the amount needed to buy its building and secure its future.

The cafe was forced to leave its premises in Bristo Place after Edinburgh University Settlement, which owned the building, went bankrupt.

The former church is now in the hands of administrators and is up for sale. Organisers of the cafe say that if they can raise £100,000 they can secure a mortgage to buy the property for themselves.

Volunteer Harry Giles said they had £47,000 in donations and pledges so far. He said: “We’re feeling pretty optimistic and it’s been really great having the community rally round.

“We’ve been fundraising since we had the letter saying the landlords had gone bankrupt in October but we launched this £100,000 target in August. The problem is that it’s a fairly open deadline – it seems that we’re not working to a particular deadline except ‘as soon as possible’.”

The cafe has raised £32,000 in donations and a further £15,000 has been pledged via the website www.wefund.com, which gathers financial support for non-profit enterprises, but only collects if the target is reached. Individual pledges have ranged from £5 to £1000.

High-profile supporters have included Stephen Fry, who tweeted his backing to followers, while musician Amanda Palmer and author Neil Gaiman both performed for free at The Forest during the Fringe to help raise funds. Coffers will be swelled further by a silent art auction at Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street on Friday.

Mr Giles said: “This is the brainchild of an artist called Eric Brooks who worked at the Forest Cafe a while ago and returned this summer and decided that the one thing he could do was to set up an auction and donate some of his artwork and get a number of donations from other artists, local and national.

“It’s important that we raise as much as we can because The Forest is just such an exciting and unique resource for the Edinburgh community. Being a free and open-access arts centre means we provide a platform for anybody to get involved in the arts and that’s such an important thing.”

Mr Brooks, who now lives in San Francisco but is back in Edinburgh for several months, is donating 19 works to the auction. Each one, painted on recycled wood and canvas at The Forest in August, comes attached to a key that once opened a door in the building.

He has also gathered work from more than 30 other artists for the event, which will see opening bids set at £5, with a raffle for £1 per ticket for additional artwork.

Mr Brooks said he was keen to help the cafe after revisiting it for the first time since 2003. He said: “To return and really see the advancement made has been a shock, so much bigger and better than I could have imagined. This is a true community centre that really has its focus on what can be offered to anyone and everyone.”

See www.theforest.org.uk or www.wefund.com/project/help-forest-cafe-buy-bristo-place

sgyford@edinburghnews.com