Royal Mile’s historic heart to be literary quarter

The Netherbow would be rebranded
The Netherbow would be rebranded
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A MULTI-MILLION bid to create Scotland’s first official literature quarter has been launched to mark the 10 years since Edinburgh was honoured as a global culture capital.

A stretch of the Royal Mile will be given official status in recognition of centuries of publishing heritage in the area and the number of literary organisations still based there.

Property owners and arts organisations have agreed to join forces over a long-term blueprint for the Netherbow area, where Scotland’s earliest books were published in the early 16th century, with the aim of transforming its fortunes over the next five years.

A new charitable trust will pursue a host of projects to raise the profile of the “Unesco City of Literature”, a world title first secured by the Capital.

The traditional entry point into medieval Edinburgh is already home to Canongate Publishing, the Scottish Story­telling Centre, the Scottish Book Trust, the organisers of Scotland’s annual week-long celebration of reading, and the Saltire Society, which stages the nation’s most prestigious literary awards.

Neglected and historic buildings would be redeveloped and brought back into public use, new guided tours would explore the publishing heritage of little-known closes and courtyards and part of the Royal Mile pedestrianised to help create a “year-round presence” for the city’s literary credentials.

Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh Unesco City of ­Literature Trust, said: “Our priority for the next three years will be the development of this new literature hub on the Royal Mile, around the Scottish Storytelling Centre at the Netherbow.

“There is a lot of ambition for the area and all the partners involved see the potential in it. It’s about getting money behind it now.

“The Netherbow area is a hotspot of literature and living culture organisations and it’s an environment saturated in Scottish literature and culture from the medieval to the contemporary. You wouldn’t really know it was a centre of literature if you were to walk around it just now.”

Among the projects being explored are a redevelopment of the Scottish Book Trust’s headquarters, a restoration of a 15th century church building which has lain empty for years, and finding a new use for Mowbray House, one of the oldest buildings on the Mile. It is thought at least £3 million will have to be raised.

Donald Smith, development director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, said: “We’ve got support from all the private owners and public bodies for the objective of securing the long-term literary and cultural future of the buildings in this area.

“There is general agreement that this is right up at the head of the list of key things Edinburgh must achieve in the next few years and the city needs to use its cultural assets, which are central to its reputation and success.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk