Game of Thrones star launches £25m Princes Street Gardens transformation project

A twenty-five million pound campaign to help pay for a radical overhaul of part of Princes Street Gardens has been launched with the support of Game of Thrones star Iain Glen.
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The Edinburgh-born actor has recorded a voice-over for an animated film which has been unveiled to coincide with the kick-starting of at least three years of fundraising.

The Quaich Project, as the revamp will be known from today, will create a new arena for open-air concerts and events in West Princes Street Gardens, replacing the existing Ross Bandstand at the heart of “a landmark space that makes a clear statement as a welcoming, diverse, historic and forward-thinking destination”.

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Named after Scotland’s traditional cup of friendship, the new identity is said to have been inspired by the bowl-shaped topography of the gardens, which host the fireworks finale of the Edinburgh International Festival and the centrepiece concert of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations.

The Quaich Project.The Quaich Project.
The Quaich Project.

The Ross Development Trust, which was created by former Edinburgh Playhouse owner Norman Springford after he offered to help pay for a new venue, said the planned overhaul would make the gardens “truly world class”.

Mr Springford, who has offered to pay £5 million towards the cost of The Quaich, declared: “Our ambition is to create a space that says something about us as a nation – a place we can all be proud of.”

The trust, which says it wants to “bring people together in new ways to celebrate one of Scotland’s finest green spaces,” hopes there will be a hike in the number of people using the gardens, by opening up the area currently occupied by the bandstand for daily use, as well as overhauling the wider landscape.

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The campaign and brand have been developed by The Edinburgh-based advertising and design agency The Lane, whose previous clients include Edinburgh Airport, 
ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne, biscuit manufacturer Border and Scottish dairy firm Graham’s.

As it will look after the transformationAs it will look after the transformation
As it will look after the transformation

The voice-over by Glen, who plays Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones, states: “It’s time to write the next chapter in this landmark location’s story.

“It’s time to reimagine this place as a space for all, from local residents to international visitors. The vision is to create a space that is proud of its past but celebrates the future, with contemporary designs and world-class amenities.”

Built in 1935, to replace a bandstand erected in 1877, the current structure was branded “no longer fit for purpose” by the council three years ago.

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The new venue is not likely to open until 2023, four years later than originally anticipated by Mr Springford, who revealed his plans in 2015. Fundraising is expected to continue until the end of 2022, with work on the arena not expected to start until the project is fully funded.

As it looks now.As it looks now.
As it looks now.

However some infrastructure improvements could be carried out well before then.

The trust will be consulting on detailed designs for The Quaich within the next few months, with a planning application expected to be lodged with the city council “early next year”.

The council began exploring the possibility of a new bandstand after the eleventh-hour cancellation of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations due to bad weather 16 years ago, but was forced to shelve the project due to a lack of funding.

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An international design contest to find a find a replacement for the bandstand was finally launched two years ago after councillors agreed to let Mr Springford pursue the project. A winning concept design, led by American architects wHY and involving Edinburgh-based design studio GRAS, was chosen in August 2017.

Iain Glen at the premiere of Game of Thrones season 7, Los Angeles. Pic: Broadimage/REX/ShutterstockIain Glen at the premiere of Game of Thrones season 7, Los Angeles. Pic: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock
Iain Glen at the premiere of Game of Thrones season 7, Los Angeles. Pic: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock

However detailed design work and fundraising was put on hold amid behind the scenes wrangling over who would be responsible for maintaining and running the new-look gardens. Plans to set up an arms-length organisation were shelved after a public outcry in favour of the council retaining full control.

The council is adamant that no more than five major events, which restrict access to the gardens, will be allowed each year. However it insists a series of all-ticket concerts only counts as one event. Promoters DF Concerts have confirmed nine gigs in August under the banner of the Summer Sessions.

Mr Springford said: “Our vision is to champion a project to make the gardens truly world class and accessible to all members of the community. Whether a resident or a visitor, they will welcome all and have something different to offer everyone, young and old.

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“The renewed gardens will offer a more enjoyable and pleasant experience for everyone, whether they’re looking for a quiet place to stop and rest, want to enjoy a walk in the shadow of one of the world’s most iconic castles, or want to enjoy a performance in a stunning venue.”

Jules Haston, director of development at the trust, said: “The Quaich Project is unique, Scottish and perfectly captures the sentiment of our vision. Focusing on friendship will give us a great platform for launching our fundraising campaign.”

Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, said: “West Princes Street Gardens are a central and much-loved part of civic life in the city. One of our greatest assets, they are an important public space where everyone should feel welcome and enjoy the beautiful and iconic surroundings.

“The Quaich Project will realise the promise of the winning design and ensure enjoyment for generations to come.”