Arts centre plans and £5m to boot

A woman working at Castle Mills in 1951. Picture: TSPL
A woman working at Castle Mills in 1951. Picture: TSPL
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A REMNANT of the Capital’s once celebrated rubber industry has received a £5 million funding boost to transform it into an arts centre.

Castle Mills in Fountainbridge, which is on the Buildings at Risk register, has been awarded the cash by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It is hoped the listed building – the birthplace of the Wellington boot, modern motor car tyre and the first-ever traffic cone – will become a creative hub for the visual arts.

The proposals feature plans for a printmakers, art centre, cafe and learning centre.

The announcement was made just days after property development firm the EDI group unveiled ambitious plans to regenerate the former McEwen’s brewery site adjacent to the former rubber factory.

Built in stages between 1856 and 1897 beside the Union Canal, Castle Mills has a strong industrial heritage which played a central role in Edinburgh’s development and economy. At its peak, the North British Rubber company employed 8000 other people and covered a 20-acre site.

Even as late as the 1950s, it was the city’s largest industry employing more than 3000 people.

It pioneered the use of India rubber to make Wellington boots for 1.2 million soldiers in the First World War.

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Castle Mills was once at the heart of a thriving community, but now stands empty and neglected and whilst much-loved, its restoration presents huge financial challenges.

“We are delighted to be able to help unlock its potential so that it can once again be a centre for new ideas and productivity and a catalyst in the regeneration of Fountainbridge.”

Plans for a “new city neighbourhood” on the 8.2 acres just north of the Union Canal and across the road from the new Boroughmuir High School will be submitted to Edinburgh City Council for planning permission in principle in May.

The masterplan for a vibrant new community to “shop, work, stay and play”, informed by workshops with local residents, includes plans for 340 new homes.

It is estimated that 1400 jobs will be created at the development’s retail units and business areas, in addition to local construction jobs.

The proposals also have a strong focus on leisure activities and the arts.