THE historic Tron Kirk is to become a heritage centre for Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns.
The city council has agreed to give Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) a three-year lease on the A-listed building in the Royal Mile - and the new centre could open as soon as June.
The plan is to showcase the history and architecture of the Capital’s world heritage site along with a pop-up pavilion-style shop to fund the project.
And in the longer term, EWH proposes a complete refurbishment of the building which would include facilities for the local community and a learning space for teachers and children.
The Tron dates back to 1633 but has not been used as a church since 1952 and is officially listed on the Historic Environment Scotland Buildings at Risk register.
In 2013 the council agreed the building should be earmarked for EWH to create a visitor centre, but in the meantime it was leased out and for the last couple of years has been a Victorian Market.
The council’s finance committee had to choose between giving a three-year lease to EWH or putting the lease on the open market.
Outlining their proposal, EWH director Adam Wilkinson told councillors: “This will be the first time the overall story of the city’s heritage has been told in this context and with this level of exposure.
“At the moment there is nowhere in Edinburgh you can go to learn about the world heritage site as a whole.”
The heritage centre will involve stand-alone modules inside the church telling the story of the Old and New Towns. No significant work is planned on the building as part of the three-year lease. And the rental from the shop is intended to make the project self-financing.
Mr Wilkinson said: “This is an important moment for conservation in Edinburgh and I would like to thank the city’s leadership for the trust they have placed in us.
“The Tron is a marvellous example of Scottish 17th century architecture, but its future has been uncertain for many years.
“This is an opportunity to tell the story of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site to residents and visitors alike, and is a first step towards creating a sustainable future for a building which is currently at risk.”
He said if EWH received the lease at the start of April it would be able to open the centre at the start of June.
An application by EWH for £4.9m of lottery funding 18 months ago was rejected. But Mr Wilkinson said he hoped the experience of running the centre over the next two years would make a fresh application much stronger.
City Centre Labour councillor Karen Doran said she was delighted with the plans.
She said: “We’re going to have a heritage building in the heart of the city. Schoolchildren, visitors and everyone can go there and they will learn what world heritage means, see how it works and how it came about.
“The Tron has not had a great history for a long time. But this will bring so much vibrancy to the area.”