Edinburgh's Portobello Town Hall to be made 'beating heart' of community after local takeover

Portobello Town Hall is set to become the “beating heart” of the community after a local social enterprise won the battle to take over the building.
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The city council put the B-listed property on the market last year after a survey found it would cost more than £1 million to bring up to standard.

Portobello Central Ltd, which was set up by the community to bid for the building, has seen off a rival proposal to use it as a food market and plans instead to carry out repairs and breathe new life into it, making it “the go to place for information, support, education, entertainment, company, and culture”.

Portobello Town Hall dates back to 1914Portobello Town Hall dates back to 1914
Portobello Town Hall dates back to 1914
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And if all goes well, it could be up and running by April 2022.

Board member Geoff Pearson said when people in the community were asked what they wanted to see happening in the town hall, the answers ranged from the nostalgic –including northern soul dancing, boxing and wrestling – to more modern interests.

He said: “We want to make the place as lively as possible. We want it to be open from 8am, when there would be gym sessions, right through till midnight when the last show finishes – the centre of entertainment, fun plus yoga sessions, serious theatre and concerts.”

The building dates back to 1914 and includes a main hall with ornate barrelled ceiling with surrounding balconies, capable of seating around 450, together with a lesser hall with capacity for about 60. Its most recent use was as a venue available for hire through the council’s libraries service.

The building is destined to be the 'beating heart' of the communityThe building is destined to be the 'beating heart' of the community
The building is destined to be the 'beating heart' of the community
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Portobello Central’s prospectus for the building says: “Our vision is for Portobello Town Hall to be the focal point of the town, the beating heart supporting a truly resilient ‘20-minute community’. Portobello Town Hall will become the ‘go to’ place for information, support, education, entertainment, company, and culture.

“Portobello Central Ltd is a social enterprise whose mission is to place Portobello Town Hall under community management to enhance life in Portobello for the benefit of local residents and the local economy.”

The group will run the buiding on a lease from the council and is setting up a charity which will allow it to apply to the National Lottery for funding to carry out the necessary repairs to the building, but hopes in the end there could be a community asset transfer.

Another member of Portobello Central, Jennifer Elliot, said: “We are really excited by the decision and the support of the council. This is the start of the hard work.”

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She said there had been strong community support for the group. “There were 500 people responded to our surveys in the summer last year and there has been general goodwill towards the project.”

Council finance convener Rob Munn said: “It’s so important that local people have a say on and find their own solutions to what they need most in their local communities. I’m very much looking forward to working with the people of Portobello to help them bring this important building back to life for everyone in the area to enjoy.”

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