Protesters unite in bid save historic Portobello school building from demolition

A protest against the demolition of the old St John's Primary School led by Richard Demarco.
A protest against the demolition of the old St John's Primary School led by Richard Demarco.
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Scores of protesters have gathered outside the former St John’s Primary School for a last ditch attempt to save the historic building before it is flattened.

Up to 40 people, led by one of Scotland’s leading culture figures and former St John’s pupil Ricky Demarco, are today showing their opposition to the city council’s decision to demolish the building in order to create a park on the Duddingston Road site.

Richard Demarco outside the former school site on Monday morning.

Richard Demarco outside the former school site on Monday morning.

It is understood demolition of the former school’s gym has already started while the main building is set to be knocked down this week.

But campaigners see the school building as a vital part of Portobello’s history and vow to keep fighting while the building still stands.

Ricky Demarco has lobbied Lord Provost Frank Ross with an idea to house part of his exhaustive arts archive while residents also seeing the site as a new home for many artists who will soon be vacating Meadowbank’s St Margaret’s House.

Campaigner Rosie Nimmo told the Evening News: “We have around 1300 signatures and we just want this process to stop just so we can consider the options available. Things have changed since the decision to demolish the building was made.

Richard Demarco speaks to fellow campaigners hoping to save the historic building in Portobello.

Richard Demarco speaks to fellow campaigners hoping to save the historic building in Portobello.

“To lose the building for a park is a lost opportunity for Portobello. It is a great space which could be used to artists and also store Ricky Demarco’s archives. This is a building of historical significance and we need to preserve that.

“It is absolute madness destroying it. We feel as though time is running out as the workmen are continuing the work.

“However there is still hope and all we want is the council to review the options now available.”

Mr Demarco credits the school which he attended in the late 1930s and early 1940s as his “inspiration”.

Built in 1924, the Neo-Georgian building was designed by renowned school architects Reid and Forbes.

The site is thought to be the first newly-built Catholic school in Edinburgh, and possibly Scotland, after the Scottish Education Act 1918 integrated denomination schools into the state system.

Campaigners have claimed that the plans to demolish the building were never broadly circulated to residents. But a council spokesman said the proposals have been “public knowledge for several years”.

Mr Demarco credits the school which he attended in the late 1930s and early 1940s as his “inspiration”. He also would like to see St John’s used for future festival events, branching out to Portobello from the city centre.

He said: “These buildings provided me, even as a child, with a love and respect for architecture.

“St. John’s Primary School must be regarded as a gem in the architectural history of Scotland.

“I worry that there are few people alive who can remember Portobello during the war.

“I believe the beautiful building could be the home of a centre of history for that part of Edinburgh.

“It is incredibly important for Edinburgh to recognise Portobello and its history. Portobello is just being ignored and that’s why we need to protect it by stopping this demolition.

“We want to halt this demolition. St John’s helped me become the man I am today and it needs to have a future.”