Danish ballet legend buys historic St Stephen’s Church

St Stephen's Church. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
St Stephen's Church. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A DANISH ballet legend has bought a historic church given a new lease of life as a community arts hub and festival venue.

Peter Schaufuss, founder of the English National Ballet School, has taken over St Stephen’s Church in Stockbridge – three years after it was snapped up by computer games pioneer Leslie Benzies, 46.

Peter Schaufuss on the right in blue.. Picture: Alan Davidson

Peter Schaufuss on the right in blue.. Picture: Alan Davidson

Mr Benzies, former president of Grand Theft Auto publisher Rockstar North, bought the church for a reported £500,000 in summer 2014.

It has since been used by a number of community groups and as a venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.

Funds from the sale – for an undisclosed sum – will be ploughed into schemes promoting health and fitness.

Mr Schaufuss, an Olivier-award winner who was knighted in his home country in 1988, said he planned to create a “world-class theatre” for the Capital.

He said: “St Stephen’s has latterly been used as a community and artistic centre and it is my wish to continue the building’s evolution from its former use as a public and community venue under the ownership of the Benzies Foundation.

“I plan to make the Great Hall a world-class theatre, one that will attract productions from leading companies from around the world, while the ground-floor level and basement area lends itself to many exciting uses moving forward, both cultural and community-based.”

Mr Schaufuss, 67, has links to the Capital, having previously won the Edinburgh Critics Prize, while his parents performed at the EIF in 1955.

He said: “I have consulted with many people and public organisations in Edinburgh and I am happy to say that all share my enthusiasm, not least because they want to ensure that St Stephen’s will continue to hold its place in the affections of all who know it, but also because we can all see how well suited it is to become one of the Capital’s major centres of artistic excellence.”

St Stephen’s was designed by architect William Henry Playfair and has been hailed as one of the most important Georgian buildings in the area.

Philip Johnston, trustee for the Benzies Foundation, which was established by Mr Benzies, said: “The building has served many local community groups over the years and we value its long-term viability. This was an entirely philanthropic purchase by the Benzies Foundation back in 2014 and significant investment and improvements have been made since then.

“It was always our intention to keep the building in use and available as a community space whilst securing a sustainable future. We now believe we have taken this as far as we can.

“All proceeds from the sale will flow directly into the Benzies Foundation, which helps to promote health and fitness amongst communities within Scotland by providing scholarships to individuals or teams who are enthusiastic but financially unable to participate in their chosen sports.”