Edinburgh nightclub clears dancefloor to become part of Ragged University

Events manager Mariusz Bogacki at Cabaret Voltaire, which is linking up with the Ragged University. Picture:''' Neil Hanna
Events manager Mariusz Bogacki at Cabaret Voltaire, which is linking up with the Ragged University. Picture:''' Neil Hanna
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It is one of Edinburgh’s most popular nightclubs, with clubbers forming lengthy queues into the early hours to enjoy live music in its Old Town basement vaults.

But now Cabaret Voltaire is revamping itself along the lines of many European nightclubs and branching out with the pioneering Ragged University educational movement to host a free showing of the Ken Loach movie I, Daniel Blake about a man caught up in welfare bureaucracy.

The move is part of an initiative flourishing in cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin and Budapest where nightclubs are increasingly becoming social spaces during the day and early evenings for community events such as arts and craft sessions and yoga classes.

The club has already established weekly classes including a “Say it Ain’t Sew” class for craft sewing, a yoga class set to deep house music and the All The Young Nudes life drawing class.

Mariusz Bogacki, the club’s events coordinator, said he wanted to transform the club from a place where clubbers “not only come to get drinking, but to debate too”, and throw open the venue to local people and the community.

“I’ve been employed to turn the venue into more than a club, and want it to be a social space to reignite the feeling of community. This is an unusual idea for Edinburgh but it is happening in many other European cities,” Bogacki said.

“The Old Town has been revived with a lot of gentrification. There are new venues popping up on every corner but there’s been nothing which really brings all people, different sorts and ages, together.

“What I want to do is reignite this feeling of community, break boundaries and influence students and clubbers to see the venue in a different way.

“I’m a big fan of Alex Dunedin and his project the Ragged University. It’s great and fits in with what we want to do.

“We talked about I, Daniel Blake in January and I thought it would be ideal to screen at the club. It fits in with the current climate of austerity, rising flat prices and student debt.”

Dunedin, the man behind the “Ragged Uni” – free education in contemporary locations – is a former homeless alcoholic and drug addict who said he went to nightclubs and all-night parties so he could finish off people’s drinks and keep warm.

The non-profit Ragged University is the modern-day take on the Ragged Schools movement, which included Brechin-born Thomas Guthrie, who in 1847 opened the first Ragged School in Free St John’s Church, Castlehill, in Edinburgh, for destitute pupils.

“When you’re homeless you’ve got 24 hours to fill and you’ve always got to blend in. I spent a lot of time at parties. The clubbing and pub scene are other places where you find the hospitality of strangers,” said Dunedin, who left school at age 16 with no formal qualifications.

Six years ago Dunedin, 40, founded the non-profit Ragged University after hearing about the Ragged Schools movement from two former Edinburgh teachers, Eileen Broughton and Roy Wilsher.

It now attracts a range of speakers from university lecturers to artists and 
poets sharing their expertise at pubs, cafes and village halls, at free events dubbed “TED talks for ordinary people”.

Money raised at the Cabaret Voltaire screening on 23 February, starting at 7pm, will be donated to food banks. The evening includes a discussion about benefits sanctions with Mike Cormack of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty.