We need to report what we have done and what is planned – it’s a bit formal but many of you will not know the whole story. We have over 80 subscribers so now is the time to set out our plan and progress towards it.
Our core purpose
To bring back into use Portobello Town Hall, with an emphasis on community management. This is less about preserving a listed building than about providing an active and useful centre to the town. It is also about re-thinking what use can be made of the spaces (as there are more than one) in the current social circumstances. What seemed an uphill task before CV19 is now something of a cliff to climb. That said, our engagement with the Council suggests they look on us as worth talking to. The Council asked for proposals and that is our primary task.
Many of you will know that a group was allowed to roam freely in the Town Hall on 28 March, with Council officers keen for us to see anything and everything. Council reports on condition were made available. Our overall impression was that a lot of work was needed in due course but probably not that much before a limited opening.
Our tentative timetable
September: submit a draft proposal to the Council for comment and discussion.
December: agree the terms of lease with the Council
Create a legal entity, probably a SCIO, capable of signing a lease
April 2021: take entry, make safe, clean, invite prospective users to see round.
October 2021: trial events
December 2021: full programme
We are working to establish the bones of a business plan, to find who might be core users, anchor tenants and so on. We have a website with presences on Facebook (almost 1000 members), Twitter and Instagram. We are aiming to have 300 conversations in 30 days – ranging from up to a dozen in a Zoom room to some 1:1 chats.
On-line surveys are underway, accessible on the website and one specifically for Portobello High School pupils. For those not online, or who prefer to respond on paper, a leaflet has been produced and distributed around town .
Currently all prospective funders are marking time and the signs are not encouraging for a white knight to come over the hill. Engagement has costs but there are some donations. You may have heard that £750,000 – £1million is needed; this is true, to put the Town Hall back into tip-top condition. We don’t think that is needed to re-open but if the building is to be brought into a condition for an extended new life then that sort of sum and more is likely to be necessary. Just taking it back to a 1914 condition is not the right path; for example, a new approach to energy will be essential.
We have kept our working group small, just 7 people, in order to make solid progress. We meet on line twice a week or more. We are bringing in expertise from a wider circle of people with knowledge. In due course, we will assemble groups to look at, for example, how to make the building safe and to re-purpose some of the spaces. We are conscious that there are users still on site, tending allotments.
We are certain that with much more active management and publicity, offering more flexible operational arrangements than the Council was able to provide, we can attract many of the users who have enjoyed the Town Hall in the past. But the thrills of past glory days will be difficult to reproduce under social distancing, if that continues. We have visited Leith Town Hall and been briefed on the effort needed there. We think that our Town Hall is an easier prospect – it is in better condition, in the centre of a lively community and has a recent positive history.
What do we need from you?
We need to show the Council that our proposal (once assembled) has strong community support and grew from community ideas. Active participation in consultation is important. More so is active involvement in finding users and their supporters. If you have an idea, a project, or a friend looking for a venue, please talk up what the Town Hall could offer.
we are having some difficulty in making a list of things that did happen in the Town Hall. If you remember anything, even if you are not sure of the date, let us know – “when was that wedding we went to?”
If we are offered a lease?
At that point we need to create a legal entity, separate from any in Portobello to avoid risk to others. This is likely to be a SCIO – a newish combination of a company limited by guarantee and a charity. That would need trustees and, perhaps, members, but would be able to apply for funding from major funders, such as the Lottery. However, if there is to be no lease, there is no point in setting up such a body – hence our timetable.
We welcome your help now in bringing together a community view and later, we hope, in making the Town Hall an active contributor to Portobello life.
The Portobello Central Working Group 21 June 2020