New Leaf for the Heart of Portobello

Usually this blog is quite easy to write – I just dash down what ever Porty Central business is whirling round my head. Maybe it’s a sign of a good holiday but there is not much Porty Central business flying round my heid. I’m sure if I just wait a few days it will all be back. 

I enjoyed last night’s weekly catch up meeting and it was great to see everyone (on Zoom) but not sure I took away loads. Here’s what I took from the meeting:

We hope to hear back from the Council team that had access to the Town Hall last week some time in early to mid August (allowing again for holidays) and to get an update on works to be done.

  • We will hold our first official SCIO meeting at next Monday’s meeting and will elect new Trustees and appoint the office bearers.
  • We need to decide on a model for Rob – our heritage consultant – to create his business case which will come from the architects’ options. It is likely a long time off for any of those changes to take place but we need to start the plan now so he needs an answer by end of this month. 
  • We need to give focus to the job description and get that out but given how much changed between getting the Awards for All funding and now, it is not surprising the job spec is morphing. Focus will be less on project managing building work (although that will still be a skill set) but will be more on building a business ready for doors opening.

There will have been lots more covered but that is what I heard and remember the morning after the meeting. 

After we finished the Zoom, I headed up to the allotment to water the bounty flourishing there. Check this huge cabbage – it’s the size of my (empty) (cabbage) heid! It is a thing of beauty. Looking forward to eating it. 

Return From Which Mountain?

I’m back from my holidays and feeling relaxed and refreshed. Huge thanks to Morag for keeping the blog going in my absence and Geoff for his continuing work on that matter. Morag did fabulously and it was harder than usual as, with a few folks on hols, there was slightly less to-ing and fro-ing on Porty Central business. She handled it brilliantly, imaginatively and in her own inimitable style. Thank you Morag! This is my #33 out of my planned 100 blogs, picking up from my last one #32.

I’m not someone who switches off emails and social media when on holiday but I look at it on my terms and usually choose to read but not reply in a detached fashion. This means I don’t have tons of Porty Central emails to wade through after my hols but there are a few I need to go back and read more carefully. I’m looking forward to the Monday night meeting tonight – it didn’t take place last two weeks – so there will be plenty to catch up on, I’m sure. Damian has pulled together an agenda for it. 

Big news I did pick up was the SCIO registration is through from OSCR. Portobello Central is now a charity! A few details to work out on that, not least around banking which Geoff has been handling. I’ll need to read the email about being a SCIO trustee properly soon! Know there has been some good comms work going on in the background and I look forward to seeing the output of that in the coming weeks. 

Other news from my point of view is that we didn’t put in for this round of Scottish Land Fund money. I had the application form started and it was hanging over me a bit last weekend but I would have got it in, one way or another. However it wasn’t sitting right. We didn’t know well enough what to ask for – timing is everything in these applications and our timings were just not meeting theirs. We didn’t have our shopping list ready to put down in a form. Also SLF is very focused on ownership (understandably so and we’ve always known that). Our very helpful SLF advisor clarified: 

‘If you are awarded a technical assistance grant you need to complete all work and have spent the grant before sending us your stage 2 application. We expect you to submit your stage 2 application within 6 months of the date of your stage 1 confirmation letter. Therefore, if it you don’t intend to acquire full ownership of the building in the next year or so, my advice would be to delay your application to the Scottish Land Fund.’

With so many balls up in the air right now that settled it and we decided not to put the application in this time. It runs every three months and we are still working things along with the Architectural Heritage Fund for now. With that decision, I was able to properly switch off and fully enjoyed my time with the family in wildest Perthshire. Favourite bit was probably climbing Ben-y-Vrackie for a friend’s birthday on Saturday in glorious sunshine albeit with wild winds. The views were amazing.

Mountaineering metaphor anyone?

Jen’s Blog #33

Open the doors, and they will come

Early on in this process I started making contacts with potential hirers.  I wasn’t able to promise anything, but people had faith and my list keeps  growing.

We lost some good lets when the hall was  closed with no real warning in June 2019.   

However, we have several past users eager to return.  Brenda Ronnie, who has a Highland Dancing School, has put on competitions in the hall for many a year and is happy to continue putting on competitions.  The interest in Highland is big.  I, myself, danced at age 14 in Portobello Town Hall, winning the East Scotland  Championships.  No wonder I like the Town Hall.

Discovery Wrestling have also said they will be back.  They love the hall and I have talked with boxing promoters as well. (Some may say I just want to ogle sweaty bodies).  I assure you all that I undertake this “only” for the good of the Town Hall.

I have just been looking through my extensive list and the variety of possible hirers range from Pilates and yoga to film school and community photography and even puppy training classes.

I have been contacted by several foodies who want to rent the kitchen by the hour, to cook food, for selling at markets, and for outside catering.  I didn’t realise how popular the kitchen would be!   It’s an ideal kitchen to teach in as well.

In the dance department, we have had interest from a burlesque school which puts on shows and teaches.  Step dance and Highland teachers.  Ballroom and Latin American may be on the cards.  A colleague of mine has said the big hall is ideal for ballroom competitions.  Maybe we need to get a glitter ball.

So, what else I hear you say?  Well, we do hope to make the venue appealing for weddings and other events.   Not everyone realised that the Town Hall has held lots of weddings, and a lot of happy brides have married there.

Carmen Chalmers says she wants to hold some regular  “Maker’s Markets” there.  We used to call them craft markets of course!

There has been talk of pantomime.  My own Lothian Dance Academy shows, of course .  The large auditorium, decent stage, and good acoustics, has attracted interest from producers and promoters and hints about fringe venues.

People have been asking for  smaller rooms and spaces for massage, reiki, therapies, language learning, among other things.

One of the most anticipated  regular event is the highly popular Northern Soul weekends.  Stebo Froude  was a regular at the Town Hall and waits eagerly for the relaxation  of the Covid rules and the opening of the Town Hall doors.

One potential weekly event, and the one that has all age groups, buzzing, is UNITED SK8S, which runs roller disco sessions and parties.  Its really trending at the moment.  James Hunter has run sessions all over Scotland  and can’t wait to do them in PTH.  Us too, James!

I could go on but I fear I have written too much already and put some of you to sleep.  I just can’t  help it.   I am just so excited to tell you all, of the diverse range of people that have approached us to use the Town Hall when the doors finally open.

Stay safe and happy.

Morag ❤

Raising the Roof with Dance

Oh my goodness!  Today was just too hot.  I spent the day under a fan in a darkened room.  Emerged out,  like a vampire, when the cool breezes of the evening wafted in to bring cool refreshing air.  The neighbours and I all gathered, gladly in the back garden under the shade of the trees, to drink gin and sip cooling mint and lime cordial.

On the prom, families have packed up the barbies, sun lotion, and gone home.  To bathe grizzly babies and toddlers, sooth sunburn and show off tan lines.  They are replaced by the night time revellers who congregate with guitars and beer.  Not going be easy to sleep tonight. But who can blame people for wanting to get together and be with friends. 

Which brings me to my project.  A few months ago I applied for a small grant of £200 from the Traditional Dance Forum  Scotland.  Which I am happy to say we got.  There were  five different groups awarded money for various events, all really diverse.  This money was to be used in planning events that would begin to wake up traditional dance in Scotland after Covid.  The plan is simple.  I want to put on a ceilidh in Portobello  Town Hall that would not only waken up traditional  dance and music, but also celebrate the reopening  of our beloved Town Hall.  The dates of this ceilidh  will depend on being free of restrictions. And so I am looking at Autumn 2022. 

We have so much talent in Portobello.  Home of Oi Musica, run by my neighbours Olivia and Marcus.  We have Rosie Nimmo aka Rosie Blue and the wonderful  Mairi Campbell.  We also have  ‘Fun Fiddle’ which is a group of young musicians. Taught by another local,  Gica Loening, who herself is an excellent fiddle player. And of course many more.

My plan is to bring people together in a celebration of traditional  dance, music and singing.  Creating this ceilidh/performance event is an opportunity  to showcase traditional music and dance and  get people, and especially  children motivated, and also introduce  people to lesser known traditional dance e.g.: step dance, which had all but disappeared in Scotland  30 years ago, but is making a come back. In fact we are lucky to have Alison Carlyle living  locally. Alison is a performer and teacher of Scottish step dance. 

Did you know that we have four traditional  dance forms?   They are Highland dance, country dancing, Scottish step dance and ceilidh dance.  We have all been whirled round the dance floor doing a Gay Gordons or a Dashing White Sergeant.  Some of us have done Highland.  Not so many have seen step dancing.  It went to Nova Scotia with immigrants and ironically survived over there and died out back here.  Thankfully  it has been slowly reviving thanks to enthusiasts like Alison and thankfully  back home.

So get out your kilts lads and iron these ceilidh dresses girls because this ceilidh will raise the roof off Porty Town Hall.

(Oh dear!  Could have worded that better.  A lot of money being spent on the roof)

Tell me below what you think?  Are you coming?

Keep safe


Knocking at the Door

Wilma’s wedding

I realised something today.  In none of my blogs have I mentioned the pandemic.  In fact the presence  of Covid has never escaped us all in our quest to open up the Town Hall.

It was the No 1 worry about taking on such a large project in the beginning.  What if we open the doors and discover that we have to lockdown again? We could be sitting looking at a big, beautiful, empty building.  But then we would be no different to any other business  that had to lockdown.  We would just have to respect that this was a pandemic and find ways to use the building to perhaps help people during lockdown.

For example, the children of front line workers needed places to be looked after in.  Leith Theatre partnered with Empty Kitchens during lockdown to make and distribute meals. We would like to think we would have had the imagination, to do something to help the community, if need be, and make use of the vast space we had.

But on the other hand, we also knew that with such a large space, once things started to open up, we knew that we could offer a large space for activities. With such a high ceiling the ventilation would be good.  You could hold activities  and easily maintain a two metre space between people.  It would not be bustling they way we wanted but it would have been a start.  In fact, a  perfect solution for myself, as a dance studio owner with small studios.  I would have jumped at the chance to move classes to the Town Hall when we came out of lockdown.  Instead we had to restrict some class sizes to comply with guidelines.  We also couldn’t have adult classes for most of the year.  So I am in no doubt that if the Town Hall had been open, that there would have been people, like myself, knocking at the door.

However, we have come through this worry and are quietly confident that by April 2022 that we will hopefully  be returning  to a more normal life, albeit with restrictions of a sort.  As ever, we can all be adaptable.

Keep safe, good people


The Owl, The Lark & The Fish.

Barn Owl

These blogs are becoming a necessary part of my day.  Its a distraction from the mundane everyday  worries that fill my head.  It focuses me and reminds me that we have climbed a mountain so far and reached basecamp. (Jon’s analogy, not mine)  So anything seems possible.

We are still looking at a long climb, but we now have permission to proceed and what’s more we have many more climbers that are there to help us on and to hold the ropes for us.  It reminds me what can be done with determination and faith in oneself and one’s comrades.  

I am also meeting up, chatting online and having coffee with some really, eager  to help, people and potential  users.  That is, people who want to hire to put on regular  events.  This is before we have even opened or advertised that the hall is available.  So if anyone was in doubt that Porty Town Hall was not viable, well, think again.  This baby is for walking honey. (said in a cool American  way)

I usually start my blogs thinking that I have nothing to say, but incredibly thoughts seem to manifest round about midnight.   So that’s when Morag the Werewolf gets her teeth into putting thoughts and ideas to paper.  It’s a great system Geoff  and I have evolved.  I send at 2am and he picks up at 5am when he gets up.  He is the Lark & I am the Owl.  He adds a witty or interesting introduction and then posts  online.

I have to say that sometimes I open up Facebook and do a double take.   The other day, he managed to introduce me by posting a photo of a fish shop and entitled it ‘sell fish’.  I completely forgot that I had written about feeling selfish.

However I really did wonder yesterday morning  when he had me ‘pumped up and full of beans’.  Is Geoff hinting that I am full of wind?  And worse is there something  fishy going on!

As todays blog has swung off course a bit.   I am intrigued to see how he describes  me today. I await with anticipation.

Tomorrow I am going to talk to you about my planned ceilidh.  I have been awarded some money by the Traditional Dance Forum Scotland to go towards opening up traditional dance after Covid.  So it’s a double celebration.

Stay safe


Perpetuum Mobile

A No 42 outside the Town Hall

The process that Portobello Central was started for has come a long way.  We fought the commercial and convinced the powers to be that we were a serious  and capable group.  We asked the community what they wanted and we are delivering.

Constant motion towards a goal we had to achieve.  It is now time to think to the further future.  How do I see the building?  How do my colleagues see it? What do we envisage? What do you the community  see?

Once the building is made safe and watertight, and the lease signed,  then activities  can start coming in.  Refurbishment and decorating  works can be going on in some spaces whilst the doors are open to certain activities.  It is very important to get people using the town hall ASAP.  We want it to seem like it never closed.  The last two years can be absorbed in the mists of time.

Now we are approved as a charity, we will be able to apply to many more funding places.  This funding will be essential in the initial few years to pay the basic overheads as well as any improvements or changes.  Opening quickly is very desirable, in order to start bringing in hire fees and building up our hirers, so that in 4 or 5 years we are able to wash our own faces financially.  

We are very confident that it won’t take long to create a busy, vibrant and progressive town hall.  We already have a list of people wanting to book.  At least two people have asked about weddings.  We also  have amazing new blood joining the team with talent and experience to drive this forward.

As we have said from beginning, we want you to pass the building and be drawn to its “lit up” windows and a cacophony of sounds spilling on to pavement.  A certain effervescence and glow that draws you in.  And not just the evenings.  If Porty Town Hall is to be the centre of Portobello it should be open from early morning, perhaps offering an early morning fitness class for office workers catching the No 26 bus to town centre.  Later mornings should have prams cluttering up the foyer while giggling or screaming babies or toddlers come to Baby Yoga or Toddler activities.  In the afternoon we might have a quiet time with the ‘click clack’ of someone on a computer somewhere in the building.

Then the schools come out, and kids dash down to the hall, for martial arts, drama, roller-dance etc.   We expect evenings to fill up again with former users; who are in touch frequently; desperate  to get back to using the hall.  Zumba, kick boxing, Pilates.  A huge range of learning, socialising, keeping healthy and being entertained.. Yes!  We will have dances, concerts and ceilidhs, shows and music.

And the building?  Well it will stand for another 120 years at least.  A central beacon calling to everyone. Come and use me.  Come and care for me.   Always in in perpetual motion.

Take care everyone


PS: If any of you reading this are interested in hiring the hall from April 2022 then please contact me. I can keep you updated and pass you onto our as yet not appointed  bookings manager.

The Show must go on

I have been having selfish thoughts lately.  This is a blog about the Town Hall but I am going to talk about my dance school today, as its past and future are so intrinsically weaved together with the history and the renaissance of Porty Town Hall.

Way back in June 2019,  Lothian Dance Academy had spent almost a year planning the bi-annual show that we have done for 32 years.  The pupils had started learning the dances in January.  Mums and Dads had bought tickets for themselves and grandparents, siblings and friends.  Miss Ashley and Miss Sara had spent hours choosing themes and music then spending hours choreographing on their days off, before facing the classes and teaching to the pupils.  Myself?  I had started costuming at the beginning  of the year.  At first resurrecting old costumes, searching online for cheap ideas, but  ultimately throwing  caution to the wind,  buying gorgeous  tutus and glamorous  glitzy  costumes in online costume shops.  No wonder our shows just break even. 🙄  Always been my downfall. I love buying costumes  and seeing the delight on the dancers faces, its worth it.   The show is a big event for everyone.  The girls leaving to go to college or university get flowers presented onstage.  Most of them will have been with us 13 years or more,  and there are tears and black mascara, hugs and photos.

Imagine how we all felt when a few days after our main rehearsal  but a few days before  our second and final rehearsal, I got the worst phone call:  an apologetic lady from the Council was saying that the hall was being closed for safety reasons!!!  The show may have to be cancelled.  Some paint flakes or plaster had fallen from ceiling and it didn’t look stable.

There were tears, there were tantrums and in the end the Council came through for us.  They erected a special strong mesh above the stage and enabled the show to go on. I am so grateful the Council has a heart.

So!  You are thinking, why is Morag feeling selfish?  Well! I don’t  suppose I am because I am thinking how to reward these pupils of ours, who have missed a show, missed exams, had dance lessons on zoom. Get made to wear masks in class etc, etc.  Because of Covid, we missed out our 2021 show and we really need to do a show in 2022 to give the pupils something to work towards and to enjoy.

Would it not be marvellous  to have been LAST OUT but FIRST IN.  Depending on Covid 19 guidelines  of course.

If things go as planned and the £350,000 from the Place Based  Investment  Programme (PBIP) makes safe the ceilings then this dream may become a reality.

Stay safe


Chasing Beautiful Boys on the Prom.

So today was a strange day.  It was wet and hot and the work I was supposed to be doing just felt like too much for my sombre  mood.  So an invite to coffee at The Beach Bistro by Stuart and Dave seemed a good way of avoiding the work pile.

Seated at the front window it was possible  to people watch.  I have people watched all round the world and is one of my favourite  things to do.     A neighbour sat under the awning opposite with a friend.  The scene was a bit Vetriannoesque (is that a word?); James Hunter came past walking a dog. Stopped, while I made a fuss of the dog.   On the traffic free part of the prom, a beautiful looking boy was on his roller skates and his friend  (who turns out to be a dancer) was taking photographs of him.   A future project began to metamorphose in my head.  It involved rollerblades, dancers and the Town Hall!   I will say no more. Never mention what’s in your head before you make sure it can be done.

So for the first time ever, I chased a boy; two boys actually; and feeling like a talent scout asked them for their details.   They weren’t  on Facebook  so gave me Instagram details instead.   I told them briefly about the Town Hall and that we hoped to have regular roller dances run by UNITED SK8S  aka James Hunter who, in fact, had just spoken to them earlier. (Small world: The Prom)  I also hinted at an idea I was evolving in my head, but I am not telling you all just yet,  as its a secret.  The roller lad was from South Africa and the dancer from Brazil, but dancing in Dundee.   They were super lovely and posed for photos. With this old woman!  I imagine they thought I was demented but,  Hey Ho there you go! 

Go safe everyone.


Looking forward to the future

I am immersed  at the moment in researching the history of the Town hall and the buildings that were there before. Oh, how Porty has changed!  The old map from 1894 shows the tram lines coming in from High Street through what I think is the Turkish hairdressers, into what is now the drying greens for the flats on the High St and Rosefield Ave.  There seems to be a shed where I believe they were washed and maintained.

There must have been such excitement seeing the Town Hall rise from the rubble of Inverey House.  On the other hand, most of the Town hall was built over the beautiful front garden of the house.  I wonder if there was a group of people that tried to save Inverey House at that time.  The gardener in charge was known to win prizes for the gardens.

But we must always look to the future, whilst preserving what is beautiful  from the past.  Porty Town  Hall is an iconic building dominating Porty and is the natural centre of the town.  They just don’t build like this anymore.  We are fortunate to have our architects Munro Allison who are experienced at working sympathetically with older buildings.  They totally understand  the need to make the spaces work for the needs of a modern community, whilst maintaining the majesty and historical feel of the building.

We , as a community, can lead the way to what this building will be used for.  Nothing is set in stone.  It will be what you want it to be.  We all bear a certain responsibility for the future of this building.  We must make sure we use it and use it well.  We have a second chance to make this building a hub of action and activity.  

Make it sing and cast light on a dark high street!

Happy Sunday