It all takes time (and effort) – but worth it

We got an update from OSCR that while they have our application for Portobello Central Ltd to become a SCIO, work on it has not yet started on it. They are currently on applications from mid-March and ours was acknowledged on 19 April.  They have a backlog of over 250 applications. We’re working to a timescale that suggests a decision on our charitable status might emerge in September. OSCR thought that August might be possible.

Why is this important? 

Well, we cannot sign any sort of lease with the Council as a company or we would become liable for rates. Our current structure is a company limited by guarantee, done because a company can be set up in an afternoon but setting up a charity takes time, thought and due diligence and we needed an organisational structure to bid. It has, however, always been our intention to operate as a charity and we adopted the SCIO model to achieve this. 

Why don’t we want to pay rates

You might remember the council figures on the Town Hall showed running costs per annum of £100k and income of £50k of which £50k was rates. As a charity we’d not be liable for rates and our business case is predicated on successfully becoming a charity and not paying that £50k. Of course, there is a bigger question of how councils will be funded if rates are not paid by organisations like ours and adequate funding of councils is an important concern for all of us but let’s leave that debate for another day and suffice to say we’re operating in the environment or economic model before us.     

Why else is charitable status important?

Charitable status will give us articles or objectives to work to and will help to define our governance model. This can be done in companies too but none were set up in our company application as the intention was always to move to be a charity structure and there was no intention for the company to remain our structure. 

Charitable status means we will not be liable for corporation tax either but it will put rigorous annual account reporting requirements on us, known as the Charities Statement of Recommended Practice or SORP .

It also guides our ethos for what we consider to be our social enterprise – profitable events in Portobello Town Hall will finance not-for-profit activities and ensure the future financial sustainability of the enterprise. 

When we obtain charitable status we’ll need to change our bank account structure too which you can imagine is unlikely to be a quick process. 

What else is needed before signing a lease?

We’re getting hire enquiries every week and people are keen to get in to Portobello Town Hall and start doing their things. However, please remember the building is not yet Porty Central’s – no lease signed means no access. 

Before we sign the lease, we need to know if the building is safe and if it is not, what needs done to make it so and what it will cost. We can’t just decide that we think it is safe. It will need formal approval from various parties. We’re meeting with the architects next week to progress this very matter.

We need a staff member in place to oversee the building and bookings and to work with the board to take the project forward. We hope to hear about funding to start this off with a development worker on a project basis if we are successful with Awards for All application due to be announced soon but if that is not successful, those funds still need to be found.

We need various insurances in place which will be several thousand pounds to obtain. We hope to fund this with grants from the Architectural Heritage Fund and Scottish Land Fund but that all takes time and effort and they are not secured yet.

We can’t get the building until we start discussions with the Council on the terms of the lease. That has not started yet but we are sure the invite is coming.

Reaching Camp 1

 We’ve set ourselves a target of running a trial event in the building at some future date, something we are calling Camp 1. This builds on the metaphor we have been using that winning the right to negotiate with the Council to bring Portobello Town Hall into community management and possibly community ownership, was reaching basecamp. I’ll write more of this model another time but to reach that stage, there are a lot of things that need to take place or be put in place. To loop back to the start, getting SCIO status is a crucial piece of the jigsaw of getting our place. 

Jennifer’s Blog

Lamps for Life

Owen Hand posted on Facebook that he hoped the Town Hall lamp standards will be brought back into operation.  That reminded me that the listed building status of the building depends in part on the ironwork.  Originally, the Town Hall had a front garden where the pavement now is and the railings were in a straight line along the street.

When the motor car was given dominance the lanes of traffic were increased and end-on parking introduced, depriving the Town Hall of a grand entrance.  One thought would be to improve the area by reintroducing a town square feel, with a meeting place in front of the Hall, perhaps big enough for events.  That would require a lot of thought and consultation – but it would add to the “New Life for the Heart of Portobello” concept we are working to.

Meanwhile, inside, the metalwork extends to original gas lights and gaslit “Exit” signs which will be restored, probably with low energy light sources if that can be done in line with protecting the original.

Energy management will be a major concern for the future of the building – this will require investment but should contribute to another century of life for the building.

Geoff’s Blog

Consultants, Cuties and Cats

Our consultants (funded mostly by the Architectural Heritage Fund) Munro Allison Architects and Rob Robinson Heritage Consulting have been in touch to arrange a meeting mid June to take us through their first stage report. That is exciting. What needs done? What might it cost? What future ideas and uses will they have for us? 

Other than sending dates for that meeting, the only other thing that could be called Porty Central business on my part, was walking and talking with Rosy Naylor of Art Walk Porty to see how Portobello Central and/or Action Porty might use the buildings we have to develop artistic projects, perhaps even residencies. Nothing concrete decided. It really was a meet and chat conversation. But it was a good conversation. 

Morag got some really cute cards delivered today with are to thank our leafleters. Those should be delivered in the next few days.  I feel the need to record for posterity that yesterday evening, as I was walking home from the shops, just outside Porty Town Hall, a beautiful black cat crossed my path and ambled on into the Town Hall grounds at the Bank of Scotland side. I am taking this as an auspicious good omen and signing off there.

Jennifer’s Blog

Social media influencers….

Anyone ever met one? 

Yesterday I got to meet and hang out with the lovely young lady behind @exploringedinburgh, Shawna Law. Shawna has a mind-boggling 57k followers. I thought I hadn’t heard of her but it turns out I nearly bought her book as a Christmas present for my niece. 

Shawna had been commissioned by Material who in turn were commissioned by the Scottish Land Commission to raise awareness around the importance of land and its effect on everyday life.  Intriguing approach by the Scottish Land Commission to use social influencers, well intriguing to me who rarely uses Instagram but I’m open to it. 

Originally she was coming to see Bellfield and hear about Action Porty but soon enough the Porty Central story came out too and the visit was arranged to encompass the two venues.

In fact we had a good wander round the streets of Porty, chatting and taking in the sites and stories. Morag and I took her for tea and cake in ‘Cake and Candy’ after the tour of the venues so a full Porty experience was had! 

The story of the two buildings does overlap and interlink with regard to community empowerment and building capacity, so hopefully some of that will come through in the Instagram posts. 

The real irony? I didn’t take a single photo when I was with her. Not one. I was too busy chatting away. 

Rest of Porty Central business today was about our new ‘corporate’ emails that have been set up by Geoff (I’ve not tried them out yet) and feedback from SCVO on our constitution document. 

Jennifer’s Blog

A Scotland of Better Places: Jennifer, Jayne and John

Yesterday wasn’t a focused Porty Central day. The chat on our internal comms was about visuals and branding and using the huge spaces on either side of the front of the Town Hall to announce our presence. Not an area we know much about yet but well, watch those spaces.

My only Porty Central activity was watching a webinar hosted by the David Hume Institute called ‘A Scotland of Better Places’ by academic Duncan Maclennan and with John Swinney too. The paper can be found here .

Team member Jayne had shared it a while back and I’d noted it in my diary. We’d been holding the date of 1st June at one stage for a public meeting. That meeting has been delayed (waiting till we have spoken to the council) but will still happen, but when that cancelled, I was freed up to attend the talk.

The talk was encouraging. Was thoughtful and sounded quite radical to my ears and fed into what we’ve been trying to do. Resonate Together and Corra Foundation people seemed inspiring talking of ‘citizen centred organisation’ and ‘agenda free space’ – where public spaces don’t always have to be about fixing what is wrong, noting people are prepared to put in huge effort to support their area.

Talk seemed to be of a shift in focus from government thinking about what it delivers to people to how does what is delivered transform the lives of people – wrap public services around people rather than people having to fit into services provided. This was alongside recognition that budget cuts at local level have decimated ability to deliver locally. There was a fair focus on not for profits delivering locally and the role of anchor organisations was discussed.

John Swinney closed on how when Scottish Land Fund buys buildings it creates community capacity. He talked of when you see capacity and aspiration together, it is phenomenal. Is that maybe what we have?

Jennifer’s Blog

Garden Party: Sunday 30th May, with masks, spread apart and haar.

It was the first time some of us had met in real life and we discovered  some of us were taller than we had imagined. It was really lovely to meet in real life and the exercise we got down to – lining up post-its of the jobs to be done and putting them in work streams – would have been nigh on impossible on Zoom. Who could have taken three hours on Zoom anyway?!?

One of our group had developed the metaphor we’ve been kicking around, that we have reached basecamp at Everest; a feat in itself but actually just the start, into a written document. We have our next destination, Camp I (defined trial event) right through to attaining the summit of a full, sustainable building delivering local needs. Even reaching Camp III; building ready and open for business – will be an amazing achievement and might take a few attempts. 

Lots of jobs identified and divided up. Not all needed for a trial event to run but all needed.  The  group worked well together and it was a really enjoyable afternoon. Getting SCIO set up is important next task as well as getting architects report back, even just an interim one.

Have discovered Peter Watton, our main council contact, is off this week. We should hear from the Lottery if we get our ‘Awards for All’ in early June. We discovered Town Centre Fund is no longer available which is a blow but we’ll up our Regeneration fund application for 17 June and reopen conversation with Scottish Land Fund too, who have asked for a date to talk.

There is much more going on but that is  my capture for today.  

Jennifer’s Blog

Back to Blogging: 24 May

This evening we had our regular Monday meeting on Zoom. It was the first time we all got ‘face to face’ since Thursday decision but there had been various celebrations by different members at various points. We took a moment to share where we’d got to and it was down to business. When can we expect to hear from the council officially and what do we expect them to say? What does the ‘accelerate the process’ mean for us? 

We’re planning a strategy away day this Sunday to thrash out our plan, consider governance and to try and set up a structure that works, harnessing volunteer offers too. We need to chase up OSCR about our SCIO application and plan for a public meeting soon too. We’re writing our stage 1 application for the Scottish Government Regeneration fund in partnership with the council. It is due 17th June but we want to get a draft to our council contact this week so as to be able to tweak our bid. It is a highly competitive fund. The National Lottery team will meet first week in June so we should hear about our Awards for All application for £10K to fund a development worker on a project basis. We hope to hear soon enough if we have secured any Town Centre Regeneration funds from the Council – not something we can apply for but we understand we are in the running. We updated SLF on CEC decision and hope to start on their Stage 1 application soon too. The architects are working through their piece and some of the PC team are meeting the business case consultant on Wed.  

Jennifer’s Blog

Proposal Made: Patient Pause

We have kept the community, our Councillors and the Council itself in touch with the emerging plan set out in New Life for the Heart of Portobello, our proposal.

What happens next is for the Council to decide. We know that our long-term goal of asset transfer is already happening in the City but usually in relation to a building with an existing body actively using it. There is not a such body for Portobello Town Hall and that will have to be created. Some of the uses that people have talked about require notice and planning, for example weddings.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – what we have proposed is possible, now we have to make it probable, if the Council agrees.

There are gas lights in the Town Hall

Lights! Music! Action?

The Portobello Central team made a second visit to the Town Hall on 5 October, with possible consultants, to remind ourselves of what might be needed to re-open. The lights were on, the heating was running and we confirmed to ourselves that the project was a runner.

We were there because we think the Council is preparing to set a closing date for proposals, probably in November (our guess).

Meanwhile, Portobello Central Ltd (as we now are) is putting together the final draft of our proposal, building very heavily on the 300 Conversations exercise we ran over the summer. As this is to be a proposal on behalf of the Portobello community, we will publish this shortly for comment and support.

If all goes well, you could be sitting in a seat like this by this time next year.

Progress Report 1

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

Engagement

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 .

Money 

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.

People

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.

Users  

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.

Calendar 

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.

Help

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

“New Life for the Heart of Portobello”
www.portobellocentral.org
https://www.facebook.com/groups/saveportytownhall
#portycentral
portytownhall@gmail.com                            
16B Bellfield Street, Edinburgh, EH15 2BP