Portobello Central started as a working group which emerged from the community consultations which followed the announcement in August 2019 that Portobello Town Hall was to close.
Portobello Central became a company limited by guarantee in September 2020, an essential step to being able to open bank account, apply for grants and engage professionals and contractors to plan a future for the building. The building is in poor condition, as evidenced by reports from the Council but an independent view is important to support negotiations. It is likely that a phased programme of repair and refurbishment might enable a re-opening during 2021.
If the building is transferred into community management or ownership a properly constituted and accountable charitable body will have to be established.
The core purpose of the group is to take forward the consultation work already begun and to prepare an offer to the City of Edinburgh Council to take over the management of Portobello Town Hall under the terms of the Council’s open call for expressions of interest of February 2020. That first task has been achieved with the submission of the proposal to meet the Council’s closing date of 30 November.
If the Council agrees, even in principle, to the proposal, a charitable body, probably a SCIO, will be established, involving the community as a whole, and enabling access to charitable funds. A new consultation on this will be needed.
The Council stated:
“You should provide information on your proposal for the property and in particular:
1. The use to which it may be put together with provision for community or other public use.
2. Any refurbishment and upgrading works together and how these are likely to be funded.”
Portobello Central was set to announce its existence and hold several community consultations about future plans for Portobello Town Hall at the end of March 2020 but that all had to be cancelled because of coronavirus.
An informal membership of supporters and volunteers for Portobello Central is growing and a social media presence has developed. The membership of the group is flexible, drawn from people who have offered to help in many ways. The membership will change from time to time, depending on the skills needed and the availability of people.
Portobello Central ran a community engagement process called “300 conversations in 30 days” from mid-June to mid-July 2020. These gathered structured feedback about possible uses for the space and costed works to be carried out to make the building ready for opening. These conversations will inform our offer to the council as we develop a model to fund these works and finance the running of the building on a leased basis.
It will be an offer based firmly in the community .
Why call it Portobello Central? Simply, the group realised early on that a Town Hall is intended to be the centre of a community and Portobello Town Hall was built for and delivered that role until very recently. Already many people have said they want to see the Town Hall recover from being a still, dark presence in the town centre to return to being a lively focus for all kinds of community life.