The future of Cultural facilities and the well-being of Edinburgh – It’s Up to All of Us
POSTED ON September 11, 2023
We know the impact that cultural activity and social interaction has on our wellbeing. We are blessed in this city with parks, museums, galleries and theatres that educate and enrich our lives but only if we all support them with our presence. How many of us take advantage of it and support it? As the Filmhouse showed, if we don’t we are at risk of losing them and in doing so our city would be the poorer for it. (Barbara Cummins, Chair of the Association).
By Barbara Cummins, Chair of the Association
I was excited to hear that the former staff from the Filmhouse are working with the building’s new owner Caledonian Heritable to try to re-establish it as we all used to know and love it. Over the next few months, they will work up a business plan with the aim of reopening this much loved arthouse cinema.
The Cockburn Association has a particular interest in the former United Presbyterian Church on Lothian Road, designed by notable architect David Bryce in 1830. We suggested to the Scottish Film Council in 1977 that this would make a far more satisfactory National Film Theatre than the then proposed St Thomas’s Rutland Church nearby. The suggestion was taken up with enthusiasm. In doing so, the Cockburn accepted the significant impact on the church’s historic interior. In our May 1977 newsletter, we said, “provided its character is respected as far as possible, in particular the elliptically arched coffered ceiling. The provision of a first class film theatre seems to be a higher priority than the preservation of the church interior in its present form.” Two years later, the Filmhouse opened its doors to the Edinburgh public.
I am sure many of you, like me, were saddened when Filmhouse closed its doors. In reflection I realised I hadn’t been in for a coffee never mind watch a film for some considerable time. We all know that our independent cultural venues are struggling. It made me realise what we stand to lose if we are complacent. The Filmhouse had other competitors too, from Netflix and “on demand TV” to new “lifestyle leisure” developments such as the Omni Centre where the products on offer far exceeded what a former church could provide.
It used to be that major chain stores were described as “anchors” for our town and city centres. In recent years that has changed. Changing patterns in retail saw the death of many like BHS, Frasers and Debenhams all disappearing. City centre users wanted more of an experience – a day out with friends, food and entertainment as well as the chance to shop – or at least browse. Whilst this was possible previously, changing expectations meant a desire for different experiences. The redevelopment of the St James Centre into the new St James Quarter is a good example.
There is also a push towards tourism-centric retail experiences such as the Johnnie Walker Experience at the east end of Princes Street (formerly House of Fraser’s, or before that, The Binn’s) further changing the traditional make-up of the city centre.
So, we need to support our new anchors and for me that means venues like Filmhouse. Just up the road, we welcome the much-needed refurbishment works to the Kings Theatre. We fully supported the extension to the National Galleries of Scotland, creating a new gallery to tell Scotland’s story though its collections. We welcomed the creation on a new concert venue just off St Andrew’s Square behind Dundas House. However, many other cultural venues and institutions are struggling with increased costs and diminishing patronage. Edinburgh has a rich cultural offer but how many of us take advantage of it and support it? As Filmhouse showed, we are at risk of losing them and in doing so our city would be the poorer for it.
The 2023 Edinburgh Festivals have just ended. The world looked again at Edinburgh as a cultural destination. Whatever your views on the festivals, it can’t just be for a few short weeks that we highlight the significance of culture to Edinburgh. We know the impact that cultural activity and social interaction has on our well-being. We are blessed in this city with parks, museums, galleries and theatres that educate and enrich our lives but only if we all support them with our presence.
The “use it or lose it” principle applies to our local neighbourhoods as well. Edinburgh has multiple “town centres” in our many villages that make up the city. The Scottish Government is promoting 20-minute neighbourhoods and local living. Covid reminded us of the importance of local facilities. What that means in reality (as opposed to the conspiracy theories) is that we have access to as many of our daily needs to be as local as possible. That’s possible in many parts of this city but only with our patronage. So, think twice about what you would lose by not using local.
So when (hopefully), the new Filmhouse asks for support, whether that’s crowd funding, donations or simply showing up and buying a coffee or a ticket to view a film, don’t just think that it’s a good idea; act. That’s true of all the places that anchor our cultural and social life, from art and theatre to our parks and open spaces. In doing so, I know for me that means meeting friends, sometimes having a bite to eat, maybe browsing the shops, all supporting the wider functions of our city centre continuing to make it a vibrant and attractive place to be for residents and visitors alike.