Unless you’ve been wrapped up in your own wee world, (which is entirely possible for the numerous journalists, performers and visitors who are in Edinburgh during the Fringe), you’ve probably heard the news about the Forest Café.
In October last year Edinburgh University Settlement, who owned the Forest premises on Bristo Place, were declared bankrupt and forced into administration. The administrators (PWC) put the property on the market and as part of that process, terminated the Forest’s lease, giving notice of the date they had to leave the building – Wednesday 31 August. Last week, it was announced that the sale of the building has fallen through, but PWC are still going to boot the Forest out.
Despite their position as the sitting tenant, and despite being the only party willing to rent the premises, the Forest have been told by PWC that they’re “more hassle than they’re worth”. (Yes, they really did say that.)
As Ryan van Winkle, Forest Volunteer and reader-in-residence at the Scottish Poetry Library says, “I was shocked to hear a PWC representative say they were unwilling to enter negotiations about the Forest remaining in Bristo Place, especially as we have been responsible tenants for almost eight years. I would have thought receiving rent from a sitting tenant would serve the creditors interests more than having no income from a vacant building and inheriting all the maintenance costs.”
I can’t pretend to be a daily, or even a weekly visitor to the Forest. But like hundreds, nay thousands, of Edinburgh folk, I have enjoyed some great times there, and realise what a crucial part of the city’s arts and culture scene it is.
It’s the only place I can think of where, over the years, I have felt equally comfortable sitting alone with a book; sitting with groups of fellow students planning a campaign or preparing for a tutorial; meeting up with other mothers for a cup of tea and a blether; and attending lively music and spoken word nights.
Walking past the Forest, I have often been drawn in by the sight of some new artwork in their exhibition space, or the sound of a slightly offbeat but funky band jamming, or the smell of something spicy on the stove. The posters in their windows always have amazing illustrations, to accompany the details of an awesome sounding event. There is usually a gathering of folk outside, having a fag and a chat.
“Smelly hippies,” said some of my less tolerant acquaintances at uni. Well no, not really; just some good people, volunteering their time, for a collectively run arts and events space. It’s hard to see how that could be a bad thing.
This August, the Forest has been buzzing. There has been the Inky Fingers Mini Fest, a ninja gig from Amanda Palmer, and a Psychegaelic Ceilidh. There has been art, literature, music, spoken word, dancing, debate, and a hell of a lot of tasty hummus served.
It is hard to imagine Edinburgh with no Forest. If PWC’s decision stands, it will mean the loss of a unique space, which serves a passionate local community. It will mean less innovation, less collaboration, and an enormous barrier pushed up against access to the arts in the city.
I suppose this isn’t quite as important, in the grand scheme of things, but it will also mean that I’ll never have the chance to take advantage of the Forest’s Sip and Snip service (a haircut with vodka!). Please don’t deny me that.
There are many ways you can help the Forest. Publicise their cause, write a letter, sign the petition, donate cash, attend an event… just tell them that you love them. The best place to keep up to date with it all is on their blog, which you can find here.