Helping Save the Forest Café

Events, Personal, Theatre

Dear friends, family, colleagues and allsorts,

As many of you will know, I’ve spent a good chunk of my time this year working for the Forest Café, an independent arts and social centre (and registered charity) in Edinburgh. Some of that’s been paid work, but most of it’s been voluntary — I’ve spent something like half of my waking hours this year in our home at 3 Bristo Place because I believe fervently in what we’ve been doing.

The heart of what Forest does is to provide free and open access events space: we offer a stage where anyone can book an event or see an event for free, along with tech and publicity support to make events happen. We’ve also run a visual arts galery, music studios, a dark room, meeting rooms, and a hundred and one other artistic and social projects, all funded mainly by the vegtarian café in our main events space. As well as being open to anyone to participate, we’re also run collectively: anyone who gets involved can be part of making decisions about what we do next.

The result of being free and open is that we’re extraordinarily exciting and innovative. We believe in providing space to artists who can’t afford it elsewhere, or who can’t find anywhere else to support their risks and experiments. We’re also exuberantly international, with more languages and cultures in one building than I think you’d find anywhere else in Scotland. On any given day in Forest, you might find a sound installation, a Belarusian experimental theatre performance, a gaelic workshop, a Spanish revolutionary meeting, a freeform jazz gig — or all of that at once.

Being such an exciting place to be also attracts some serious talent. This August alone, we’ve housed work from theatre and installation artist Tim Etchells, punk cabaret musician Amanda Palmer, award-winning comedian and storytelller Daniel Kitson, and bestselling author Neil Gaiman. Over the past few years, we’ve won a Peter Brook Empty Space Award, a Herald Angel, a Fringe First, and now a Total Theatre Award too.

I’m writing to you now because all of this is threatened with coming to an end. In October 2010 our landlords, the Edinburgh University Settlement (from whom I should stress we were financilly independent) were bankrupted. As a result, our home of 8 years — a beautiful three-storey church with B Listed Building status — was put up for sale and we were given our notice. No-one has yet bought the building, and at the moment there are no extant notes of interest. So when, this morning, we were forced to close our doors and hand the keys to the estate agents, it meant that 3 Bristo Place would be left empty for the foreseeable future, despite having tenants willing to pay a short-term lease.

Our response has been to run a massive pledge-drive — as far as we know, the biggest arts pledge drive Britain has ever seen — to raise £100,000, which would be enough, combined with the funds we’ve already raised, to put down the deposit on a mortgage for the building. We think we can buy it back.

That’s why I’m writing now. I have never before written a mass begging email, and never will again — it’s not something I generally believe in doing, preferring to work proactively for charities than to focus on the cash. But this isn’t an ordinary begging email, for two reasons:

Firstly, I’m not going to ask you to give money, but to pledge it. The way this works is, we’re trying to raise £100,000 of pledges, and no-one will have to give a penny unless we hit that target. That way, when you make a pledge, you’ll know you’re one of hundreds banding together to buy the building, hundreds pledging what they can, rather than just one of many anonymous people putting some change in a pot.

Secondly, you’re not buying a building for a charity, but for everyone who has ever passed through, lived in, or planned to live in Edinburgh. Forest is run by and for everyone who wants to be part of it. When we buy this building, we will once more be open to absolutely anyone to run events, and we will be run by everyone who takes an interest.

That’s my pitch. Thanks for reading, if you got this far. And now, please, visit our pledge drive at http://www.wefund.com/project/help-forest-cafe-buy-bristo-place and offer what you can. In just a few days we’ve already passed £7k, so we’re well on the way to hitting our target by October 1st, especially as these things grow exponentially. So join in!

If you want to find out more about Forest, do visit us at http://www.theforest.org.uk/. Sadly, as of today, you can no longer drop by and see what we’re like. But do write or give me a call if you’d like to ask anything about the project.

Thanks again,

Harry

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