Forest Cafe moves to Tollcross, 'the Times Square of Edinburgh'

A year on from being forced to leave its home of ten years, the Forest Cafe has a new base.

The non-profit arts group celebrated with a procession from their former home in Bristo Place, through the Meadows to Tollcross.

Known internationally for their fierce independence and open approach to every kind of art imaginable, events at the Forest have always been free.

So when money became an issue last summer, the space and its volunteers were suddenly exposed to an unforgiving world of property investors, administrators eager to sell the building and a £500,000 fundraising target.

Following their landlords' bankruptcy, suddenly the Forest was homeless.

Despite the group's best efforts, they fell some way short of half-a-million pounds and in October 2011 packed up and left the former church in Bristo Place.

Its gallery, performance space, music studio, darkroom and all-important cafe were behind a locked door and administrators held the key.

"I'm not going to lie, what followed was a real struggle," said poet Ryan Van Winkle, who founded the Forest's publishing arm and remains a key volunteer.

"We had a roller coaster year trying to find a new space. We had a look at a whole bunch of places across Edinburgh and it was difficult to stay positive sometimes.

“But thanks to a collective effort here we are, in our new place and it feels good. Tollcross is buzzing. It's the Piccadilly or Times Square of Edinburgh.”

The new base is a former newsagent on the corner of Brougham Street and Lauriston Place.

The surroundings may be different, but the ethos remains the same. Anyone who wants to lend a hand will be made welcome.

In the first week since opening, a sheet was stuck to a wall by the door inviting people to put their names down for various tasks.

Shelf and cupboard building, wiring, plumbing and cooking were all required. And to bring the place to life there was a call for a jukebox, flowers, chairs and coffee.

Among those who was always willing to step forward for the Forest was Ken O'Neill, one of a huge team of people rolling their sleeves up for the collective good over the years.

Speaking just moments after the opening, Ken said things had gone to the wire:

“I have been on my knees all afternoon scrubbing the floor and doing various jobs.

“Before I knew it somebody told me the parade was five minutes away. To say it was hectic is an understatement.

“But the main thing is we're open and people are enjoying themselves. I'm exhausted but happy.”

Then somebody handed Ken a bottle of whisky as a gift to the Forest. “Well deserved Kenny,” they shouted. The venue was so busy that people spilled onto the street.

What happens next in the Forest story is uncertain. But there's a sense that it's this uncertainty that keeps people coming back.

We met Sam Innes, 22, on the parade and asked why she supports the Forest:

“I'm not a Forest supporter, I'm a lover. I moved to Edinburgh in 2009 and this was the first place I came to. Somebody told me it was a good way to meet people.

“It's creative, it's social and it's got a soul that nowhere else in Edinburgh has.

“You never know what will be going on when you go in. How fun is that?

“The Forest is a community, not a physical place. The new place looks good and just needs some more love.

“What will make it work will be the people.”

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