Protesters stage sit-in at community arts centre

Around 100 protesters have occupied a former community arts centre in Edinburgh.

The group staged the sit-in at the old Forest Café on Bristo Place on Wednesday morning, setting up a camp and calling it the People’s Café.

The Forest Café was a volunteer-run community arts centre who were asked to leave the building by administrators after the owners' went bankrupt. Their lease ended at the end of August.

The group said they want to reopen the empty building for the community.

Group member Amy Douglas said they were organising projects and events to get the community involved.

She said: "Cuts to public services also threaten community spaces and the same banking system is responsible for the detrimental impact this has had on communities across the country. By squatting and reopening 3 Bristo Place we resist the banks' continued profiting at the expense of those who are already suffering from the cuts."

Another member of the group, who gave his name as Nick, said: “It’s a building that was used by a community arts centre. Due to the company that owned it going bust, it’s been repossessed by a bank, and so we’ve repossessed it for the people.

“It’s outrageous that there are so many empty buildings all around Edinburgh, and yet there are so many homeless people and so many community projects that are looking for spaces.

“There’s this amazing big building, with so much potential, just sitting empty, owned by a large bank.”

Asked how many people were in the building, he said: “It can go as low as 20 but we’ve had loads of people in. It’s difficult to keep track of it because it’s such a big building.

“We’re not entirely sure of the legal situation, but I guess we’ll find out. There’s lots of different ways to look at the legality of things. If we were to Occupy a big piece of land, the land owner could try to get rid of you – this isn’t necessarily any different. It’s not necessarily any more legal or illegal than other occupations.”

However, a spokesperson for the former tenants of the building, the Forest Cafe, was keen to emphasise that the direct action was not initiated by the arts organisation. Harry Giles said: "It's not a Forest led occupation. It's not been organised by us and it's an entirely different group of people who have taken this action."

Since the Forest Cafe was forced to leave the building earlier this year. The social enterprise has been raising funds in order to reopen in a new premises elsewhere in the city.

Lothian and Borders Police said they were aware of the sit-in and were monitoring the situation.

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