Building on Calton Hill could become music school under £55m plans

It is hoped that Royal High School in Edinburgh can be a cultural asset.

Building on Calton Hill could become music school under £55m plans Steve Chatterley via SWNS
There are proposals over a new use for the 192-year-old building.

Plans for an iconic building in Edinburgh have been put forward in a bid to transform it into a music school and performance venue.

The enlightenment-era old Royal High School on Calton Hill is hoped to become a cultural asset rather than a commercial one by the majority of people surveyed to find a new purpose for the 192-year-old building.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) has put forward detailed proposals to City of Edinburgh Council for the restoration of the iconic Thomas Hamilton building to become a National Centre of Music encorporating a music school and performance centre, as well as a cafe, gallery and visitor centre set within public gardens.

St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, remains at the heart of the proposal, which received unanimous planning approval by Edinburgh councillors in 2016 and a windfall of £55m has been gifted to help with restoration.

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The plans are backed by partner organisations, alongside St Mary’s Music School, including the Benedetti Foundation and IMPACT (International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust) Scotland with a shared vision of creating a new platform for musical collaborations, both within the building, online and out in the wider community.

An independent poll commissioned by the RHSPT in August across Scotland showed more than three quarters (76%) of 1622 respondents agreed a National Centre for Music was a suitable use, and two thirds (66%) agreed the old Royal High should be used for cultural rather than commercial purposes.

Local residents have backed proposals that the building is used as a National Centre for Music. (SWNS)
Local residents have backed proposals that the building is used as a National Centre for Music. (SWNS)

Support was greater still in Edinburgh, where 82% of 533 local residents supported the building’s use as a National Centre for Music.

Backed by an expanded gift from philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor and Dunard Fund totalling £55m to cover the capital costs and support the future maintenance of the Thomas Hamilton building.

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The proposals have also been tested for economic sustainability by BOP Consulting, an international consultancy specialising in culture and the creative economy.

William Gray Muir, chairman of The Royal High School Preservation Trust said: “The restoration of the old Royal High remains one of the most exciting and important cultural developments in Edinburgh and indeed the whole of Scotland.

“Our goal is that as well as providing an exemplary use for the building, excellence in accessibility and inclusion will be absolutely central to the ethos of how the Royal High School is used.

He added: “We are enormously grateful to Dunard Fund and Carol Colburn Grigor for their unfailing generosity toward not just the RHSPT but other arts projects across Scotland.

“Their positive legacy will leave an indelible mark in Scotland’s cultural and economic landscape for generations to come.”

Dr Kenneth Taylor, headteacher at St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, said: “As partners of the project for the past six years, we have worked closely with the RHSPT to help evolve the vision for a National Centre for Music which will build strongly on our expertise for music education for the widest number of young people in Scotland.

“To be at the heart of the Trust’s proposals, with a specially designed school building, performance and rehearsal spaces, as well as new opportunities for our pupils to engage with the wider community is simply exhilarating.

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“The school is energised by the prospect of a new centre for music on Calton Hill.”

Joanna Baker, executive director, IMPACT Scotland said: “The National Centre for Music is genuinely world-class in ambition, excellence and access and allows Edinburgh to continue to assert itself on the world stage.

“We’re particularly excited that new ways of collaborating with St Mary’s Music School educationalists at the former Royal High School building also opens out very interesting possibilities and links with Dunard Centre’s partners”.

Laura Gardiner, director at the Benedetti Foundation added: “By harnessing each organisation’s specialisms and enabling true partnership working, the National Centre for Music has the potential to be a game-changer for music education in Scotland.”

By Sarah Ward, SWNS