We aspire to maintain the community’s strong geographic, historic, emotional, and economic ties to this land by developing a living and lively site that (a) remains open and accessible to the community, (b) continues the site’s long history of serving those in need, and (c) catalyses a stronger, more resilient local economy. Fundamentally, the great benefit of community ownership of such a site is in the community’s power to adapt the site to respond to its changing needs. We are excited by the prospect of engaging our community members more fully as we proceed to find new ways this site can meet the diverse needs and desires of this community. Already we have had the benefit of several public meetings and consultations over the past months, which have informed the proposals contained below. Hence, whilst these proposals will be subject to further community engagement as well as forthcoming feasibility studies and financial planning, the following proposals embody the principal aims of our use of the site.
In developing the site, we aim to promote the following:
- Local, socially-minded enterprise
- Local healthcare provision
- Affordable, co-operative housing
- Environmental sustainability.
Enterprise in the Community
In our neighbourhood, we are fortunate to have a great variety of independent shops and businesses, which enhance and diversify our local economy, provide jobs for residents, bring people to our streets, and contribute to an active and enjoyable cityscape. However, rising costs are putting many businesses at risk, and residents and shop owners alike are concerned about the impact of losing the RHSC—which provides a substantial number of jobs and brings more than 100,000 people to the area each year. Moreover, residents have many needs—such as flexible, affordable childcare—which are not being sufficiently met by the private sector. Community ownership of the RHSC site will allow us to approach its renewal with the direct interests of the community driving our decisions.
To alleviate these concerns and to empower our community to meet our own needs in sustainable ways, we propose that part of this site provide space for new and existing local enterprises. Such spaces will provide highly desirable business units to local businesses, giving them an opportunity to operate in an otherwise unaffordable and exclusive environment. We will encourage both private and social enterprise within the business units on the site to harness local resources, to deliver environmentally sustainable and carbon-efficient services, and to promote employment for people with health conditions and those who otherwise struggle to find work.
We will focus these efforts to provide services our community desperately needs as well as to encourage local innovation. Accordingly, the site will feature a business incubator—a resource sharing space equipped with all the means, support, and advice needed to incentivise start-ups and foster entrepreneurial economic activity, providing new opportunities to community members with ideas and skills, but who otherwise would not have the resources to see them to fruition. We would aim to provide, among other resources, affordable office and workshop spaces; spaces for small companies, self-employed individuals and free-lancers to co-work; and working spaces for cultural and creative pursuits such as artists’ studios, to foster creative thinking and artistic expression—activities that put Edinburgh on the map internationally, but are too often priced out of profit-driven development. There is high demand for such spaces within the defined community as well as across Edinburgh, and this will serve to continue the site’s history of bringing people from across the city to Marchmont and Sciennes.
Essential to strong communities and supporting innovation are places where people can gather – formally and informally – to share ideas, to celebrate together, to learn from one another, and generally to get to know their neighbours. Hence, we intend that this site should boast a multi-purpose hall. Such a venue could readily support education, being accessible for school use during the day and recreational and educational community use in the evenings. During the late afternoons, it would be useful for the existing after-school club operator to run a new premises as they have currently had to stop taking any further registrations from the adjacent primary school. This of course would have significant benefits for working parents in the area and their children.
Our overarching aim will be to provide spaces for enterprise that lifts up our community and its residents. With a business plan founded in affordable rents, and with surplus revenue invested back into the community and local economy, community ownership of this site offers us all a remarkable and indeed unique opportunity to encourage economic growth, entrepreneurship, and creativity that is focused on local needs and directed by community members themselves.
We suggest that the best way to respect the community’s needs as well as its treasured history of healthcare provision is to maintain national healthcare services on this site. We propose a general GP facility for use by directly employed NHS doctors. We also wish to enquire into the feasibility of additional physiotherapy, outpatient support in the community, and a minor injuries clinic (similar to that at the Western General Hospital).
Alongside formal healthcare provision, we seek to improve the health of the community by relieving poverty and substandard housing through affordable co-operative living, and by providing members of the community with meaningful, well paid employment. We are also exploring the various other ways the development could support the health and wellbeing of community members. For example, there could be community gardening projects, free meeting space for support groups, and drop-in community cafés to help tackle loneliness. Indeed, in 2015 the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee declared loneliness to be ‘as damaging to Scots health as poverty and poor housing’, an issue readily addressed by stronger communities and co-operatives.
A core part of our vision is for large sections of the site to be developed into affordable co-operative housing, as opposed to the ‘luxury’ and predominantly unaffordable property that will otherwise almost certainly be developed.
The co-operative would aim to provide a range of housing across the site suited to different demographics, including family housing, shared flats suited to young people and individuals, student housing, and housing suited to the elderly and those with mobility needs. Alongside individual self-contained flats and houses, there will be significant communal spaces suited to socialising, working, events, and shared meals. This will provide a unique multi-generational housing community, bringing together groups of people that are typically kept apart in standard forms of private housing. This idea has proven very popular amongst local community members, and is partly inspired by the ground-breaking and incredibly successful Humanitas retirement home in the Netherlands where students and retirees live in neighbouring flats and share communal facilities. This intergenerational project has brought countless benefits to the lives of the students and retirees, including tackling loneliness, improving social awareness, and achieving greater health outcomes for residents.
As co-operative housing, the housing would be run by and for the tenant-members of the co-op. There are currently over 550 co-operative properties of various forms across Edinburgh. Some of the main ways co-operatives achieve affordability are by reinvesting profits back into the co-operative; through self-management co-operatives typically achieve lower maintenance and running costs; and co-operatives tend to invest more money into improving the co-operatives properties, saving maintenance and energy costs over the long term.
Through empowering members to take democratic control and ownership, co-operatives foster much stronger communities, providing greater social support, community events, and opportunities to develop, for example, financial, maintenance and organisational skills. Co-operatives often spawn and foster the formation of other co-operatives and like-minded projects. For example, alongside supporting the establishment of student housing co-operatives across Britain, the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative has supported its members upon graduation to establish projects such as the Graft architecture co-operative, the Mutual Artists Studio Co-operative, and the Edinburgh Brewing Co-operative.
Co-operative housing has been shown to improve the health and well-being of members through providing lower rents, stronger communities and higher quality housing.
In accordance with co-operative principles we will work closely with other co-operatives to achieve our aims, including Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative (24 properties) in Bruntsfield, Lister Housing Co-operative (118 properties) in Tollcross, West Granton Housing Co-operative (372 properties) in Granton, and West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative (644 properties) in Glasgow.
The City Council is committed to supporting the development of co-operative housing in the city, tying in closely with the Council’s coalition pledges to develop co-operative housing (pledge 11) and residential communities (pledge 8), and its commitment as a Co-operative Council to co-operative development. Active supporters of co-operative housing include Council Leader Andrew Burns and successive vice-convenors of the Council’s housing committee. Co-operative housing has also received enthusiastic cross-party support both locally and in the Scottish Parliament.
During our consultations with Scene Connect it became clear that there are great micro energy generation possibilities within the site. Developing and capitalising on this potential as well as creating working links with green networks and green enterprise are some of our key aims. We would work towards making every aspect of the site’s operations as energy efficient as possible. And, as already mentioned, tenants within the business units on the site would be strongly encouraged to comply with our low-carbon footprint objectives, by harnessing local resources and taking steps to ensure carbon-efficiency.
Within this framework we would also look to provide our wider community with as many opportunities for learning about the environment, renewable technologies, energy efficiency and climate change.
The site would boost community-designed public spaces, including green spaces that would at times be home to community gardening projects, offering a range of activities, as well as education and training. The suggestions for public spaces are numerous ranging from practicalities – such are parking spaces and bike racks – to the ones regarding community’s cultural and artistic needs – publicly displaying sculptures and other works of art, for the general public to enjoy.
The proposal above outlines our key ideas. However, almost daily we are contacted by community members of diverse professional backgrounds expanding on different aspects of this proposal and contributing their views and expert opinion as to how to best utilise this unique and substantial site. Following consultation with two architects on the programmatic use of the space, we have developed a proposal for stage one grant with the Scottish Land Fund to commence a comprehensive feasibility study of the site and options above. Findings of this study will further inform details of the general proposal outlined above.
Read about the Sick Kids site.
Go back to the Sick Kids project overview.