Arts venues pushed to the fringe in £2 million sell-off

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TWO major Fringe venues have been placed on the market as part of a major £2 million property sell-off.

The Edinburgh University Settlement is to sell Bristo Church, home to the Forest Cafe arts centre, for 1.1m, seven years after it purchased the property.

The site, which houses a grand hall, cafe, art gallery, sound-proofed studio, photography dark room, a poster printer and a hair salon, has become home to award-winning arts and theatre groups.

Managers of the Forest Cafe now fear that the proposed sale will lead to them being priced out of the market.

Its burgeoning Forest Fringe has attracted visiting groups from across the UK and beyond in recent times.

Manager Chris Palmer, one of the Forest Cafe's founders, said that he fears developers will either hike up the centre's rates or convert it into apartments.

The 36-year-old said: "The Settlement has been kind to us over the years and we've paid fairly low rates since we moved here, but we're concerned the new owners will price us out.

"The chances are slim that we'll be able to move to somewhere else, and we'd only be able to afford somewhere shoebox-sized if we did.

"We've just celebrated ten years and we've created a unique space, where artists can showcase their work for free and groups can meet and perform.

"A lot of people who have had their exhibitions here have gone on to greater things.

"Our publishing arm has also been doing well."

Mr Palmer added that the site's organisers are hoping to link up with other arts groups and consider a move to the old Odeon cinema on Nicolson Street.

He added: "We're investigating at the moment. The venue we have here is very important to the arts scene and we don't want to see it lost."

The former Victorian-era Adventist Church, which Edinburgh University Settlement bought from National Museums Scotland in 2003, for what is thought to be in the region of 600,000, was placed on the market last month.

Also for sale nearby on Guthrie Street is the popular Fringe venue the GRV nightclub, which has been put on the market for 880,000.

Alongside Mr Palmer and his employees is Magda Jednorowicz, from Lodz in Poland, who set up the Snip and Sip Hair Salon with her sister upstairs from the Forest Cafe site three years ago and is now one of eight employees.

The 29-year-old said: "At the moment we just don't know who will buy it. It's possible it could be turned into flats.

"The whole place is a bit of a community, although it is very welcoming. There's always new students joining and coming to work at the cafe and the cave downstairs allows bands to practise music.

"I keep a database of all of our customers so if the new owners do want us to move, we can set up somewhere else and keep our customers, but rent in Edinburgh is so high and we've been given such good rates.

"We just refurbished in September and have been doing really well lately. We hope we can stay but we just don't know what will happen."

No-one at the Edinburgh University Settlement was available for comment.

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