Edinburgh bid to open first Scots literary quarter

A MULTI-MILLION bid to create Scotland’s first official literature quarter has been launched to mark the ten years since Edinburgh was honoured as a global culture capital.

Sandeman House on Trunk's Close, one of the areas off the Royal Mile which would become part of the new literary area. Picture: Julie Bull

A stretch of the Royal Mile would be given official status in recognition of centuries of publishing heritage in the area and the number of literary organisations based there.

Property owners and arts organisations have agreed to join forces over a long-term blueprint for the Netherbow area – where Scotland’s earliest books were published, in the 16th century – with the aim of transforming its fortunes over the next five years.

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A new charitable trust will pursue projects to raise the profile of the capital’s “Unesco City of Literature” status. Edinburgh was the first place in the world to secure this listing.

The area – the traditional entry point into medieval Edinburgh – is home to Canongate Publishing, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Scottish Book Trust, the organisers of Scotland’s annual week-long celebration of reading, and the Saltire Society, which stages the nation’s most prestigious literary awards.

Neglected and historic buildings would be redeveloped and brought back into public use, new guided tours would explore the publishing heritage of little-known closes and courtyards and part of the Royal Mile would be pedestrianised under efforts to help create a “year-round presence” for the city’s literary credentials.

Ali Bowden, director of the Edinburgh Unesco City of Literature Trust, said: “Our priority for the next three years will be the development of this new literature hub on the Royal Mile, around the Scottish Storytelling Centre at the Netherbow.

“There is a lot of ambition for the area and all the partners involved see the potential in it. It’s about getting money behind it now. The area is a hot spot of literature and living culture organisations and it’s an environment saturated in Scottish literature and culture from the medieval to the contemporary.

“It has Edinburgh’s most important cluster of medieval buildings and a honeycomb of gardens, streetscape, courtyards and closes that offer great potential. You wouldn’t really know this area was a centre of literature if you were to walk around it just now.”

Among the projects being explored are a redevelopment of the Scottish Book Trust’s headquarters, a restoration of a 15th century church building which has been lying empty for years, and finding a new use for Mowbray House, one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. It is thought at least £3 million will have to be raised to realise plans.

Donald Smith, development director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, said: “We’ve got support from all the private owners and public bodies for the objective of securing the long-term literary and cultural future of the buildings in this area. People feel that if we don’t keep up this side of the Old Town in future then the balance is going to end up all wrong.

“There is general agreement that this is right up at the head of the list of the key things Edinburgh must achieve in the next few years and that the city needs to use its cultural assets, which are central to its reputation and success.”