Leith 'gentrification' debate inspires new stage play

It has just been named one of the world's coolest neighbourhoods thanks to its Michelin-starred restaurants, hipster-friendly cafés and bars, and vibrant grassroots arts scene.

New developments on Leith Walk, like this one proposed for a site at Stead's Place, have been at the centre of the debate over the area's 'gentrification.'
New developments on Leith Walk, like this one proposed for a site at Stead's Place, have been at the centre of the debate over the area's 'gentrification.'

But it is also at the centre of mounting controversy over claims of claims of exploitation and asset-stripping by property developers

The debates over the regeneration and gentrification which have been raging in Leith are to take centre stage in a major new theatre production.

It is expected to examine claims local people are being “pushed out” of areas they have lived all their lives in by new development across Scotland.

Development work has begun on a National Lottery-funded play inspired by the huge changes which have taken place in Leith in recent years and the impact they have had on its existing population.

Plans for the show, provisionally entitled Displaced, have emerged almost exactly a year after a Scottish Government-backed study of Leith raised concerns that rising property prices and intensifying development was “rapidly pricing many out of the area”.

The new play is expected to explore many of the issues raised in the study, including growing threats to independent businesses, a lack of affordable housing, and discontent that Leithers are either “effectively marginalised or simply ignored by tokenistic consultation”.

Since the report was published, a Save Leith Walk campaign has been triggered over plans to demolish a series of buildings, including the Leith Depot live music venue, to make way for student housing and a hotel.

Campaigners – who have secured the backing of Irvine Welsh, The Proclaimers and Jeremy Corbyn – have accused developers of trying to destroy independent business and dismantle the heritage of the area.

The planned staging of the play at Leith Festival in June and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August could coincide with the return of tramworks to the area.

Two Leith-based theatre companies – Active Inquiry and Strange Town – are joining forces on the production, which will be funded by the National Lottery Awards For All scheme.

A previous project explored the impact of the Gretna rail disaster on Leith, where the majority of the soldiers killed in the tragedy were based.

Their old drill hall, which was converted into an arts centre 14 years ago, will be playing host to the new play, which will be written by local playwright Duncan Kidd.

Gavin Crichton, artistic director of Active Inquiry, said: “The play is coming out a feeling from many people in that they don’t feel listened to about what is happening in their local community.

“The project is really starting out by asking what we mean by the words ‘regeneration’ and ‘gentrification’. New things can be good but they often start to exclude some people. Those people with money tend to have a lot more say and power.

“But we also wanted to challenge assumptions people have. We have a research group exploring various themes each week, will be inviting various people to come to speak to them, and also travelling around Edinburgh and Scotland to meet up with other communities.

"All that research will feed into the development of the play. The whole process will be about dialogue and investigation. “It will not just be about the performances, as we’re hoping to stage debates and also create a booklet capturing some of the research we are doing.”