Bell’s school chalks up a £2m revamp

A LANDMARK former school named after one of Scotland’s great education pioneers is set to be transformed as part of a £2.2 million scheme to protect Leith’s heritage.

The revamp of the B-listed Dr Bell’s School in Great Junction Street has been unveiled as the centrepiece of a council project which aims to improve life for the port’s modern residents.

The school, which was named in honour of 19th-century visionary teacher Dr Andrew Bell, has been a prominent part of the port’s streetscape for more than 150 years.

Its distinctive Tudor facade is to be restored as part of the moves to secure the future of the building.

The building, which dates back to 1839, will be turned into affordable housing and a community centre to help bridge the gap between deprived pockets of old Leith and new residents who are moving into luxury developments.

The upper floors will be converted into 12 flats with a community centre established at ground level.

Council leader Donald Anderson today said: "This will be yet another positive development for Leith, ensuring the future of a historic landmark right at the heart of the community.

"If given the appropriate permissions, the Dr Bell’s site will provide affordable housing options and a facility that will benefit the whole community."

Community group Leith Ahead has also lodged plans to improve other historic buildings in the area. Other work includes establishing a new heritage route highlighting the port’s past and repairs to the 19th-century church which now holds the city’s Sikh temple.

Edinburgh City Council has earmarked 442,000 towards the initiative which has also received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant totalling 700,000.

Dr Bell’s School currently houses the Stanwell Nursery as well as council education and IT staff. Converting the building is expected to cost 1.3 million.

Born in St Andrews in 1753, Dr Bell was the founder of the Madras schooling movement.

While serving at a military school and orphanage in India, he developed the "monitorial" system of having clever older pupils tutor younger students. The idea gained worldwide acceptance, and by the time of his death in 1832, more than 10,000 schools were using Dr Bell’s methods.

Dr Bell endowed the Leith school with 10,000 in 1831 - but the building bearing his name was not completed until eight years later.

Margaret Street, founder of the Leith Civic Trust, today admitted that with so much development in the area many people in the community had worried about the school’s long-term future.

She said: "It’s part of the character of the street. It would have been a pity if it was destroyed."

Urgent repairs to the Capital’s Sikh temple are set to be carried out. The B-listed former St Thomas’s Church and Manse in Mill Lane is in line for about 240,000 from the Leith Ahead initiative for "architectural heritage remedial action".