Alastair Davis: Pioneering arts trust plays pivotal role locally and as a model for others

Out of the Blue, Drill Hall
Out of the Blue, Drill Hall
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Based just off Leith Walk in Edinburgh, Out of the Blue Arts & Education Trust (OOTB) prides itself in providing opportunities for everyone to take part in the arts, which it has done for over 20 years. It has achieved this by providing affordable studio space for more than 200 artists and hosting and promoting events, exhibitions, performances, projects, classes and markets throughout the year.

OOTB has been able to serve the local community in part due to a longstanding relationship with Scotland’s leading responsible finance provider, Social Investment Scotland (SIS). OOTB’s home at Drill Hall was secured with a loan from Triodos Bank and SIS back in 2003 and since then we have supported the community arts group to continue evolving and it now serves several communities from five different spaces.

Alastair Davis, CEO, Social Investment Scotland

Alastair Davis, CEO, Social Investment Scotland

SIS’s longstanding relationship with OOTB is testament to our commitment to help communities and individuals find meaning and fulfillment from engaging with arts. Last year the Arts, Heritage, Sports and Faith sector constituted over 10 per cent of our current portfolio.

Art for everyone’s sake

However, it takes more than just the right finance to succeed as a community organisation within Scotland’s arts sector. OOTB has achieved this and more by offering valuable opportunities and apprentices to people in the local community.

Back in 2003 OOTB quickly established itself at the heart of the community by helping to redevelop Dalmeny Park, along with local young people. Then in 2007 OOTB set up a café for use by resident artists and the wider community.

Through the café OOTB offered a training programme for young people who had previously lacked the motivation or experience to find jobs. More recently OOTB offered 24 trainees placements at the Drill Hall café and the Out of the Blueprint printing business. Two of the young people originally involved in the park re-development joined the programme and are still involved six years later as shift leaders training new recruits.

Café shift leader Jodie Boswell has worked at the Drill Hall for nine years. In that time she has benefitted from various training courses, including SVQs on customer service, retail, first aid, food hygiene, and supervision and leadership. Her self-confidence and sense of achievement have benefitted too. Jodie is about to start a new role as Cafe Business Development Worker. The training can open doors to the wider job market, with one Drill Hall Café graduate now working as a chef at Edinburgh’s five-star Balmoral Hotel.

Both the Bongo Club and a recording studio established by OOTB have been instrumental in the creation of the Mercury Prize-winning band, The Young Fathers, who are talking to Out of the Blueprint for help with band merchandise. OOTB’s scope has even extended to Hollywood: one young actor who attended youth theatre classes at the Drill Hall secured a part in Trainspotting 2.

The OOTB team also reaches out to community groups to offer advice and promotion and provide space where they can. It is currently doing a Lottery-funded social history project on ‘What makes a Leither’ to help reach the local BME community.

A story of success

The success of the OOTB model has attracted the attention of developments elsewhere, keen to learn from their experience and replicate it. OOTB’s experience has also led public sector organisations and funders to ask the team to help move things forward with other projects. The team was recently brought in to create Edinburgh-based Abbeymount Studios when another organisation got into trouble as the funders, including SIS, know OOTB to be a safe pair of hands.

OOTB created artist space at a time, and in a place, when no-one else was doing it. This pioneering arts trust has since played a pivotal role in reinvigorating Leith, providing the start needed by artists and engaging with young people and the wider community.

As OOTB Manager Rob Hoon says: “We’ve helped to make it happen for a lot of people, we don’t just sit in the community, we help create it.”

Alastair Davis, CEO, Social Investment Scotland