Edinburgh's old Royal High School building: Planned National Centre for Music raises hope of an end to a sad and decades-long story – Scotsman comment

The former Royal High School on Calton Hill in the heart of Edinburgh is a stunning building in an equally stunning location.

A public garden, visitor centre, cafe and gallery will be created at the former Royal High School on Calton Hill under the new vision (Image: Richard Murphy Architects)

Given its prominence, historic nature and sheer beauty, some may find it hard to believe that the building has lacked a permanent use for more than half a century, but this is the truth.

The Royal High School closed the gates and relocated to different site all the way back in 1968, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, sitcom Dad’s Army was first broadcast and the Beatles were still together.

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What other capital city in the world – if it had been blessed with such a structure – would have allowed it to have lain idle for so long, seemingly unloved and forgotten?

However, new plans to turn it into a National Centre for Music – backed by violinist Nicola Benedetti and Scotland's biggest arts philanthropist, Carol Grigor – will surely fire the enthusiasm of many of those who have been dismayed by the 192-year-old, A-listed building’s long period of disuse.

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In an act of philanthropy at its finest, Grigor has pledged £45 million to pay for restoration and redevelopment work at the site and a further £10 million for a fund to pay for the building’s future running costs.

The plans include the creation of a public garden in the grounds with a visitor centre, gallery and cafe. And Benedetti said that the centre would be “a warm and welcoming place for all ages, abilities and backgrounds, where people can come together and be uplifted through participation in and appreciation of music”.

The public element of this plan is a key part of its attraction. Such a wonderful place in the heart of Edinburgh should, ideally, be somewhere we can all enjoy.

Added to the ambition to use the centre as a “catalyst for Scotland to fulfil its potential as a world leader in classical music education”, this creates a compelling argument that finally, after 53 years of waiting, a solution to the problem of what to do with this most striking building has finally been found.

So here’s hoping we will soon be able to stop speaking gloomily about ‘the old Royal High School’ and instead call it by a new name, with all the excitement and anticipation this would bring.

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