- Roddy SmithChief Executive, Essential Edinburgh
Grant permission for St Andrew Square Garden to be a venue for Fringe Activity in 2017
In 2015, The Stand Comedy Club, signed a three year contract with Essential Edinburgh (who manage St Andrew Square Garden on behalf of the Garden owners; the buildings which surround the Square), granting us permission to use the South Side of the Garden as a venue for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival & The Stand’s Fringe Activity.
Standard Life Group, who purport to support the arts and sponsor the International Festival, now own over two thirds of the Square, and in 2016 stated their intention that they do not want the Square to be used as Fringe venue, and instead want Square to be a quiet space for relaxing and reflection, thus terminating The Stand’s pre-existing contract with Essential Edinburgh.
The Stand, with support from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society have been actively striving for months now to source and secure an alternate venue, and had been offered assurances by Edinburgh City Council & Essential Edinburgh that it was very likely that permission to erect the iconic Famous Spiegeltent on George Street would be granted again, with a similar footprint that of the 2012 & 2013 activity, prior to the event moving to St Andrew Square Garden.
Yesterday, The Stand received the news that permission for the Famous Spiegeltent to be erected on George Street has not been granted. Without having the tent as an entertainment venue, we would not be granted a licence for the supporting outdoor bars & decked seating areas, and Free Stage, which offered a full programme of complimentary entertainment without any obligation to purchase anything. It is now late February, and now that this decision has finally been reached it is too late for us to be able to find an alternate venue of a suitable size.
Without a venue, this decision has effectively terminated the employment of over 500 staff and contractors, hundreds of local suppliers, Edinburgh BID member restaurants Hendersons, Valvona & Crolla, and The Abbotsford, and more than 1,000 artists. Our activity generated over £340,000 of revenue for local suppliers and contractors. The event employed over 120 Bar Staff at the Living Wage a staff cost of £250,000 and generated over £460,000 for the local food vendors trading on the site. Ticket sales for the Famous Spiegeltent exceeded 50,000 tickets, and the event hosted the 13-year old cult show La Clique, local Scottish music, the Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival, alongside local and international artists.
The Famous Spiegeltent provides a platform for Edinburgh-based theatre companies, such as Captivate Theatre who have played to sell-out houses for the last two years with locally produced musicals Sunshine On Leith, Les Misérables, Oliver, Bugsy Malone and their own locally written Shakespeare series of musical plays; last year alone, Captivate Theatre sold over 15,000 tickets in St Andrew Square. Captivate Theatre involves over 200 people from the local Edinburgh community: over 100 children aged eight to 18, over 80 adult actors, over 30 musicians, plus numerous technical crew and backstage volunteers. Our activity made many people happy, and the site we evolved was broadly accepted as being one of the most successful artistic and aesthetic spaces in the city - and certainly amongst the finest examples you’d find anywhere. Over the years, we’ve sold over a million tickets: that’s people who came to the New Town specifically to attend events and shows we hosted, helping create a festival hub in the New Town, from which many of the other local shops, restaurants and other business have benefited. Our involvement with The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival has increased their entire Festival programme and engagement by a third. Despite reports to the contrary, the past three years’ summer festival activity retained the majority of St Andrew Square as a public facility. The Famous Spiegeltent and its festival site occupied less than half of the Square, with the rest of the Square remaining fully accessible and open as a garden of relaxation and also as a public thoroughfare in its regular opening hours.
All public paths, including through the festival site itself, continued to provide unimpeded access from the direction of the St James Centre, Edinburgh Bus Terminal and Multrees Walk, across the tram stop and on to George, Rose and Princes Streets. An “alcohol free” route facilitated access through the park without having to walk through a licensed area was preserved at all times during the park’s regular daily opening hours. There were no public complaints in 2016 about the St Andrew Square Summer Spiegeltent, and the event was widely hailed as the best, most aesthetic and sophisticated temporary site at the Fringe by Fringe directors, with the Square was returned to its pristine condition within new turf laid just 13 days after we left site on 9 September.
We are not in anyway contesting Standard Life’s Group right to ascertain how the Square is used. Although a public space, it is not a publicly owned space, despite receiving benefited from renovations at a reported cost of £2.6 million from the public purse in 2008.
What we are asking however, is for Standard Life Group, who do purport to support the arts, to find their civil compassion and reverse their decision and honour our contract for 2017 only, given that the event is now venue-less. So, while we should be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the New Town, the 70th anniversary of the Fringe and the Centenary of Jazz, we will be faced with a massively reduced Fringe presence in the area and no Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival at all, with hundreds of jobs lost. We have nowhere else to go and there is no alternative venue available. Please grant us permission to use St Andrew Square Garden for 2017.
- Chief Executive, Essential Edinburgh
Please lobby Standard Life Group to ask them to grant permission for St Andrew Square Garden to be used as venue for Jazz Festival & Fringe Activity in 2017 given no alternate site has been found, despite month of negotiations, where we received assurances that The Stand could return with the Famous Spiegeltent to George Street.
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