Sometime my work as a Community Photographer leads me into community activism. I was involved in the campaign for the successful community buy out of Bellfield, documenting the campaign and providing publicity images to help the cause. Last year (2019) Edinburgh Council announced that Portobello Town Hall was to close. Following on from that, community consultations and meetings led to the formation of an informal, unconstituted, group currently called 'Portobello Central' The group includes representatives from both The Wash House and Action Porty (which runs Bellfield) and as well as people involved in various aspects of community, council or commercial life in Edinburgh.
Action Porty is supporting Portobello Central with some services e.g. banking; it considers Portobello Central to be a working sub-group of Action Porty. This is on the clear proviso that the work of Action Porty is not impaired in any way by the connection to Portobello Central. It does not follow that Action Porty would take on the management of the Town Hall, however, there is recognition that there is scope for considering the management of community spaces in Portobello in a joined-up fashion.
A properly constituted and accountable body will have to be established if the Council offers to lease on the basis of a Portobello Central proposal.
The City of Edinburgh Council put out an open call for expressions of interest and asked that any submissions...
"..should provide information on your proposal for the property and in particular: 1. The use to which it may be put together with provision for community or other public use.
2. Any refurbishment and upgrading works together and how these are likely to be funded.”
Portobello Central now wants to have 300 conversations in 30 days from mid-June to mid-July. These are to gather structured feedback about possible uses for the space and costed works to be carried out to make the building ready for opening. These conversations will inform the group's offer to the council as they develop a model to fund these works and finance the running of the building on a leased basis.
Portobello Central want it to be Portobello's offer, based firmly in the community, and so are encouraging people to participate. Obviously in these COVID-19 days it isn't just a case of inviting everyone to a public meeting. so meeting will take place online via Zoom or via online surveys or phone conversations. All the details are on the Portobello Central website.
Currently the Group hopes to have a proposal ready in mid-August 2020.
Images from pre-COVID days when Portobello Town Hall could be used for public meetings without social distancing. Above: political hustings in 2015. Below: Action Porty event organised to canvass community opinions about the Westbank Powerleague site.
I'm Jon Davey, a freelance community photographer based in Portobello, Edinburgh's seaside suburb