Where is the Forest Now?
1. What happened to the Forest?
We had to leave our home of the last eight years at 3 Bristo Place at the end of August. This was not our choice, but our landlords ended our lease and would not consider extending it. They informed us that selling the building would be easier if there was not a sitting tenant. The building is still for sale four months after we left.
However, Forest is not finished or done and dusted. Remember, apart from the actual space, there are many dynamic and vibrant aspects of the Forest we’ve developed over the last 11 years. Since March we’ve known that our unwanted departure from Bristo Place was the likely outcome, barring a change of heart. As August drew nearer, we spent more and more time drafting a departure plan that has always had the Forest’s future in mind. Not for a moment did we consider a Forest-less future. Much of what was in the building – important items that helped the Forest to function like the photocopier, the PAs, the screen printing equipment and all the kitchen things – were moved into storage. For some reason, we also kept pencil sharpeners and old mop heads but no one is really sure why.
Apart from a space where to hold its activities, the Forest still exists in every other aspect – both paperwork and community-wise. The Forest is a registered charity, we still have all of the fundraising figures waiting for our new premises and, much thanks to the virtual online world, we still have an amazing network of friends and supporters, which brings us to the next point.
2. Who is “we”? Who is working for the Forest now?
The Forest still is, now more than ever, powered by dedicated volunteers committed to keep it alive and bring it back to the community. The backbone of the situation management is the Forest Action Team, composed of long-term, experienced volunteers who can’t live with the absence of the Pound Tea Mug in Edinburgh’s life. The Forest Action Team used to meet on a monthly basis before August and, since then, we have met on a regular basis as well as discussing things electronically. The main items are the developments on the building search, fundraising and event organisation/co-ordination.
For events we still rely on our brilliant volunteer community that made the Forest such a happy and unique place. We would never be able to run anything without the vollies’ time, dedication and incredible energy! Through Facebook, Twitter, the Bulletin Board and word of mouth, FAT tries to gather as many views and voices as possible on the future of the Forest. We incorporate them in the discussions and choices made at such a delicate and exciting moment on the Forest history.
3. Do you have a new location already?
No. This is proving quite difficult, maybe because the Forest is such a special and unique space. Even in physical terms, we’re difficult to fit anywhere ready-made! We’re currently looking at premises in central Edinburgh where we can run a café plus host events and activities. Sadly, we are unlikely to find somewhere exactly like Bristo Place, where we received a subsidised rent that allowed us to do everything we did in a wonderful and much loved space.
However, we have held negotiations with various landlords, including Edinburgh Council, about renting properties. Sadly, the owners have decided to go with somebody who is offering more money or the properties would require too much in the way of renovations to make them work for us. That hasn’t deterred us and we keep looking and talking to ANYBODY who can help us. If you see an empty property that you think would suit the Forest, please let us know.
The goal, at the moment, is to have a new space open in Spring 2012. We are currently (January 2012) in negotiations about one property and are investigating other possibilities. Rest assured though, once we have news we will let you know – and throw a party.
4. What about 3 Bristo Place?
We loved Bristo Place and didn’t want to leave. However, staying there wasn’t within our control. For those who don’t know the background, Edinburgh University Settlement (EUS) owned 3 Bristo Place and rented it to the Forest. EUS, an Edinburgh-based charity that operated as a local community action centre with a number of social outreach programmes, was declared bankrupt in October 2010 and forced into administration. The Forest launched a campaign to raise funds to buy the building. Sadly, we didn’t raise enough money to allow us to compete with property developers and others who are interested in the building. Since we’ve mentioned money, this seems the natural next section…
5. What happened with the fundraising?
We had hoped to raise at least £100,000, so we could secure a mortgage to buy Bristo Place. We set up a JustGiving account, which you can still contribute to. To date, our efforts have raised over £38,000, whether through donations, fund-raising events or people putting money in the bucket. Despite what you may have read in some parts, that money is all accounted for and in the charity’s bank account. We will only use it once we have the premises to spend it on. In effect, the money you have donated over the last year will help ensure the Forest continues. When we open that means you will have helped save the Forest, for which we love you .
We also created a campaign on WeFund, the UK’s largest crowd-funding platform for creative projects. This was set up so people could pledge money to help us reach the £100k mark to secure a commercial mortgage. WeFund had never hosted such an ambitious project. The site works by allowing people to pledge money, which is only taken from their account if the campaign reached its target. In the end we received £25,000 worth of pledges, which sadly wasn’t enough. Having said all that, it showed how much people care about the Forest and how important they think it is. We owe everybody who pledged any amount a HUGE thank you for their support and encouragement.
6. What have you done since September?
Apart from creating the world’s first glitter smuggling operation, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at properties, discussing renting them – both amongst the Forest Action Team and with landlords – and running events. In September we hosted an art auction, an alternative Freshers’ Fair and a Psychegaelic Cèilidh. October saw the return of the Forest’s 48-hour Film Hunt while November included Samhain Zombie Cèilidh and an online Q&A day. In December we hosted the Frosty Forest Feast and CALLOOCALLAY! The Great Edinburgh Scavenger Hunt. We’ve also published a 2012 Forest Calendar*, featuring volunteers and familiar faces in striking poses throughout Bristo Place. We’ve also attended and held meetings. Lots of meetings. We’ve spoken to Building Control, Fire Officers, Planning Officers, the Public Safety Team, architects, the Police and many others. We’ve also led full and sometimes fulfilling lives away from the Forest, but not very often.
7. Why haven’t you opened up a café already?
We could have opened up in a premises that could hold just a café but we decided not to. Why? Put simply, a café is not the be-all and end-all of the Forest. First and foremost we are an arts, community and events charity, admittedly one that often masquerades as a vegetarian café. If we were to open as just a café, we would have to run it as a business, which means not having space for people to get involved in creative activity, no live performances, no gallery, no free shop and no sitting around enjoying the atmosphere without any pressure to buy a coffee every thirty minutes. That’s not us and we didn’t think it was what people wanted either. There are already plenty of places like that in the centre of Edinburgh. We want the Forest up and running, but we also want to host creative activities.
8. How can I help?
What can you do? If you have a skill or ability, we’ll find some way to harness it. If you have an idea for a fund-raising activity, get in touch but most importantly JFDI! Seriously, the Forest is about empowering people, giving them the opportunity to do something. We’ll help in terms of publicity, advice, volunteers and anything else you need. But if you have an idea, especially one that will help our fundraising efforts, go ahead and do it.
Apart from fundraising, if you have an idea of a free event that you think the Forest could host then get in contact. If you know of a suitable empty building, apart from the Roxy and the Clerk Street Odeon, that is suitable for the Forest, let us know. If you just want to generally help, contact our Volunteer Co-ordinator either via Facebook or by email. If you want to donate money, saunter along to the JustGiving site. If you just want to say hi or ask a question, you can do that on our Facebook page.
9. What have you planned for 2012?
Fun. Music. Laughter. Art. Tasty and affordable food. Raiding the Free Shop. Events. And glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.
Anywhere we can but mainly in central Edinburgh.
11. Is the Forest going to keep the veggie burrito on the menu?
Hell yeah! What could we replace it with after all?
If you have any other questions on Forest and/or the meaning of life, please contact us via Facebook, email, Twitter or bb.