National music centre back on agenda for Royal High School



Updated plans have been unveiled to transform the former Royal High School into a national centre for music.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) has put forward detailed proposals to the City of Edinburgh Council for the restoration of the iconic Thomas Hamilton building on Calton Hill as a “world-class centre for music education and public performance for the benefit of the whole of Scotland”.

Submitted in response to the council’s search for a long-term use for the old Royal High School, the Trust’s ambitions have evolved into a vision for a new National Centre for Music with clearly defined spaces for classical music education, community access and engagement and performance.

The design team on the project includes Richard Murphy Architects, architects, design and accessibility; Simpson and Brown, conservation architects; Optimised Environments (OP-EN), landscaping and environment; and David Narro Associates, civil engineers.

St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, remains at the heart of the proposal, which received unanimous planning approval by Edinburgh councillors in 2016. In addition, the proposals include a café, gallery and visitor centre, set in generous and fully accessible public gardens.

Critically, the updated proposal brings together a network of partner organisations, alongside St Mary’s Music School, including the Benedetti Foundation and IMPACT Scotland (International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust) with a shared vision of creating a new platform for musical collaborations, both within the building, online and out in the wider community.

An independent poll commissioned by the RHSPT in August 2021 shows that more than three quarters (76%) of 1,622 respondents across Scotland agreed that a National Centre for Music is a suitable use for the building while two thirds (66%) of respondents across Scotland agreed that the old Royal High should be used for cultural rather than commercial purposes. Support was greater still in Edinburgh, where 82% of 533 local residents supported the building’s use as a National Centre for Music.

Backed by an expanded gift from philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor and Dunard Fund totalling £55 million to cover the capital costs and support the future maintenance of the Thomas Hamilton building, the proposals have also been tested for economic sustainability by BOP Consulting, an international consultancy specialising in culture and the creative economy.

William Gray Muir, chairman of The Royal High School Preservation Trust, said: “The restoration of the old Royal High remains one of the most exciting and important cultural developments in Edinburgh and indeed the whole of Scotland. Our goal is that as well as providing an exemplary use for the building, excellence in accessibility and inclusion will be absolutely central to the ethos of how the Royal High School is used.

“The passage of time from 2016 to 2021 has allowed us to consult on and revise some aspects of our design proposal and to evolve our ambitions for the building to create a vision for a new National Centre for Music. In doing so we have brought in new partners in IMPACT Scotland and the Benedetti Foundation, who with us and St Mary’s Music School see this project as a means to create an entirely new way for everyone to engage with and enjoy classical music and the arts. It has the potential to show Scotland and Edinburgh at a new vanguard of classical music education and cultural inclusion.”

Analysis by BOP Consulting predicts the project will contribute nearly £100m to the Edinburgh economy over 30 years. The capital phase alone will generate over £30m in net economic value, while the ongoing economic impact for the city is expected to be in the region of £3.7m per annum through its operation. This is the equivalent of 342 jobs created in the first three years of the project.

William Gray Muir added: “To facilitate this expanded vision and lock in the economic sustainability of the plans, the Trust has received increased funding now totalling £55 million. We are enormously grateful to Dunard Fund and Carol Colburn Grigor for their unfailing generosity toward not just the RHSPT but other arts projects across Scotland. Their positive legacy will leave an indelible mark in Scotland’s cultural and economic landscape for generations to come.”

Duddingston House Properties and Urbanist Hotels, who had their revised plans for a 127-room redevelopment of the building knocked back by the Scottish Government in November following a public inquiry, have vowed to return with fresh proposals for the site.



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