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New National Centre for Music proposed for Edinburgh

St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, is central to a new proposal submitted by The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) for the restoration of the iconic Thomas Hamilton building in Edinburgh as a world-class centre for music education and public performance for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

Submitted in response to Edinburgh Council’s search for a long-term use for the old Royal High School, built as part of the Scottish Enlightenment, RHSPT’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 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. 

RHSPT plans include a public garden, acafe, gallery and visitor centre alongside clearly defined areas for education and performance

The project involves widespread public support. An independent poll commissioned by the RHSPT in August 2021 shows that more than three quarters of 1,622 respondents across Scotland agreed that a National Centre for Music is a suitable use for the building while two thirds of respondents across Scotland agreed that the old Royal High should be used for cultural rather than commercial purposes.  

The proposals are backed by £55m from philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor and Dunard Fund and have also been tested for economic sustainability by a specialist consultancy. The estimated contribution to Edinburgh’s economy is nearly £100 million over 30 years.

RHSPT chairman William Gray 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.

‘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.’

Dr Kenneth Taylor, Headteacher at St Mary’s Music School, said: ‘As partners of the project for the past six years, we have worked closely with the RHSPT to help evolve the vision for a National Centre for Music which will build strongly on our expertise for music education for the widest number of young people in Scotland.

‘To be at the heart of the Trust’s proposals, with a specially designed school building, performance and rehearsal spaces, as well as new opportunities for our pupils to engage with the wider community is simply exhilarating. The school is energised by the prospect of a new centre for music on Calton Hill.’

Director of the Benedetti Foundation Laura Gardiner added: ‘By harnessing each organisation’s specialisms and enabling true partnership working, the National Centre for Music has the potential to be a game-changer for music education in Scotland’.

The full vision document can be viewed on the RHSPT website – www.rhspt.org.