Thursday morning, we closed the gates on 3 Bristo Place and with them part of the Forest’s history. We did not close the Forest, no one person could. The Forest is not just a building, it is an idea and a family. That made the day hard, especially after such a tiring, emotional and physically exhausting month. We spent the last three days removing all our goods from the former church and tidying the building in preparation for handing over the keys. That followed the busiest August we’d seen, which included another successful Forest Fringe, the Forest’s eleventh birthday party, hosting fundraising gigs by Amanda Palmer and Daniel Kitson, plus the Happening to mark the end of the Fringe. During August the café opened at 1000 and we closed the doors at 0300. Every day. All run by volunteers.
At the end we were tired, having given blood, sweat and tears, while glitter has now become part of our DNA. Instead of taking the chance to catch our breath we had to start work again to empty the building. This we did. I found it hugely satisfying to note on Wednesday night that the Assembly, the Pleasence and Underbelly were still at work on their get out while we were enjoying a well-earned rest and wee party. They had a larger, paid workforce and trucks; we had a small group giving their time and effort for free and two vans. I am so proud of what we achieved, not just with the way we managed our departure but also the whole of August. Every time a problem appeared, we dealt with it – people gave of themselves willingly and gladly, although by the last night I admit we were starting to struggle to find volunteers willing to work. However, people jumped into the breach. Hopefully I have already thanked them but I gladly do it now publicly – every volunteer who worked during August was fantabulous and we wouldn’t have made so many people happy without your efforts.
I keep saying ‘we’ because the Forest is a collective, a group of like-minded people who want to ensure Edinburgh has a free arts/events space, a place where an artist can develop. The Forest is about we, not me. If we don’t have places like the Forest, then the art scene in a city dies. This affects the population as a whole – art is more than just an expression of ideas and feelings, it is the chance for people to grow, become more rounded and freer within themselves. I consider myself lucky and blessed that the Forest welcomed me and gave me several opportunities over the last fourteen months. I have made new friends, received support and encouragement in my activities and felt part of something bigger. Folk there have believed in me, pushed me and kicked me up the arse for being self-indulgent when needed.
I was asked in a radio interview last week why I care about the Forest so much and I’ve yet to find a good enough answer. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe in putting back what life and society has given me, giving others similar opportunities to learn and grow. The Forest helps to make that happen. That’s not the full story though and until you’ve stood in a busy kitchen, willingly washing dishes for a couple of hours straight, you won’t get it. Until you’ve humped amps around the building and then found the artist doesn’t want them anyway, you won’t get it. Until you’ve stood in a hall and looked out on a crowd of people laughing, dancing, smiling and realised that you helped make that happen, you won’t get it. The Forest is a wonderful place, a place I want to make sure is available for my children to enjoy when they’re old enough to go there on their own. My son had a whirlwind tour of the building in August. Everybody he met he told “My Dad works here,” with pride in his voice. My wonderful seven-year-old son gets how important it is in one visit – the idea that different people can come together and achieve something while making art.
There are several things you can do if you want to help the Forest. We are currently raising money so that we can buy the building that was our home for the last eight years. We’re running a huge pledge drive – the biggest arts funding pledge drive ever run in the UK – to raise £100,000 by October. That’s enough for the deposit on a mortgage that will let us buy the building. To do that we need your help, your time, your energy and, most of all, your money. Go to our WeFund site and click the pledge button. Think hard about what you can afford and what it would mean to you for Forest to own 3 Bristo Place. Give what you can. We will only take your money if we reach our £100,000 target. That’s how the pledge system works. So when you pledge, you’ll be doing it in the knowledge that hundreds of other people are pledging also, and that you’re working together to buy the building. If you’d like to give money directly to us anyway, you can do so on our JustGiving site. If you’d like to talk about investing larger sums of money, or arranging a simple loan and want to know more about what you’d be buying into, then please email to talk. We have a business plan in development that we will happily share with you.
We had planned to do something spectacular yesterday morning to mark our departure but in the end we were too damned tired to do anything. Instead we spent the hours before 1000 tidying and removing what rubbish we could fit into the street bins as ours had been taken away the day before. Then I gave the estate agents a tour of the building, handed over the keys and prepared to close the building one last time, at least for the present. There were a dozen or so of us about, so I marshalled them together. “Say goodbye,” I told them, and they all shouted goodbye to our home. “Say we’re coming back,” I asked them and everyone one there shouted at the top of their voices “We’re coming back.” I closed and locked the red church doors, then asked everybody to grab the gates so we could close them together. After all, the Forest is a community and not one person, so even the tough things we do together. We all pushed together and closed the gates. Then I collapsed into my friend Alex’s arms and cried. People hugged me from behind and the side, the Forest family looking after their own. That for me says more about the place and the people than anything I can write.
Please, please, please give us your support, pledges and money. We can do this but only if we all move together. The Forest continues, regardless of whether we win the building, but 3 Bristo Place is a great home for us and we love it. Help us make sure it doesn’t become yet another faceless chain-restaurant or a supermarket. Giving your money isn’t charity, it is investing in Edinburgh, in the arts, in society and our future. Together, we can achieve anything we put our mind to. Last year I saw a man climb to the moon. This year I want to see us buy a building.