Edinburgh’s innovative Out of the Blue social enterprise is often cited as a leading example of a successful community development body. In this feature, manager Rob Hoon talks us through the story behind its development, and the ways in which creative approaches have been utilised in every step of the journey.

After the Wrecking Ball

Out of the Blue (OOTB) is an organisation with a creative approach at its core. Since its inception in 1994, OOTB has worked to create space and activity, alongside developing the income, partnership relationships, organisational capacity and governance to enable this to happen.

In 1996, OOTB converted a derelict former bus garage into a cultural centre. This intervention brought thousands of people into a neglected part of Edinburgh’s Old Town. However, OOTB did not own the site. When the wrecking ball came calling, we had to go. Up to this point, many regeneration practitioners will recognise the story.

But in 2003, OOTB purchased a former army drill hall in Dalmeny Street, and set about creating a cultural centre and significant resource for the local area and wider Edinburgh. The purchase involved huge commitment, enterprise and risk management from those involved in running the organisation and the many other individuals and organisations who have been willing to risk being associated with OOTB’s endeavours.

Investment in OOTB has mainly been to develop the infrastructure of the drill hall. This has enabled OOTB to host classes, workshops, markets, live music, exhibitions, events and festival performances, bringing thousands of opportunities and economic benefit to OOTB and its associates.

A Creative Infrastructure for Social Value

Developing the OOTB Drill Hall as a cultural centre has enabled us to develop two trading subsidiaries: The Bongo Club and an Arts Café.

The Drill Hall regularly hosts popular arts activities.

The Drill Hall regularly hosts popular arts activities.

The Bongo Club was initiated by OOTB in 1996 as a much-needed performance venue to accommodate the burgeoning creative quarter at OOTB’s studios. It developed to become an integral part of Edinburgh’s cultural landscape, gaining accolades and acclaim as an established cultural social enterprise in its own right and by supporting OOTB’s charitable aims.

The Bongo Club specialises in art and music, supporting emerging and established artists through live music, film, theatre, spoken word events and clubs. Now in its third home, The Bongo Club continues to break the traditional mould for a nightclub.

The OOTB Drill Hall Arts Café was established in 2007 to serve the local resident community as well as artists based in the drill hall and people using the Drill Hall as a venue for events. OOTB developed the Arts Café as an integral part of the drill hall’s creative infrastructure, as an essential resource for the local area and as a training project.

The café project offers a route into employment for young people who have not been motivated or had the experience to find employment. OOTB has ensured that the training possesses the necessary rigour without being mundane and soul destroying.

Being a part of a thriving arts centre has been crucial to this training programme. It has provided an accessible and supportive route into work for young people who were not ready for the mainstream job market due to their lack of qualifications and other circumstances. As one participant says:

“It has been amazing. I’m getting up in the morning all excited about coming to my work. I have never worked before and didn’t know what to expect but working in the café is a great experience.”

Jodie Boswell – ex trainee and current Café Worker

An Innovative Approach to Making Friends

Jodie’s experience is backed up by a Learning and Teaching Scotland case study. But the potential unleashed by the Café Training  project, and how it integrates with OOTB’s overall provision, is perhaps best illustrated by the following example.

The Arts Cafe has played a key role in the project's successful training programme.

The Arts Cafe has played a key role in the project’s successful training programme.

When OOTB was preparing to move to the Drill Hall, local organisations were consulted to establish how the drill hall could be a useful resource for the community. Through this process, OOTB established that the local park was in much need of renovation – and that there was a group of young people who were not taking part in formal youth work provided in the area, but who gathered in the park in the evenings and were considered threatening by other people in the area.

OOTB developed a project which involved a skilled photographer and youth worker working together to speak to the group and to get them photographing things they liked and disliked about the park. The group was then invited to work with a graphic artist from the Drill Hall studios to produce a magazine which included their writing, graphics and photographs. The project established a Friends of Dalmeny Street Park group, a planting project, redesigned the park and obtained funding to build a new playground, ball stop court and shelter.

One of the young participants became a cafe trainee, a cafe employee and a cafe shift leader over a period of four years. This is an example of how the many various facets of OOTB come together to impact significantly on the life of the community, as a hub of valuable enterprise and activity.

People get involved in various activities because they are enjoyable and meaningful to them. How people, activities, networks, alliances and organisations interact and develop, is the basis of how Out of the Blue innovatively helps form a ‘resilient community’; it doesn’t just sit within it.

OOTB - Logo

Find out more about the project on the Out of the Blue website