Issue 222
July/August 2022


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Aug 15, 2022

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New lease of life for Edinburgh's Tron Kirk


BACK IN 2018, when the Royal Mile Market at the Tron Kirk in Edinburgh unexpectedly closed its doors, the city lost its only indoor market.

Local traders lost their business and visitors and locals lost a unique shopping destination and tourist attraction.

Following the closure, Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) occupied the historic building and showcased the history and architecture of the capital's world heritage site, along with a gift and book shop. However, since the pandemic lockdown forced its closure in 2020, it has been empty and unused.

Dating back to 1633, the Kirk is officially listed on the Historic Environment Scotland Buildings at Risk register. Uncertainty has surrounded the future of the building, which was once Edinburgh's main parish church.

It remained empty for 50 years after it closed as a church in 1952 and it has been on Historic Environment Scotland's Buildings at Risk Register (BARR) since 2003.

Fast forward to 2022 and the Tron has re-opened its doors and been given a new lease of life. The Scottish Design Exchange (SDX), a community interest company which provides a high street presence to hundreds of small, independent producers, has taken occupancy of the historic Tron Kirk, on the Royal Mile, one of Scotland's busiest thoroughfares.

Opening a second outlet in Edinburgh as part of its long term expansion plans, it has signed a three-year lease with the Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust, which manages the iconic 17th Century building.

From July 1, it will provide a retail space for more than 20 artists, designers, and craftspeople, seven-days-a-week, as well as hosting occasional events and exhibitions.

The Scottish Design Exchange is bucking the trend of retail market contraction elsewhere with its social enterprise model of bringing original, high quality products made by small, independent local producers to the high street.

It has generated more than £ 4m of income for hundreds of tenants at its stores in George Street, Edinburgh, and Buchanan Galleries, in Glasgow since it was launched in 2015.

Chief executive of SDX Lynzi Leroy says: "The Tron Kirk is on one of the UK's busiest thoroughfares and we are delighted at having the opportunity to use this prize location to showcase local artists, designers and makers.

"It has always been an ambition to bring SDX to the Royal Mile, to show tourists and locals an authentic Scotland, away from the Tartan Tat sold up and down our City's most iconic street" she said.

"As well as during the busy tourist season, it also benefits from a huge influx of visitors to the city during the annual festivals, concerts and conferences and rugby internationals."

"SDX was created to allow fashion designers, artists, textile and jewellery designers, publishers, photographers, and other makers to display their work on the high street and make the lion's share of the profit, without having to pay high commission rates demanded by galleries. Tenants pay a fixed fee to rent space, so they're not penalised for the popularity of their products."

She said: "We want to have a good mix of different artists and producers – including painters, printers, designers, jewellery makers and ceramicists – to ensure they are not competing with one another.

"I have spoken with the CEO of the Scottish Heritage Buildings Trust (SHBT) about doing other events and allowing our artists have their work exhibited in some of the older buildings that they are responsible for."

"It's a really nice story that we, as a social enterprise, are partnering with a heritage body to showcase the work of some of Scotland's best and most creative talent."

With Edinburgh the second most visited city in the UK after London, visitors deserve more than miles of identical, imported, tartan tat products. Having the opportunity to purchase unique and local products made in Edinburgh, in the heart of the capital, will be a welcome relief to both tourists and locals alike.

FRANCES ANDERSON





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