Blue For You

Posted by in June's Magazine

Following a nigh on nine month closure, the new look Out of the Blue Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street has finally been unveiled. The slightly intoxicating smell of fresh paint, a smell that associates itself with newness, caught my nostrils as I stepped into the lobby of the new, vastly improved space. And there’s plenty that is new in this B-listed army building, built in 1901 and purchased by Out of the Blue in 2004.

The £750,000 refurbishment, paid for by the Scottish Arts Council and Big Lottery Fund, along with loans, grants and other funding, was unveiled at the end of last month. The project has created studio space, a music practice room, a garden and an extended kitchen for the cafe, complete with shiny new equipment and appliances. Thirty bright, airy and clean new studios have been built on a balcony space overlooking the main hall. With automatic doors and plans to install a lift, the Drill Hall has become a 21st century space.


Yet there is plenty of the old remaining. The building stands as a memorial to 102 soldiers from the 7th (Leith) Battalion of the Royal Scots, whose bodies were laid out here following the Gretna rail disaster in 1915. The space, scale and purposefully functional nature of the original design have not been lost.

But better facilities should bring more revenue. As well as monthly rent from studios and office spaces, the Drill Hall is for hire as an events and meeting place, rehearsal space and some-time theatre. The cafe, which has recently expanded to provide outside catering, also generates income. With all these new additions, the worry for some might be that Out of the Blue will become a less inclusive and more commercial enterprise. When I bring this up with Rob Hoon, Out of the Blue’s co-ordinator, he sighs. “We’ve taken out loans and we have a mortgage to pay. Money we make from the refurbishment will allow us to continue the community side of our work.” And he’s got a point. In all of its incarnations, from a bus garage in New Street, the Bongo Club, studios at the Powerhouse in Portobello and the Drill Hall, the organisation has consistently sought to engage with communities and support local projects.
In Leith, this process began with the formation of the Friends of Dalmeny Street Park, just around the corner from the Drill Hall, which sought to replace this underused green space and rusting play equipment with an area created by and for its residents. Young people were given the chance to work with a photographer and designer to produce a magazine, Streetlife, detailing their ideas for the park, and children from Lorne Primary were also involved in the play area’s design.

And local relationships have continued to flourish. One of the first groups to use the space, a peer-led dance troupe, continues to practice there and performed at the launch of the refurbishment. At the end of my tour, as we sit in the cafe, Hoon proudly tells me the story of Jodie, who took part in the Streetlife project and then went on to the Cafe traineeship scheme. The scheme provides skills and training for young people who lack the opportunities, confidence and qualifications to find full time work. But, at the end of her training, Jodie Blue for you stayed and now works in the cafe as a fully-fledged employee.

As Out of the Blue grows, no doubt so will its success stories. For more information about how to support its arts and education projects and a full timetable of events, exhibitions and classes and details of spaces available for hire visit And look out for these events coming up soon…

The Leith Festival: 11th – 20th June 2010 Out of the Blue will be holding an Arts Market and ‘Bruncheon!’ event on Saturday 12 June 11-6pm, providing a chance to buy unique artwork, textiles, photography, jewellery, vintage delights, gifts, curios and treasures direct from the resident artists and makers at Out of the Blue. Entry costs 80p. Bruncheon! – 11.30am-3pm will be accompanied by a chilled out soundtrack from live acts and local DJs. From Thursday 17th – Saturday 19th June, the theatre group ACTive Inquiry, based at Out of the Blue, will perform the Legacy – a play about change and how to make it happen – at the Drill Hall at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday 19th at 3.30pm.

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