Doolan Award 2014 - Grassmarket Community Project

Grassmarket Community Project, Edinburgh

The winners of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Awards 2014 were announced on 18 June. The award-winning projects represent some of the very best of current Scottish architecture and each will go forward to the shortlist for the RIAS Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award, which will be presented on 5 November 2014 at the National Museum of Scotland. The RIAS Doolan Award is supported by the Doolan family and the Scottish Government. Over the coming weeks we will be highlighting each of these projects in our “featured project” section. The ninth of these is: the Grassmarket Community Project, Edinburgh by Gareth Hoskins Architects.


This project demonstrates the importance of high quality buildings in supportive environments to improve the sense of well-being and strengthen the self-esteem of vulnerable citizens.  A wealth of facilities are skillfully inserted into a difficult gap site to provide a new social enterprise amenity which, despite the  awkwardness and tightness of the available area on which to build, feels very light and airy.  Sited within the World Heritage Site, on the edge of the Grassmarket, the building also responds to the Old Town characteristics of irregular closes and wynds in its approach from the street.


The extension includes a community hall/theatre, cookery facilities, office accommodation, workshop space, classrooms and foyer.  A large range of activities are catered for within the building envelope, and immediately beside it.  A commercial cafe and catering kitchen, a wood workshop, a computer learning suite, an auditorium, offices, private areas and smaller rooms that are used for teaching, gathering and meetings.  Some of the green space in the Kirkyard next to the building has been converted into a herb garden, and culinary herbs are used in the kitchen to prepare meals for community members and for paying customers in the cafe.


Grassmarket Community Project works with a wide group of people who face multiple disadvantages and are the most vulnerable of our citizens.  This may include homelessness, physical/mental health, learning support needs and social isolation.  The project aims to help people reconnect with themselves through increased self-esteem - with others in a supportive environment - and then with the wider community through enterprise and training opportunities.  It offers a mixture of education programs, drop-in services, social enterprise and social integration activities, currently delivered by way of cookery, gardening, woodwork art, music and textiles programs.

Three derelict industrial buildings on the site adjacent to the Kirk House were transferred to Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk (GTHK) at nil value by the City of Edinburgh Council and the architects were commissioned to develop the space, extending the Kirk House. The existing industrial buildings were demolished and construction began early in 2012.  The extension allows Grassmarket Community Project to continue its work and to develop the services that it provides. The project aims to become self-sustainable through enterprise. Their woodwork enterprise, started in 2009 has already become self-sustainable and both the hall and catering facilities are expected to provide a vital source of revenue.


Photographs © Gillian Hayes

Views of entrance and roofscape of Grassmarket Project