The Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT) has put forward detailed proposals to City of Edinburgh Council for the restoration of the iconic Thomas Hamilton building on Calton Hill as a world-class centre for music education and public performance for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

Submitted in response to the Council’s search for a long-term use for the old Royal High School, built as part of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Trust’s ambitions have evolved into a vision for a new National Centre for Music with clearly defined spaces for classical music education, community access and engagement and performance.

St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, remains at the heart of the proposal, which received unanimous planning approval by Edinburgh councillors in 2016. In addition, the proposals include a café, gallery and visitor centre, set in generous and fully accessible public gardens. 

Critically, the updated proposal brings together a network of partner organisations, alongside St Mary’s Music School, including the Benedetti Foundation and IMPACT (International Music and Performing Arts Charitable Trust) Scotland with a shared vision of creating a new platform for musical collaborations, both within the building, online and out in the wider community.

An independent poll commissioned by the RHSPT in August 2021 shows that more than three quarters (76 per cent) of 1,622 respondents across Scotland agreed that a National Centre for Music is a suitable use for the building while two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents across Scotland agreed that the old Royal High should be used for cultural rather than commercial purposes. Support was greater still in Edinburgh, where 82 per cent of 533 local residents supported the building’s use as a National Centre for Music.

Backed by an expanded gift from philanthropist Carol Colburn Grigor and Dunard Fund totalling £55 million to cover the capital costs and support the future maintenance of the Thomas Hamilton building, the proposals have also been tested for economic sustainability by BOP Consulting, an international consultancy specialising in culture and the creative economy.

William Gray Muir, Chairman of The Royal High School Preservation Trust said:

“The restoration of the old Royal High remains one of the most exciting and important cultural developments in Edinburgh and indeed the whole of Scotland. Our goal is that as well as providing an exemplary use for the building, excellence in accessibility and inclusion will be absolutely central to the ethos of how the Royal High School is used. 

“The passage of time from 2016 to 2021 has allowed us to consult on and revise some aspects of our design proposal and to evolve our ambitions for the building to create a vision for a new National Centre for Music. In doing so we have brought in new partners in IMPACT Scotland and the Benedetti Foundation, who with us and St Mary’s Music School see this project as a means to create an entirely new way for everyone to engage with and enjoy classical music and the arts. It has the potential to show Scotland and Edinburgh at a new vanguard of classical music education and cultural inclusion.”

Analysis by BOP Consulting predicts the project will contribute nearly £100 million to the Edinburgh economy over 30 years. The capital phase alone will generate over £30 million in net economic value, while the ongoing economic impact for the city is expected to be in the region of £3.7 million per annum through its operation. This is the equivalent of 342 jobs created in the first three years of the project.

William Gray Muir continued:

“To facilitate this expanded vision and lock in the economic sustainability of the plans, the Trust has received increased funding now totalling £55 million. We are enormously grateful to Dunard Fund and Carol Colburn Grigor for their unfailing generosity toward not just the RHSPT but other arts projects across Scotland. Their positive legacy will leave an indelible mark in Scotland’s cultural and economic landscape for generations to come.”

Dr Kenneth Taylor, Headteacher at St Mary’s Music School, Scotland’s national music school, said:

“As partners of the project for the past six years, we have worked closely with the RHSPT to help evolve the vision for a National Centre for Music which will build strongly on our expertise for music education for the widest number of young people in Scotland. To be at the heart of the Trust’s proposals, with a specially designed school building, performance and rehearsal spaces, as well as new opportunities for our pupils to engage with the wider community is simply exhilarating. The school is energised by the prospect of a new centre for music on Calton Hill.”

Joanna Baker, Executive Director, IMPACT Scotland commented:

"The National Centre for Music is genuinely world-class in ambition, excellence and access and allows Edinburgh to continue to assert itself on the world stage. We’re particularly excited that new ways of collaborating with St Mary's Music School educationalists at the former Royal High School building also opens out very interesting possibilities and links with Dunard Centre's partners".

Laura Gardiner, Director, the Benedetti Foundation added:

"By harnessing each organisation's specialisms and enabling true partnership working, the National Centre for Music has the potential to be a game-changer for music education in Scotland". 

The design team on the project include: Richard Murphy Architects, architects, design and accessibility; Simpson and Brown, conservation architects; Optimised Environments (OP-EN), landscaping and environment; and David Narro Associates, civil engineers.

The Royal High School Preservation Trust was formed in 2015 to seek to purchase or lease the former Royal High School, for restoration to use as a music school. The Trust has sufficient funds committed and underwritten from private benefactors to ensure both the restoration of the listed buildings and the creation of world class centre for music, including the music school, performance and public spaces.

The Trust is chaired by William Gray Muir. Trustees include Richard Austin, Ray Entwistle, Carol Colburn Grigor, Colin Liddell and Mike Thorne.