Royal High School Preservation Trust unveils its new vision for the iconic Thomas Hamilton building

he Royal High School Preservation Trust (RHSPT), the body set up to protect and sensitively develop the iconic Thomas Hamilton building below Calton Hill in Edinburgh, has unveiled an exciting new vision for the former Royal High School.

The new plans, which are being generously funded by a £45m grant from Dunard Fund, will see the building transformed into the new National Centre for Music. The existing building will be repurposed to feature clearly defined spaces for education, community engagement and performance all set in fully accessible public gardens, making music available for all.

Highlights within the building will include the auditorium (also designated at one time for the devolved Scottish Assembly) being repurposed as a 300-seat concert hall. Further performance, rehearsal and break-out spaces will also be created. The addition of new public gardens and a restaurant/cafeì will significantly increase public access and greatly improve the building’s visual setting.

The plans, long in fruition, come as RHSPT seeks to appoint a new Chair for the Trust as William Gray Muir steps down after eight years in the role. The new Chair will lead the progress towards the Board's vision to return the Thomas Hamilton building back to viable public use, thereby enriching both Edinburgh's heritage and Scotland’s cultural landscape.

Carol Grigor of Dunard Fund said:

“The National Centre for Music will take its place confidently in Edinburgh’s cultural landscape, building on the city’s world-leading strengths as a UNESCO World Heritage City, a Festival City and a forward-looking city that creates opportunity. Dunard Fund is delighted to fund such a culturally significant project and one that will leave a lasting legacy not just for the Edinburgh region but for Scotland as a whole.”

Colin Liddell, trustee added:

“Dunard Fund and the Board are very grateful to Willie Gray Muir for his leadership in creating the amazing opportunity and setting our vision for the future.”

Grant Mackenzie, CEO of the Royal High School Preservation Trust said:

“Our aspiration is for the National Centre for Music to become a world leading cultural venue for musicians, no matter their background. The new National Centre for Music will engage teachers, community music organisations and professional performers to inspire the joy of music, nurture skills and foster innovation. Thanks to the generosity of Dunard Fund, we’re progressing to make this vision a reality.”

A revised planning application for the new plans is due to be submitted by early 2024.

Council Leader Cammy Day said:

“We are aware of the proposed change to the scheme and remain supportive of a project which will preserve a key historical building in the city.”

The Royal High School Preservation Trust was formed in 2015 to seek to purchase or lease the former Royal High School, to find a sustainable, cultural and public use for this outstanding piece of Scotland’s heritage. The Trust’s plans will 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 RSHPT’s vision for the site brings together a network of partner organisations, alongside St Mary’s Music School, with a shared vision of creating a National Centre for Music as a new platform for musical collaborations, both within the building, online and out in the wider community.