Forest Café

Coordinates: 55°56′38″N 3°12′11″W / 55.9438°N 3.2031°W / 55.9438; -3.2031
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The Forest
Former site at 3 Bristo Place
Forest Café is located in the City of Edinburgh council area
Forest Café
Location within the City of Edinburgh council area
General information
Address141 Lauriston Place, Tollcross EH3 9JN Edinburgh
Coordinates55°56′38″N 3°12′11″W / 55.9438°N 3.2031°W / 55.9438; -3.2031

The Forest, also referred to as Forest Café, was an independent social centre and arts centre located in central Edinburgh, Scotland.[1][2] It was notable for being run by volunteers as a charitable, self-sustaining not-for-profit. The Forest was initially housed at a West Port venue from 2000 to 2003, then housed at 3 Bristo Place in the former Edinburgh Seventh Day Adventist Church, a building owned by the Edinburgh University Settlement[3] until August 2011. It featured a two room café with performance space, a single room art gallery named Total Kunst, a radical library named Old Hat Books housed in the café front room, an Action Room for consensus process based organisational working group meetings and internet access, artist gallery spaces, a meeting cum screen printing and crafting room, a rehearsal/music studio, a walk-in freezer, a woodworking and machining room, a darkroom specialising in alternative photographic process, and unisex toilets. In August 2012 The Forest reopened at 141 Lauriston Place, Tollcross[4] where it continued its activity as a volunteer-run vegetarian cafe with regular free events and workshops, assuming a pivotal role in the revival of the independent community development in central Edinburgh. In 2022 the physical space closed citing difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, despite arts activities continuing decentrally.[5]


The Forest organisation itself started in August 2000[6] with a venue in West Port, off the Grassmarket in Edinburgh's Old Town.[3] Relocation to the Bristo Place premises started in September 2003 and The Forest Café opened there in October 2003. After leaving in August 2011, The Forest Café reopened again in Tollcross in August 2012.

West Port[edit]

Bristo Place[edit]

The building at 3 Bristo Place was constructed during 1899–1900 to a design by Sydney Mitchell and Wilson for the Evangelical Union[7] on the site of a former Baptist Chapel.[8] The category-B listed building has 659 square metres (7,090 sq ft) of floor space and was previously owned by the National Museums of Scotland, who sold the building for £600,000 during 2003.[9][10] The plaque over the door reflects its subsequent use as a Seventh-day Adventist Church, who had purchased the building in 1942[8][11] and used it until 2000.[3]

The space was organised through multiple working groups that were open to the public plus a closed "Core" working group that accepted volunteers who had a longer-term participation. The working groups were run using consensus decision-making process featuring facilitation and hand signals, with minutes saved to an online forum called the "BB". The clerical and financial administration was performed by a paid worker, with building related tasks performed laterly by a Building Manager. The cafe was organised by paid day-time Kitchen Managers (KMs) and voluntary evening KMs, with help from further rotad volunteers.

Free events were held throughout the building regularly, including workshops and skill-shares, music, film, poetry, theatre and readings. There was a community darkroom catering to black and white, alternative and historic process photography. During each summer the venue ran the 'August Forest Fringe', a theatre and alternative arts programme as an alternative complement to the mainstream Edinburgh Festival.[1]

In 2004, the Forest Café became one of only four internet cafés in the United Kingdom to have won a highly recommended citation in the Yahoo! Mail Internet Café Awards.[6]

A volunteer guide booklet called Don't Panic! was drawn up to record and spread information about how The Forest worked.

The Edinburgh University Settlement - the charity that owned the Bristo Place building - went bankrupt in October 2010, and it was announced that the premises were to be sold.[12] The Forest launched a campaign to raise £500,000 to try to buy the building, or buy or rent another property elsewhere in Edinburgh.[13][14]

Pipe organ[edit]

The upper floors of the Bristo Place building are the former church, the centre piece of which is a Gray & Davison-built pipe organ. This is powered by compressed air and has 16-foot (4.9 m) high pipes. It was originally installed at the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle in the late 19th century and transferred to its present location in 1900.[15] The organ fell into disrepair[3] until mid-June 2007 when the Debian annual conference—DebConf7—was held in Edinburgh. During the week-long event, sufficient repairs were made by Tore Sinding Bekkedal and others to enable the organ to function again[16][17] at which point it was played by Keith Packard.[18]

In 2008–2009, Project Waldflöte (English: "Forest Flute") was initiated, a musical experiment to control sections of the mechanical musical keyboard via an electronic MIDI interface from a computer. Waldflöte is the designation of one of the organ stops available and was chosen because of the connection of the word "forest". The argumentation of the keyboards was undertaken by Dorkbot Alba without any long-term modification of the original organ.[15]


The old Forest building was squatted on 30 November 2011 by a group of local residents protesting against the closure of several of the city's independent arts spaces including The Forest, though the protest itself was not affiliated to it. The activists stated that they wished to reopen the building to the public.[19] In its new guise, the space played host to several events and affiliate groups before being finally evicted.


The Forest moved to 141 Lauriston Place.


The café served vegetarian cuisine, locally produced organic food,[1] vegan food and Fairtrade drinks.[20] The menu consisted of salads, wraps, chili, burritos, falafel based dishes and soups. Customers were able to pay for hot drinks for others through a Caffè sospeso system which worked on a pay it forward basis, this meant that a customer may pay for a coffee for someone who is unable to afford one themselves. Free Wi-Fi was available for public use, instruments and board games were also provided. There was a free shop where visitors to the café could exchange goods which might otherwise have gone to waste.


Due to local noise restrictions the café was no longer able to provide late night music or loud entertainment, however during the daytime the café was often host to free performances by local musicians, poets or artists. All events were always free of charge and were never ticketed. The renovated basement was home to a pop-up art gallery space which rotated exhibitions on a twice monthly basis.


The Forest maintained close relationships with other alternative community spaces and socially oriented projects in the local area such as the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, and the Swap and Reuse Hub (SHRUB).


  1. ^ a b c Lyn Gardner (7 August 2008). "Lyn Gardner meets the two theatremakers behind the Forest Fringe | Culture |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  2. ^ Kate (9 November 2011). "Forest, 3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh. Music - Time Out Edinburgh". Archived from the original on 25 September 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d "Fire-hit charity converts church - News -". 25 August 2003. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  4. ^ Michael MacLeod (15 August 2012). "Forest Cafe moves to Tollcross, 'the Times Square of Edinburgh' | Magazine | Edinburgh | STV". Archived from the original on 24 August 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  5. ^ "2022 update". forestcafe. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  6. ^ a b [1] Archived 31 October 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ David Goold. "Dictionary of Scottish Architects - DSA Building/Design Report (November 28, 2012, 11:41 pm)". Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  8. ^ a b Historic Environment Scotland. "2, 2GF and 3 Bristo Place, Seventh Day Adventist Church (Category B Listed Building) (LB47341)". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  9. ^ "CoStar SPN". Archived from the original on 1 March 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  10. ^ "Financial overview 2003-04" (PDF). Annual Review 2003–04. National Museums of Scotland. 15 December 2004. p. 28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2009. Bristo Church was sold, raising an additional £600k
  11. ^ "Bristo Place Adventist Church | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. 22 August 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  12. ^ "BBC News - Job losses as Edinburgh charity collapses". 29 October 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  13. ^ "Forest Café, ReForestation". 31 August 2011. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  14. ^ Michael MacLeod (15 November 2010). "Forest Cafe campaign update | Edinburgh |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  15. ^ a b Edwards, Gareth (2009). "Computer Interface Makes 19th-Century Pipe Organ Rock" (PDF). Xcell Journal (67). Xilinx: 44–49.
  16. ^ Jackson, Ian (28 June 2007). "Debconf - trip report".
  17. ^ "Tore Repairs an Organ" (PDF). Eighth Annual Debian Conference, Final Report. Debian. 7 December 2007. p. 13. Retrieved 22 November 2009.
  18. ^ McMillan, Andrew (19 June 2007). "X.Organ". Archived from the original on 30 October 2009. Retrieved 21 November 2009.
  19. ^ "Protesters stage sit-in at community arts centre | News | Edinburgh | STV". 1 December 2011. Archived from the original on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  20. ^ "Cafes, Restaurants, Bars" (PDF). Edinburgh Fair Trade Outlets. Edinburgh City Council. 31 August 2009. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 April 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2009.

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