The Forest, also referred to as Forest Café, is an independent social centre and arts centre, located on Lauriston Place, central Edinburgh, Scotland. It is notable for being run by volunteers as a charitable self-sustaining not-for-profit. Forest cafe was previously housed in the former Edinburgh Seventh Day Adventist Church, a building owned by the Edinburgh University Settlement until August 2011, and housed the café, an arts gallery, performance space, rehearsal/music studio, and darkroom. In August 2012 the Forest reopened in Lauriston Place, Tollcross, where it continues 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.
The Forest organisation itself started in August 2000 with a venue in West Port, off the Grassmarket in Edinburgh's Old Town. 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.
The building at 3 Bristo Place was constructed during 1899–1900 to a design by Sydney Mitchell and Wilson for the Evangelical Union on the site of a former Baptist Chapel. 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. The plaque over the door reflects its subsequent use as a Seventh-day Adventist Church, who had purchased the building in 1942 and used it until 2000.
Free events were held regularly, including workshops, music, film, poetry, theatre and readings. 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.
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. The Forest launched a campaign to raise £500,000 to try to buy the building, or buy or rent another property elsewhere in Edinburgh.
The upper floors of the Bristo Place building are the former church, the centre piece of which is an 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. The organ fell into disrepair 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 at which point it was played by Keith Packard.
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.
The old Forest building was squatted on 30 November 2011 by a group of protesters not linked to the Forest. The activists stated that they wished to reopen the building to the public. Subsequently, the protesters were evicted and all accessible doors and windows of the building boarded up to prevent further squatting and vandalism.
The Forest moved to 141 Lauriston Place.
The café serves vegetarian cuisine, locally produced organic food, vegan food and Fairtrade drinks. The current menu consists of salads, wraps, chili, burritos, falafel based dishes and soups. Customers may pay for hot drinks for others through a Caffè sospeso system which works on a pay it forward basis, this means that a customer may pay for a coffee for someone who is unable to afford one themselves. Free Wi-Fi is available for public use, instruments and board games are also provided. There is a free shop where visitors to the café can exchange goods which might otherwise go to waste.
Due to local noise restrictions the café is no longer able to provide late night music or loud entertainment, however during the daytime the café is often host to free performances by local musicians, poets or artists. All events are always free of charge and are never ticketed. The recently renovated basement is home to a pop-up art gallery space which rotates exhibitions on a twice monthly basis.
The Forest maintains 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) which is run by University of Edinburgh students. The Forest is host to its own food cooperative.
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