Summerhall management riposte to venue sale

May 15 2024 | By | Reply More

Sale “against wishes” of Summerhall director Robert McDowell.

The announcement by the owners of Summerhall that they have put the building on the market (Summerhall for sale) has been met with strong concern across Edinburgh and around the arts world.

Not least at Summerhall itself, where the options for a community buyout are being examined; a petition has been set up; and Robert McDowell, the sole director of Summerhall Management Ltd who is also one of the directors of current owners Oesselmann Estate Limited, has revealed that the sale is against his wishes.

Robert McDowell at the Summerhall EdFringe launch 2024. Pic Thom Dibdin.

The venue is seen as a vital hub to the arts community in Edinburgh, at a time when any and every potential new space for such an amenity seems to be gobbled up by a developer intent on making a quick profit on Student flats or the like.

A petition calling on Edinburgh City Council to “Preserve Summerhall as a Cultural Hub in Edinburgh, started on Tuesday 14 May, the day the sale was announced. It had received 2,650 signatures by midnight and passed the 5,000 mark by lunchtime on Wednesday.

Some of the noise on social media is, as is it be expected, somewhat over-fraught.

Summerhall Management Ltd chief executive Sam Gough has entered into the fray in conciliatory tone, with a statement which seems intent on calming the situation down. He says that the whole Summerhall team is “committed to the long-term survival of the immensely important cultural work that was started here in 2011.”

Gough adds that: “The building is being sold with leases intact so over 100 artists, small businesses and companies that work out of Summerhall will remain. Our annual programme of events and the Fringe in 2024 will not be affected.”


He also points out that the building has only just been put on sale and “to clarify some speculation, it has not been sold”. Adding: “We look forward to working with the agent and any potential new owners to ensure the arts are front and centre of any decisions that may be made in the future for this now iconic arts campus.

“Robert (McDowell), our founder and the director of Summerhall, is fully committed to this ambitious project that he bravely started 13 years ago in the spirit of the original 1947 festival, which is to heal the wounds of conflict through the language of the arts.”

Summerhall’s various blocks, with their Listed status, as pictured on the sales brochure.

McDowell, who is a director of both the building’s owners Oesselmann Estate Limited – an Isle of Man-based family trust – and the sole director of Summerhall Management Ltd, says that OEL shareholders voted to sell the building against his wishes.

In a typically idiosyncratic statement he said: “When much else in life is uncertain and filled with warring, when the healing balms of the arts are in highest demand, it is troubling for much-loved, dare I say famous, Summerhall to go through the property market wringer!

“Against my personal wishes, a majority of the shareholders voted to put the premises up for sale.

“My hope is that we come through this intact and able to continue as before, perhaps even better? We proved ourselves a valuable part of what makes Edinburgh a great city and fully international. We are honoured that there is so much love and support, let us hope for the best.”

Several groups have formed with the intention of investigating a community buyout. So far, these have not coalesced into one unified group.

However it is clear that any such group would have to include the two big commercial operations at Summerhall: Barney’s Beer and Pickering’s Gin, alongside the many arts companies and smaller enterprises that are based at Summerhall.


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