Edinburgh Traditional Building Festival 2021

John McKinney, of the Scottish Traditional Building Forum, Reflects on the 2021 Edinburgh Traditional Building Festival.

The Edinburgh Traditional Building Festival (part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) returned for its 9th event and for the second successive year was online. This year, in the run up to COP26, organisers turned their eyes to the future and Festival Convenor Tyler Lott Johnston delivered a series of thought-provoking events that focused on the sustainability of traditional buildings in a dynamic and ever-changing world.

This year’s event was opened by Alison Johnstone MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, whose opening remarks emphasised how much she had enjoyed previous traditional building skills events delivered by the Edinburgh Traditional Building Forum and the importance of the existing built environment for sustainability.

Alison’s opening address succinctly captured the key themes of this year’s Festival. Buildings that have stood for centuries contain so much embodied carbon that we must do more to maintain them – but as many as 72 per cent of Scotland’s traditional buildings are not currently wind- and water-tight. To restore them, we need to understand the skills and materials used in traditional construction, as well as looking for opportunities where retrofitting can deliver even more energy efficiency.

This year’s event welcomed a truly international audience to a series of virtual tours, virtual demonstrations and online talks.

Following the opening remarks by the Presiding Officer, there was a virtual tour of the Royal Mile which was hosted by Hazel Johnson, BEFS Policy and Strategy Manager, and it was nice to see her return to the event as she had been heavily involved in the organisation and delivery in the early years of the festival.

Thankfully, a beautiful evening was chosen for the filming of the virtual tour and the Royal Mile was shown in all its glory, with several stops at key buildings to meet special guests and discuss how the built environment can help to meet Scotland’s net zero targets. From finding new uses for old buildings, to 20 Minute Neighbourhoods, tenement maintenance, retrofitting, and complementary policymaking, the film explored how the places we live and work all contribute towards environmental, economic, social and cultural sustainability.

The next day we had The Building Stones of Edinburgh virtual tour by Paul Everett for the British Geological Survey followed by a Traditional Stonemasonry talk by Andy Bradley, SPAB Fellow. Day three featured a virtual Timber and Sash & Case Windows by Alex Ferguson from the Federation of Master Builders.

Day four was roofing day with a virtual Roof Leadwork demonstration by Steve McLennan followed by a Roof Slating and Tiling talk by Graeme Millar both of National Federation of Roofing Contractors with Graeme also being current President of IFD.

The final day featured a talk by Tyler Lott Johnston on The Importance the Placemaking for adaptive reuse, which highlighted the opportunities to leverage technology as a tool to elevate and champion the voice of local people within adaptive reuse projects. This show was hosted by Diarmaid Lawlor who is the Associate Director (Place) at Scottish Futures Trust who was able to join in with the Q&A session which followed.

The Festival finished with one of the most important messages of the event – with a show on how to maintain your own home or building which was delivered by the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Under One Roof.

Feedback from both attendees and presenters suggested the festival was enjoyed by all, and all shows included a live Q&A session with a high level of questions which showed the level of interest in the area and how engaging all the presentations had been.

The obvious benefit of delivering the Festival online has been the greater accessibility and increased capacity at the shows. However, we have all missed the in-person interaction with the audience and are hoping to return to in-person events for our tenth Festival with a live stream to a wider audience.

While merging the two delivery methods will initially be a challenge, we have proved that the forum can rise to the occasion by continuing to deliver the Festival during a global pandemic. So, we are already looking forward to next year, and a hybrid model which we believe will benefit the event, participants and audience.

These events can only be delivered due to generosity of those who donate their time and expertise to take part. The Edinburgh Traditional Building Forum would like to extend our gratitude to all of our presenters and members who have helped make this event possible. Special thanks go to Convenor and Festival Organiser Tyler Lott Johnston, for leading on the project and hosting the events.

For more information on the Edinburgh Traditional Building Forum, our events, and how you can get involved, please visit our website or connect with us on social media @ScotTradBuild on Twitter.

Image © Scottish Traditional Building Forum.