©Kevin Walsh 1996
In 1969, forty years ago, the first phase of building in Wester Hailes was completed. As an area, Wester Hailes has a long and proud history of community-led action. As early as 1970, before the building of the estate was complete, a tenants association had been constituted to fight for improvements to the area. This was quickly followed by individual neighbourhoods forming groups to tackle their specific needs and problems, something which has remained a notable feature of Wester Hailes up to the present day. Over the years, the community has never been slow to make its voice heard when the situation demanded it. Campaigns have been mounted and energetic lobbying pursued. But the people of Wester Hailes have not been content just to press others to act, they have made things happen themselves. They have built playgrounds, set up clubs, organised gala days and run community enterprises. And in the 1980s, with the advent of the Urban Partnership, when funds flowed into the area on an unprecedented scale, they found themselves working with an array of politicians, civil servants and professional staff to deliver an ambitious, high profile regeneration programme.
Wester Hailes has a complex and fascinating history, sometimes controversial, always thought provoking. It is a place of social historical significance both in terms of its physical transformation but also through the emergence of a strong community that developed what was once regarded as one of the most sophisticated forms of community involvement in the UK. Many of the initiatives that seemed so promising faltered as funding priorities changed and politicians turned their attention to other concerns. There are achievements to be celebrated but also lessons to be learned as regeneration efforts have found sustainability a challenge.
We wanted this story to be told and commented on from as wide a variety of perspectives as possible. This blog will publish a range of posts: reflections, essays, recollections, opinions and analyses linked by the theme of the history of Wester Hailes. We’ll also be bringing you extracts and photographs from the Sentinel, the community newspaper that was once the voice of Wester Hailes. We hope to hear from you whether you’re a current or past resident, whether you work here now or you used to work here or if you’ve simply got an interest in social history, public policy, urban regeneration, community activism……..
© Kevin Walsh 1994
David Pirie provides a comprehensive review of post war housing and its legacy for areas such as Wester Hailes.
David was commissioned by the City of Edinburgh District Council in 1981 to investigate the failure of ground floor construction in blocks of flats in Wester Hailes. Thereafter he developed an increasing workload as an Analyst and Expert Witness, becoming the lead consultant in the Hurd Rolland Partnership Construction Technology Section.
In this article he describes the growing reliance on prefab housing, the acute social problems these “streets in the sky” generated and the long term consequences of speed driven large scale developments. Whilst he points out that the road to Wester Hailes was paved with good intentions, he highlights key issues and the need to learn from past mistakes.
The Road To Wester Hailes
© David Pirie 2010
It is very difficult from a viewpoint in the early part of the 21st century to remember or indeed imagine what housing conditions were like for many, in our towns and cities in the 1950’s. It is necessary to go back in time to the period shortly after the Second World War to understand how large housing developments, such as Wester Hailes came to be built.
Generally town and city centres had been badly neglected. There had been little financial investment, particularly in the tenement blocks, which were widespread in these areas. Of course to make matters considerably worse in many cases there was large scale bomb damage. Many properties had been destroyed, or were in a shockingly run down condition.
The country was exhausted physically and financially after six years of war. There were shortages of materials and it was appreciated that there was a considerable problem that had to be addressed, but resources were strictly limited. Edinburgh was no exception in having a decayed core, with many people forced to live in what we would now consider to be appalling conditions.
The Victorian Legacy
Britain’s cities had begun to expand on a large scale during the nineteenth century, largely due to workers and labourers from the surrounding country areas flocking to the cities seeking work during the period of industrialisation and expanding employment opportunities. New house building was largely restricted to profit-seeking private builders. Mostly in the form of terraced houses, these new communities were largely unplanned. The large majority of the population rented privately, from a modest room in a house to a grand residence in the country. Continue reading
There have been many changes in Wester Hailes over the last 40 years. We’ve put together a timeline of key events and decisions that shaped how the area was built, developed and altered across the decades. Were you in Wester Hailes during these times? We want the time line to reflect different people’s reflections and memories so if you think we’ve missed important information out, get in touch and let us know.
WESTER HAILES TIMELINE
- Public inquiry into Edinburgh Council’s plans to re-zone 297 acres of agricultural land at Wester Hailes for building of new houses
- The Wester Hailes Amenity Association formed by local residents to fight the proposal to re-zone the land
- Miss Margaret Kidd QC, the public inquiry Reporter finds against Edinburgh Council’s proposals but is overruled by Willie Ross, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who gives his approval
- Sir Frank Mears & Partners appointed as architects to design Wester Hailes
- January – Work begins on the construction of Wester Hailes
- November – First houses completed (in Dumbryden)
- Construction of Dumbryden area completed
- First houses occupied in Murrayburn and Hailesland
- The Wester Hailes Association of Tenants (WHAT) formed.
Membership fee 3/-, joint membership for couples 5/-.
Issue 1 newsletter WHATS NEWS (price 3d):
“A primary school, a shop and lots of houses that about sums up Wester Hailes. We need a secondary school quickly, we need a community centre, nursery or pre-school facilities for the very young children & their mothers, a club of some kind for our teenagers, more shops, a post office, letter boxes & you name it we have not got it!”
- February – Talks begin between Edinburgh Council and British Rail regarding the provision of a railway “halt” at Wester Hailes
- Holy Trinity Church constructed
- September – Director of Housing reports that half of the proposed 4,800 homes in Wester Hailes have been completed
- 1973-4: WHAT campaigns on a wide variety of issues
- 1974-5: Local Government Reorganisation. May 7th: first district and regional council elections
- September – Social Work Department’s Special Projects Team produces report identifying Wester Hailes as an area of social deprivation where nearly 9 out of 10 children come from families living “at poverty level”
- October – Wester Hailes Shopping Centre opened (October)
- WHAT News reports:
“After asking for it for the last 3 years a rent office is now being built between Hailesland Road and Hailesland Gardens. It should save some people a long walk up to Sighthill“
- Wester Hailes Park and Drive Tenants Association, Dumbryden Action Group, Clovenstone Association of Tenants, and Westburn Action Group “all in existence”
- For Information and Social Help (FISH) set up
- “Most” of the housing completed
- Murrayburn Tenants Association and Hailesland Association of Tenants formally constituted
- May – Go ahead for construction of the Wester Hailes Education Centre given by central government
- Social and Community Development Programme (SCDP) ["affectionately known as Scooby-Do"] launched
- SCDP Wester Hailes Local Advisory Committee set up
This document lays out a plan for a city suburb called Wester Hailes. Within the plan are details of roads, schools, the shopping centre and housing. It advises against the
“robot inspiring demerits of industrialised and repetitive housing,”
arguing that all residents should have their own individual space. The plan concludes that with the modern techniques advocated that Wester Hailes will be a place where future residents will feel safe, content and without conflict.
We think this document would have been written in the early 1960s and was from a report produced by Sir Frank Mears and Partners who were the architects appointed to design Wester Hailes. If you have more information about this report it would be great to hear from you.
Plan For A City Suburb
What was happening in Wester Hailes 32 years ago? The Sentinel Newspaper reported on local issues and was owned and managed by the people of Wester Hailes. Headlines for August 1978 include
The Wester Hailes Education Centre opened its doors for the first time on the 21st August 1978. Do you remember that first term at the WHEC? Perhaps you were amongst the first pupils to attend.
The Youth Forum organised a programme of activities for young people but it also worked to have the views of young people heard in the community. Do you remember taking part in the Youth Forum?
Around The Areas
The Sentinel publicised community activity in the different local neighbourhoods. Did you belong to one of the groups mentioned?
Police Station for Wester Hailes
After several years of campaigning by local groups, the Sentinel reported that a police station was going to be located in the area. Do you recognise the proposed site?
Mick McCormack Rides Again
The Sentinel reported on a fundraising event that crossed the city, ending up at Port Seton. Did you take part in the challenge or go over to Port Seton as part of the welcoming party?
August 1978 Sentinel pages