Following the mayhem and violence of the riots in England, there’s a widespread feeling that society is somehow broken and needs “fixed”, especially in areas of low income and high unemployment.
Last year, David Cameron launched his Big Society idea with much fanfare and “passion”. Communities were to be given more powers and people were to be encouraged to play a more active role within them. This, it was said, would tackle apathy and social malaise while also, during these times of relative financial austerity, deliver services more cost effectively. In other words, it was a lot to do with people helping themselves (but not through broken shop windows).
Nearly thirty years ago, in January 1982, the Sentinel carried an in-depth profile of a Wester Hailes organisation which, in many ways, exemplified the qualities of local action and commitment which politicians, social analysts and other pontificators now say are lacking and need to be revived. F.I.S.H. (For Information and Social Help) was a good neighbour scheme set up in the early 1970s by volunteers, entirely on their own initiative, to provide support for the elderly and housebound. By 1982, F.I.S.H. had obtained enough revenue funding from Lothian Regional Council to allow it to employ a number of local residents as part-time workers and deliver not only a wide range of services to individuals but also provide help for other community groups.
The article listed an impressive array of figures which give a flavour of just how important and intensive the work of the organisation was over the six month period between April and October 1981. These included: home visits – 8,761; phone calls in – 2,560; phone calls out – 2,422; office inquiries – 1,300; items of furniture recycled – 120; homes furnished – 25; hospital visits – 260; car transport for elderly and disabled – 104. And that was only some of what they did! The part-time staff were only paid to work mornings but usually carried on into the afternoon and sometimes beyond. As the Sentinel put it, these stats “illustrate the staggering amount of work this highly organised and dedicated body carry out”.
Next week we’ll have the second part to this feature in which the reporter met up with some of F.I.S.H.’s neighbourhood workers to see their efforts at first hand.
We’ve featured Tales Of Things a couple of times over the last few months. They are going to be at Westside Plaza tomorrow, Friday 19th August, to record people’s memories as part of the Learning and Information Fair event there. Using photos and objects, they’re looking for people who have a story, memory or comment to make about life in Wester Hailes. They’ll put this information on their website so other people can read or hear about Wester Hailes history. They’ll be at the Plaza from 10.00AM to 1.00PM. Look out for their memory shed!
This year is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wester Hailes section of the Union Canal. Major city celebrations were held to celebrate 10 years since the re-opening of the Union Canal last year, but local residents here know that the Wester Hailes section wasn’t completed until 2001!
The one mile section of the canal was officially closed and infilled in 1965 when plans were being drawn up for housing in Wester Hailes. It was felt that this would be the safest option and the distinctive feature was duly buried under concrete and roads. However in 1994 British Waterways came up with an exciting proposal, the biggest engineering project they had ever undertaken in Scotland. They proposed restoring both the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals to link up the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in over 35 years. The Wester Hailes section needed to be re-opened if these plans were to come to fruition. This represented a huge piece of work: the channel had to be dug and lined, bridges had to built, roads
photo by Kevin Walsh
diverted. The Millennium Link was not only about creating permanent improvements to the landscape: the bid included job creation and recreational opportunities to bring economic benefits to the area. British Waterways submitted a bid to the Millennium Commission, a Lottery managed fund established to fund projects that would mark the start of the new Millennium through creating lasting monuments to the achievements and aspirations of the people in the United Kingdom. Over 200 projects received support with a total of £1.3 billion being spent.
However, the journey to achieving this ambitious project was not smooth. The original application was rejected by the Millennium Commission. British Waterways persisted in their fundraising, eventually raising £78 million of which £32 million came from the Millennium Commission. The bid pulled together a wide ranging partnership and other sources of funding included the City of Edinburgh Council who put in £1.5 million towards the Edinburgh section. It was Scotland’s most expensive millennium project.
The response to the announcement that there were plans to re-open the canal in Wester Hailes was mixed. It generated a lot of excitement but also some apprehension. There were concerns about safety particularly for children, and about how the canal would be kept clean and maintained. In 1994, the Sentinel featured an article that painted a negative picture of what would result. You can read this report by clicking here on December 1994. Once the project had been given the go ahead, people felt the need for more information and in 1998 the Sentinel featured the project, raising local issues with British Waterways. You can read this report by clicking here on July 1998.
There’s currently an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening. Through Sentinel headlines and photos it documents the huge structural changes that took place and shows how people were involved during and after the re-opening. WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display.
On Saturday 10th September there’s a celebration event to mark the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the Wester Hailes section. There’ll be free boat trips, stalls, music, a BBQ and much more. It’s being held on the Wester Hailes waterfront, beside the Shell Garage, from 12PM to 4PM. For more information contact Re-Union on 0131 453 4617.