The debate over affordable food in the light of the horsemeat scandal has highlighted the issues surrounding economy food products. Whilst everyone likes a bargain, many people purchase these products because they have fewer choices when it comes to price. Economy burgers and supermarket own brand ready meals provide low cost options for those on a limited income and with a lack of possible places to shop, especially if they rely on public transport. People currently living in Wester Hailes might well be concerned that economy value meals are being investigated for mislabelling but they might find they have fewer options when it comes to finding affordable alternatives.
It was often a struggle for people in the early days of Wester Hailes when it came to food shopping. The original plans included avenues of shops throughout the area, but these ideas disappeared as commercial enterprise became involved. Plans were agreed for an enclosed shopping centre but with the guarantee that no other shops would be built nearby to satisfy developer demands. Even once the shopping centre was agreed, it remained unbuilt for several years whilst housing was occupied, finally being opened in 1974.
At the time Ten Years on was written, the general impression given of the shopping centre was that there was now a good selection of shops including 2 supermarkets and 31 other shops including butchers, greengrocers, frozen foods, chemists and footwear. In fact there were so many shoe shops that there was a local joke saying that people in Wester Hailes must be wearing out shoes quicker because of having to make the long journey to the centre! The only other main supermarket was Tesco’s which opened in 1982 by Hailes Quarry Park. Although it offered variety, its arrival was not unanimously welcomed.
In 1984 the shopping centre had a refit and was opened as the Forum by Lewis Collins, again with a good range of shops. However, over the years, Wester Hailes has seen a marked decline in the number of shops selling fresh food. In 1995, a fierce battle erupted when Presto announced it was closing with the potential loss of 70 jobs. The owners of the centre went to court to force Presto to remain open, recognising that the centre would struggle without the draw of a supermarket.
The centre then underwent another set of developments as part of the town centre development with a new library, multi-screen cinema, bingo hall and a new District Council office in 1996. However, this did not mean a greater range of food shops. As new shopping centre developments elsewhere were launched, it was Wester Hailes that seemed to lose out. Hermiston Gait and the Gyle Shopping Centre both offered large scale supermarket shopping, but only really for customers with cars. If you rely on public transport, shopping at these centres is tricky and has to be planned out due to infrequent buses, or unhelpful connecting times. Meanwhile, Wester Hailes was down to one supermarket and in 2008 gained a certain fame as the one place Tesco actually closed down in.
The lack of affordable food sources locally led to attempts to establish food co-ops. With these being on a non-profit basis, it was possible to offer healthy fresh food at affordable prices. Several food co-ops were launched in 1997 and the Sentinel provided information about their development and progress. They often had short shelf lives, finding it hard to be open for long enough to generate sufficient custom.
The last word should perhaps belong to Davie Wilson, writing in the Sentinel in 1996 during another food scare that gripped the press. The rise of BSE had created huge levels of concern and beef sales had slumped. You can read what was said about Scottish beef here.