From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


The biggest arts festival in the world has just kicked off again. The centre of Edinburgh is crammed with tourists and sometimes even they seem to be outnumbered by those doing the acting, the singing, the stand up routines …the juggling, puppeteering, fire eating …the organising, publicising, reviewing …etc etc etc. Within a mile or two of Princes Street there are literally hundreds of festival venues and thousands of events taking place.

 Not quite the same in Wester Hailes. The annual deluge of visitors and media saturation typically arrives and departs leaving it almost, or even totally, untouched. Is that wrong? Why? What should be done about it? Who cares anyway? These were the sort of questions posed and debated at an event entitled “Whose Culture Is It Anyway” held in the Wester Hailes Arts Project (WHALE) building as part of the alternative Edinburgh People’s Festival in 2003. It was chaired by the then co-ordinator of WHALE and featured a range of participants in the arts including such luminaries as the Director of the Festival Fringe and Richard Demarco.

 According to the transcript of the discussion, most of those who took part thought that Wester Hailes and areas like it in Edinburgh did suffer from problems relating to access and exclusion which acted as barriers to local people participating in and benefitting from what was on offer at the Festival. Colin Fox, who played a major part in re-establishing the People’s Festival in 2002, has spoken of “the silence in the schemes” during the Festival period and the fact that local talent doesn’t get much of a look in.

photo taken by Kevin Walsh 1992

That seems to have been at the heart of the debate but it isn’t true to say that there has simply been “silence” in Wester Hailes. Local theatre groups such as Bits n Pieces and Moving Parts have participated in the Fringe and some of their shows have been in venues within Wester Hailes. Moving Parts has developed and gone from strength to strength, tackling increasingly ambitious material plus there is the local Westfest organised by WHALE which features a full and varied range of arts events and is running during this week. On top of that, there have been all sorts of other visual, musical and literary events and initiatives which have taken place, producing much good stuff over the years and we hope to post some examples of at least a few of these in this blog during the coming months.

The Wester Hailes Festival Association produced a programme in 1980 that was sent out to residents via the Sentinel.  They organised an ambitious range of events and productions that ran for a fortnight.  Highlights included Scottish Ballet workshops, Live Bands and a Community Musical.  The world famous clown, Reg Bolton, also brought his innovative circus to Wester Hailes.  You can see the programme by clicking here.  Festival programme 1980


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