From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

The Bad, the Good and the Ugly Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts by Adam Dudley, an experienced architect who specialises in community architecture.  Based on his personal memories and experiences, Adam reflects both on the building process and some of the wider issues and lessons to be drawn from what happened.  This week focuses on the plans to build a youth base in Wester Hailes that came to be known as the Woods Centre and the post includes some of the original drawings produced. 


In an attempt to ‘spread the word’ I pitched for a ‘workshop’ at my former university, entitled ‘Master Builders Of A Different Class’, and in the introduction to my ‘programme’, the community activists of  Wester Hailes were introduced as:

 Neither liberal do-gooders nor highly paid professionals, but ‘ordinary’ people with some community commitment, working largely on a voluntary basis.  Their role is to provide a variety of skills and services, with the aim of encouraging people to get involved, and so create a real sense of community.  Thus, in terms of building work, this unfinished scheme (of Wester Hailes) is supplemented by a different kind of architecture altogether.  Namely custom-built playground structures and prefabricated classroom units.  And each construction engenders social activity of one form or another.  Dead, empty spaces become adventure playgrounds, turning desolation into hyper-activity.  Wooden huts become social clubs, giving a place of identity to an estranged youth, and classroom units become community bases, cafes, theatre workshops, and hairdressers.

Neighbourhood Entertainment

 This was just one of the dozens of ‘topics’ put forward by individual architects/groups for the annual programme of ‘Winter Schools’ throughout the Architectural Schools in Scotland with the selected workshops lasting for a period of one week.  Unfortunately, an insufficient number of my fellow trainee architects failed to exercise their social conscience. My bid duly failed due to lack of support, and that was the end of that!

 My employment as community architect came to a premature end when it became clear (contrary to previous assurances) that my practice experience at Wester Hailes would not, after all, be recognised by the RIBA for the purpose of completing my architectural education to become a fully qualified architect.  A part-time placement with a ‘conventional’ architects practice soon followed, leading to full-time employment, and full qualification. 

 This was not however the end of my involvement in community projects in Wester Hailes.  By 1986 I had set up in private practice for myself and had already carried out a number of small projects at the community workshop.  Early in 1987 I was asked to provide architectural services in connection with a new youth base which, in traditional fashion, was to be constructed from recycled prefabricated classroom units and built largely by unskilled labour under a Manpower Services Commission scheme.  This was a major project, bigger than anything previously undertaken by the community organisation, and was born out of the growing awareness in the community that something needed to be done to help the increasing number of disenfranchised and alienated youth in Wester Hailes.  This was to become the ‘Woods Youth Base’, and as explained in the design report submitted with the Planning Application:

The core function of the Youth Base is as an alternative education centre, concentrating on stimulating and teaching kids who find it difficult to conform to conventional education.  To broaden the scope and possibilities of the building and to combat the notion of a centre for ‘bad’ children’, local involvement will be encouraged to organise and participate in a range of activities to be associated with the Youth Base.  These will include hairdressing, joinery, screen printing, photography, music, video and film making.

 The philosophy of youth training and community involvement in the building is incorporated in the design and construction programme.  Starting with four transportable classroom units on the site, these will be extended and linked in a creative way to provide the range of spaces and facilities, including café, main hall, craft workshops, and counselling rooms.  The construction process will be deliberately labour intensive, using M.S.C. labour, guided and trained by a handful of qualified trades people.  Thus participation in the building work will provide local employment, as well as training, in a variety of construction skills, and generate interest, involvement, enthusiasm and care in their community Youth Base.

The Woods Centre: A kit of parts

 NB: Click on the pictures to see them at a larger size.  If you then hold the pointer over the image, you’ll see a magnifying glass icon. Click again and the picture will become larger.


Common room

Look out for the next post from Adam Dudley continuing to look at “The Good” and the issues facing the building of  the Woods Centre in his Memoirs of a Community Architect

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