From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

The Bad, the Good and the Ugly Part 4

This is the fourth 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 continues the focus on the plans to build a youth base in Wester Hailes that was to be called the Woods Centre.  Despite massive support for the plans, Adam describes what happened when funding became an issue. 

The Bad, The Good and The Ugly Part 4

From a core group of community activists, 6,000 questionnaires had been delivered around Wester Hailes to invite residents to a public meeting about the project.  Whilst the management committee of the project included representatives from the Education Department, Social Work, and Community Education, Wester Hailes residents were to make up the majority of the committee.  When complete, the base was to be run by volunteers, supported by full time/part time Youth Workers, Social Workers, a co-ordinator and deputy co-ordinator, a secretary, kitchen staff, and cleaners.   Three teachers were also to be employed to run a small ‘school’ within the base. Although this was very much a ‘partnership’ project involving various local authority departments, the commitment and momentum was firmly community based.  Interest in the project was gained from far afield, with letters of support coming from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Fulham, and Manchester United football teams (signed by all of the managers, including Alex Ferguson, no less!)

letter signed by Alex Ferguson

This very ambitious project comprised four classroom units placed so that they created two very large common rooms between them.  The massive roof trusses over the common rooms, new roofs over the classroom units, and expansive brick gables were all designed and detailed so that they could be built on site using a combination of skilled and unskilled labour.  The building team was managed by Roly Wilson, with modest building experience, but tremendous communication skills.  As with all previous projects, it was a case of learning on the job.  Given the scale of the funding and the responsibility placed on all parties for ensuring the quality and performance of the building, the information put together for the build was immense.  For our part, in addition to the traditional construction drawings and specification, this included guidance notes/instructions and sketches on every aspect of the works, from preparing the site, setting out the works, mixing concrete, installing reinforcements, laying bricks, and so on.  Looking back, this was a major undertaking, involving some very sophisticated building operations, such as the construction of a series of drop-manholes to connect the foul drainage to that of the adjacent school (WHEC.) 


As the project started to take shape, both as an idea, and then as a real building on site, so did the confidence and ambitions of other community groups.  By the beginning of 1988, under a new appointment working for a different community group, we had secured Planning Consent for a new sports pavilion/club premises at Clovenstone, comprising a licensed club house with changing rooms, kitchen, and ancillary facilities, a flood lit football pitch and stand, a bowling green, and a new play area.  This time however, instead of recycling prefabricated classroom units, this project was to be a complete new-built, bespoke building project.

It all seemed too good to be true, and, of course, is soon proved to be the case!  As the funding was squeezed and the bureaucracy took hold, these 2 projects began to falter.  No sooner had the first foundations been laid when Instructions were received to, literally, ‘halve’ the size of the Woods Youth Base.  A major re-design produced Youth Base ‘Mark 2’, and almost all of the design ‘features’ once envisaged soon disappeared, as further funding pressures were brought to bear.  As our own input and control became increasingly marginalised, other, ‘on-site’ design changes altered the original project beyond all recognition.  The final ‘blow’, some years on, was delivered with a rather ‘alien’ extension to the rear of this truncated (halved) building by the Social Work Department.  As for the Clovenstone project, this was never to go beyond the first ‘hurdle’ (ie. beyond Planning Consent) as neither the funding nor the commitment by the local authority was there.

Look out for the next and final part of Adam’s article which examines The Ugly face of the “system” and considers lessons to be learned. 


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