From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Building Community Spirit

Last week the Evening News reported that the North Edinburgh News, a community newspaper, is facing closure due to anticipated funding cuts in March 2011.  The paper survived previous rounds of cuts through the support from its local Neighbourhood Partnerships which chose to award some of their Fairer Scotland funding allocation to the paper.  But with the centralisation of this fund from March 2011, the NEN team are preparing for closure in the understanding that the city council will not include the paper in future funding priorities. 

 The potential demise of the North Edinburgh News follows a trend that can be seen at a national level.  Between January 2008 and August 2009 alone, the Newspaper Society reported that 101 local newspapers closed down.  Here in South West Edinburgh, the West Edinburgh Times, which was the successor to the Sentinel, was finally forced to close its doors in 2008 when funding to the Edinburgh Community Newspaper Trust was axed, cutting off financial support both to the West Edinburgh Times and other local community newspapers in Edinburgh. 

 Last year the Media Trust commissioned research into the value of community newspapers in promoting local democracy.  The research showed that people still want local media, particularly printed newspapers.  They want truly local reporting and independent journalism that reflects local concerns.  The Media Trust believes that the importance of this independence cannot be overstated, arguing that local news should be in the hands of local people.  It points out that the production and circulation of independent, quality news is a hallmark of democratic societies.  The resulting report, “Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities” demonstrates that many people feel disengaged with the democratic process and disempowered from influencing decisions that affect them and their environment.  Community media draws a community together.  It articulates the concerns and aspirations of the area and encourages people to become involved in local issues. 

 “A good local news service in this sense is one that gives a voice to the voiceless; that is prepared to listen to and represent the concerns of ordinary local people; and is willing to act as a fourth estate, holding power to account.” (1)

This ethos lay at the heart of the Sentinel and its reporting.  During its history, the paper changed format several times, evolving from being an A4 newsletter to a broadsheet.  The front page altered visually as printing technology advanced and the paper’s budget increased. 

As different reporters, columnists and cartoonists came and went, the shape of the news and features content changed.  But throughout the Sentinel’s existence, there was a clear understanding that the paper was there to represent the people of Wester Hailes and to act as a unified voice for the area.  Over the years it campaigned again and again on key local issues with an emphasis on challenging injustices and highlighting the need for change.  It also understood the value of positive news reporting, recognising the need to combat the endless treadmill of negative news items about the area being promoted by the larger commercial publications.  Whilst Wester Hailes faced many challenges, it also had much to be proud of and the Sentinel made sure this was recognised and publicised. 

 “We are a community newspaper.  But what is community?  Community spirit only exists when individuals believe that the good of others is more important than the pursuit of their own self interest.

It is our belief that the purpose of a community newspaper is to build community spirit.  The more successful the Sentinel, the stronger is the community spirit of Wester Hailes: the stronger the community spirit of Wester Hailes, the more successful is the Sentinel.”

 (Front page editorial Issue 100- 19th March- 15th April 1985)

The Sentinel was founded by Hector McCrae with the first edition being printed in October 1976.  From the beginning Hector encouraged local people to contribute articles to the newspaper, believing that the paper should directly reflect the interests of those living in the area rather than the views of one person.  This led to a Sentinel group being established to oversee the organising of the paper, formed by representatives from each of the local tenants’ associations.  You can read an interview with Hector by clicking here on the Sentinel March 1985.  The interview formed part of a special edition to mark the 100th edition of the paper.

1) “Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities”; new research by Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre commissioned by Media Trust

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