When Wester Hailes was first built it consisted of little more than an expanse of housing and roads and a couple of primary schools – the bare bones of a community.
From the word go, it was the local people who took the lead in fighting for what the area lacked. Their campaigning and organisational efforts meant that not only did the authorities belatedly get their act into gear, but various community-led groups set up their own schemes to plug the gaps, including the actual design and construction of facilities.
“Wester Hailes Ten Years On”, a 50 page document published by the Wester Hailes Representative Council has a map identifying all the community facilities in existence by 1983 with an inset showing what was there ten years earlier. The difference is striking – in 1973, virtually nothing; by 1983 – a community workshop complex, youth huts, the Acorn Centre for people with disabilities, youth huts and 5 adventure playgrounds all built and run by local groups.
In the same year, a comprehensive Wester Hailes Community Plan was produced by the Rep Council. It shows the area at its most densely populated (prior to the progressive demolition of much of the high rises) and, arguably, at its most vibrant in terms of grassroots community activity (no less than 23 different facilities listed). It is drawn with real verve, a visual expression of energy and optimism and a little work of art in its own right.
However, many of the premises, built and run by the community were temporary structures, often reliant on the drip feed of specific sources of revenue grant. The 1983 Community Plan was the first of a series of three and, when we look at the last of them, the 1997 version, we can see that the area has undergone a further transformation.
The vast majority of the high rises have gone, after a lifespan of no more than 15 years. But a lot of what was constructed by the community has also disappeared including the Acorn Club building, the adventure playgrounds and the youth huts. By now, the huge Wester Hailes Partnership had been set up, operating on a much grander scale, incorporating or taking over from many of those earlier, smaller initiatives.
These maps are probably the only remaining record of the numbers and location of the various community-led projects which may have flowered for a relatively brief period but were absolutely vital in supporting and sustaining the people of
Wester Hailes during a time when they often had little option but to do what they could to help themselves.