From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


Today we conclude the article by Kaitlyn Hay about the development of arts and culture in Wester Hailes and the relationship between it and the city centre festival “hub”.

This final part explores how WHALE Arts, as a locally-based community organisation, might develop in the future. It also gives a flavour of the public debate which took place in Wester Hailes in 2002 about the role of the Edinburgh Peoples Festival as an alternative to the high profile, high cost, city centre jamborees.

Kaitlyn’s conclusion is that what’s most important is that cultural initiatives address issues relevant to their own particular communities and locations. A one-size-fits-all, top-down approach isn’t the way to do things.

“… Allan Farmer, the current director at WHALE Arts, offers a long-term vision for the centre which continues to operate on Jim Tough’s original philosophy of a developmental structure. WHALE Arts will forge a more cooperative relationship amongst the Five Art Partners: Craigmillar Art Centre, North Edinburgh Art Centre, Art South Edinburgh and Out of the Blue in Leith, in order to coordinate and diversify their audience as well establish a traveling programme of performances and workshops. Participation diversification for WHALE Arts is a complex matter of targeted publicity and outreach projects. Farmer cited the Edinburgh-based organization The Audience Business (TAB) as potentially playing a key role in the organization’s future. According to TAB’s website, their goal is to ‘find out what makes audiences tick, what will make them try something new, and what will keep them coming back year on year’ (The Audience Business 2011). Farmer explains the approach to maximizing audience participation as a binary between hosting a series of fun and enticing one-off events to get people comfortable with coming to the building as well as long-term and committed engagement projects shaped by the residents. Ideally, the latter structure would be the norm but facilitating such a sustained dialogue with the community does not happen without substantial legwork. Ultimately, the goal is for the programming at WHALE to be a reflection of the collective voice of the community (Interview with Allan Farmer 2011).

“Who’s Culture is it Anyway?” A creative city for everyone.

The issue of involvement with the Edinburgh festival scene illustrates the complex identity-shaping process WHALE Arts has undergone since its founding. In 2002, the Edinburgh People’s Festival was created by a small group of activists and artists as a one-off event under the motto a festival by the people and for the people (Edinburgh People’s Festival 2011). The project was largely a reaction to cost-prohibitive productions of the International Festival and Festival Fringe, and sentiment that those festivals were for everyone else but the local residents. In a debate sponsored by WHALE Arts in 2003, a panel of speakers representing the People’s Festival, Stand Comedy club, Theatre Impressario, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and other artists, historians and writers, debated the necessity and potential of the People’s Festival as an annual event in contrast and competition with the Festival Fringe. Several speakers argued against the notion of the Festival Fringe as a ‘cash cow’ and ‘celebration for an arts establishment or Edinbourgeoisie.’ Another claimed that the people of Wester Hailes have as much access to festival events as anyone else — it is simply a matter of choosing to go. Conversely, speakers argued that ‘Wester Hailes was a section of our city not invited to the party’, and that the Edinburgh People’s Festival would address the issues of isolation and a sort of cultural ‘apartheid’ (‘Whose culture is it anyway’ 2003). Clearly the issue of audience and access has always been a difficult one for Wester Hailes, with WHALE Arts serving as a linchpin in the debate. The reflex of spawning new festivals to reach new audiences finds its latest manifestation in the Big West Fest: ‘a platform for local artwork and to connect local people with the cultural festivals taking place in the city centre’ (Big West Fest 2011).

Richard Florida’s development agenda, preoccupation with city branding and commoditization of creativity, is undercut by the example of Wester Hailes within the wider context of community arts (Malanga 2004). There is not one type of urban creativity; rather, the development of creativity in the way of cultural capital varies according to location. Distilling creativity into a prescription proffered by consultants is not a cure-all formula for turning latent creativity into growth for each and every urban population. Wester Hailes arts culture is distinct from that of the city centre where talent is more apt to be molded by trendy creativity schemes. WHALE Arts, on the other hand, negotiates the neighbourhood’s relationship to Edinburgh as a local entity, learning centre, and entertainment venue in pro-active dialogue with the city centre. The example of WHALE Arts demonstrates that the role of an arts resource is relative to the public it serves and that a programme of ‘cultural amenities’ for the city centre is not necessarily suited for the suburb on its cusp.”


Big West Fest (2010) [online] Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature. Available from: [Accessed 25/2/2011].

Canal Arts (2001) The Wester Hailes Sentinel, Issue No. 400, 15 December – 19 January.

Crichton, G. (2003) An investigation into how far a Freirean based community theatre company can stay true to its roots in a western urban society with specific reference to Wester Hailes Arts for leisure and education (WHALE). Unpublished BA (Hons) Thesis, Queen Margaret University College.

Crichton, G. Interview 17 February 2011. WHALE Arts Agency, adult programscoordinator.

Culture at the Heart of Regeneration: Summary of Responses (2004) Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom.

Edinburgh People’s Festival [online] Available from: [Accessed 22/2/2011].

Farmer, A. Interview 23 February 2011. WHALE Arts Agency, interim director.

Festival Fringe (n.d.) [online] Edinburgh Fringe. Available from: [Accessed 17/3/2011].

Florida, R. (2004) Cities and the creative class, Routledge: New York.

Griffin, K. Interview 23 February 2011. WHALE Arts Agency, youth programs coordinator.

Jamieson, K. (2004) The festival gaze and its boundaries. Space and Culture. (7)1 pp. 64- 75.

Malanga, S. (2004) The curse of the creative class [online] City Journal. Available from: [Accessed 9/2/2011].

Moving Parts Theatre Company. Available from: [Accessed 21/2/2011].

The Audience Business. Available from: [Accessed 24/2/2011].

UNESCO City of Literature [online] UNESCO. Available from: [Accessed 21/2/2011].

WHALE at the Fringe (1993) The Wester Hailes Sentinel, Issue No. 242, 13-27August.

 Whose culture is it anyway? (2003) Wester Hailes Education Center – Debate Transcript.


Turn On and Tune In!

Do you remember Hailes FM?  In 1994, residents of Wester Hailes took to the airwaves, broadcasting music, views and information.  There seemed to be something for everyone in a varied and packed programme.  The idea for a community radio station started from the Wester Hailes Youth Programme where young people were keen to see Wester Hailes have its own radio station.  The idea grew as more people became interested and a steering group was established to get the project off the ground.  You can read more about the start-up story by clicking here on Sentinel November 1994. Training was crucial to ensure that the station was run properly and the group involved CSV Media to run training sessions for everyone involved.  Funding was raised from a variety of sources, in particular the Foundation for Sports And Arts.  You can see the weekend’s programme by clicking here on Sentinel December 1994. 

 Hailes FM proved to be so popular that it was back six months later for a whole week, this time involving the local schools in the programme.  It then returned for a run over 8 days in 1996, broadcasting during the Carnival.  Do you remember listening to the Hailes FM shows or perhaps you even took part! 

Sentinel June 1995