From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

A decade for the Union Canal Part 2

The demolition of the Cyberbytes Cafe was just one part of the huge task that was required to re-open the Wester Hailes section of the Union Canal.  The Millennium Link restored both the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals to link up the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in over 35 years.  It was Scotland’s most expensive and ambitious Millennium project, funded in part by the Millennium Commission.  With the work completed ten years ago, the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift is perhaps now the most famous symbol of the two canals being rejoined. 

However, after the Falkirk wheel, the most challenging and complex piece of work required to restore the two canals was the work carried out at Wester Hailes.  The canal now looks such a permanent feature of the area, it can be hard to remember that only a few years ago, it could not be seen and the bridges that are now taken for granted were not there.

 The Wester Hailes project was broken into two phases to make it more manageable.  It would require the redigging and filling of 1.7km of canal, the

realigning of roads and the construction of new bridges.  The first phase was completed in summer 2000 and involved recutting 850 metres of canal between Wester Hailes Road and Murrayburn Road.  A new concrete road bridge to allow the Wester Hailes Road to cross the canal was constructed.  A winding hole to enable boats to turn was also added along with bankside mooring areas and landscaping. 

 The second phase produced another 850 metres of canal between Murrayburn Road and Dumbryden Road.  Six new road bridges and three footbridges were constructed.  In March 2000, the Sentinel reported on the felling of trees along Hailesland Road to enable the canal to pass through.  You can see the story here at Sentinel March 2000. In September 2000, the Sentinel printed a canal update that shows the scale of the works that were taking place, including bridge construction, new roads and public utility works. 

 You can see some great photographs recording the work of both these phases at James’s Canal Pages.  There’s also an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening.  WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display. 

To celebrate the restoration of the canal through Wester Hailes, there’s a community event being held on Saturday 10th September at the Westside Water Front opposite the Plaza, next to the garage.  There’ll be a range of canal related activities, stalls, music and a barbecue from 12pm to 4pm.


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Following the mayhem and violence of the riots in England, there’s a widespread feeling that society is somehow broken and needs “fixed”, especially in areas of low income and high unemployment.

Last year, David Cameron launched his Big Society idea with much fanfare and “passion”. Communities were to be given more powers and people were to be encouraged to play a more active role within them. This, it was said, would tackle apathy and social malaise while also, during these times of relative financial austerity, deliver services more cost effectively. In other words, it was a lot to do with people helping themselves (but not through broken shop windows).

Nearly thirty years ago, in January 1982, the Sentinel carried an in-depth profile of a Wester Hailes organisation which, in many ways, exemplified the qualities of local action and commitment which politicians, social analysts and other pontificators now say are lacking and need to be revived. F.I.S.H. (For Information and Social Help) was a good neighbour scheme set up in the early 1970s by volunteers, entirely on their own initiative, to provide support for the elderly and housebound. By 1982, F.I.S.H. had obtained enough revenue funding from Lothian Regional Council to allow it to employ a number of local residents as part-time workers and deliver not only a wide range of services to individuals but also provide help for other community groups.

The article listed an impressive array of figures which give a flavour of just how important and intensive the work of the organisation was over the six month period between April and October 1981. These included: home visits – 8,761; phone calls in – 2,560; phone calls out – 2,422; office inquiries – 1,300; items of furniture recycled – 120; homes furnished – 25; hospital visits – 260; car transport for elderly and disabled – 104. And that was only some of what they did! The part-time staff were only paid to work mornings but usually carried on into the afternoon and sometimes beyond. As the Sentinel put it, these stats “illustrate the staggering amount of work this highly organised and dedicated body carry out”.

Next week we’ll have the second part to this feature in which the reporter met up with some of F.I.S.H.’s neighbourhood workers to see their efforts at first hand.

Tales of Things are looking for your memories!

We’ve featured Tales Of Things a couple of times over the last few months.  They are going to be at Westside Plaza tomorrow, Friday 19th August, to record people’s memories as part of the Learning and Information Fair event there.  Using photos and objects, they’re looking for people who have a story, memory or comment to make about life in Wester Hailes.  They’ll put this information on their website so other people can read or hear about Wester Hailes history.  They’ll be at the Plaza from 10.00AM to 1.00PM.  Look out for their memory shed!

A decade for the Union Canal

This year is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wester Hailes section of the Union Canal.  Major city celebrations were held to celebrate 10 years since the re-opening of the Union Canal last year, but local residents here know that the Wester Hailes section wasn’t completed until 2001! 

 The one mile section of the canal was officially closed and infilled in 1965 when plans were being drawn up for housing in Wester Hailes.  It was felt that this would be the safest option and the distinctive feature was duly buried under concrete and roads.  However in 1994 British Waterways came up with an exciting proposal, the biggest engineering project they had ever undertaken in Scotland.  They proposed restoring both the Union and the Forth and Clyde Canals to link up the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in over 35 years.  The Wester Hailes section needed to be re-opened if these plans were to come to fruition.  This represented a huge piece of work: the channel had to be dug and  lined, bridges had to built, roads

photo by Kevin Walsh

diverted.  The Millennium Link was not only about creating permanent improvements to the landscape: the bid included job creation and recreational opportunities to bring economic benefits to the area.  British Waterways submitted a bid to the Millennium Commission, a Lottery managed fund established to fund projects that would mark the start of the new Millennium through creating lasting monuments to the achievements and aspirations of the people in the United Kingdom.  Over 200 projects received support with a total of £1.3 billion being spent. 

 However, the journey to achieving this ambitious project was not smooth.  The original application was rejected by the Millennium Commission.  British Waterways persisted in their fundraising, eventually raising £78 million of which £32 million came from the Millennium Commission.  The bid pulled together a wide ranging partnership and other sources of funding included the City of Edinburgh Council who put in £1.5 million towards the Edinburgh section.  It was Scotland’s most expensive millennium project. 


The response to the announcement that there were plans to re-open the canal in Wester Hailes was mixed.  It generated a lot of excitement but also some apprehension.  There were concerns about safety particularly for children, and about how the canal would be kept clean and maintained.  In 1994, the Sentinel featured an article that painted a negative picture of what would result.  You can read this report by clicking here on December 1994.  Once the project had been given the go ahead, people felt the need for more information and in 1998 the Sentinel featured the project, raising local issues with British Waterways.  You can read this report by clicking here on July 1998.

There’s currently an exhibition in WHALE Arts Centre showing the progress of the canal’s re-opening.  Through Sentinel headlines and photos it documents the huge structural changes that took place and shows how people were involved during and after the re-opening.  WHALE are collecting comments about the images so if you remember what it was like before the canal was re-opened or the canal work or the celebrations you could add to the information on display. 

 On Saturday 10th September there’s a celebration event to mark the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of the Wester Hailes section.  There’ll be free boat trips, stalls, music, a BBQ and much more.  It’s being held on the Wester Hailes waterfront, beside the Shell Garage, from 12PM to 4PM.  For more information contact Re-Union on 0131 453 4617. 

Fringe Benefits

Residents of Edinburgh know that the heavy rain this week can only mean one thing- the Festival must have arrived!  For those who come to visit the city only during this time it must seem that Edinburgh is always under a cloud.  For three weeks the city will be inundated with Festival goers and full of street performers and events.

 The scale of the Fringe and its apparent commercialism raise issues each year about its accessibility for many people in Edinburgh.  This debate has been ongoing in Wester Hailes over the years as the Fringe seems to bypass all but the city centre and was reflected in the recent blog article Creativity On The Fringe.  However, this has not stopped efforts from within Wester Hailes to develop greater links with what’s going on in the Fringe programme and to use the Festival period to showcase local talent. 

 In August 1981, the Sentinel reported on productions by the Bits and Pieces Theatre Group who were premiering two plays, one at the WHEC and one at the Greyfriars Kirkhouse Theatre.  You can read both reviews by clicking here on Sentinel September 1981

 The Sentinel tried to give coverage to local performers who were sometimes overlooked by the city and national media.  In 1988, a feature covered the Writer’s Co-op, Moving Parts, Hailes United and Magic Bob who were all taking part in Festival performances and events.  You can read the reports by clicking here on Sentinel September 1988

In 1995, WHALE put on a production where some of the cast had not been involved in being part of a play before.  The play ran for two weeks at Walpole Hall.  You can read more about it by clicking here on Sentinel September 1995. 

WHALE were keen to encourage local residents to take an active role in putting together productions and in performing at the Fringe as well as attending what was on offer.  Jim Tough, the then co-ordinator of WHALE gave the Sentinel an interesting interview about why he thought participation in the Fringe and other arts experiences was so important for individuals but also for Wester Hailes as a whole.  You can read this interview by clicking here on Sentinel August 1997


WHALE has continued to push for a more inclusive Fringe experience, encouraging people to travel to the city centre to see what’s on offer but also through bringing some Fringe elements out to Wester Hailes.  This year their Big West Fest programme showcases Fringe talent including David Ferrard, Cammy Sinclair and The Grumpy Magicians.  You can find the full programme here at Big West Fest 2011

 Another interesting development over the last few years has been the growth of the Free Fringe.  This month 607 out of 2,542 shows are free of charge which is the highest proportion in the festival’s history.  It was set up in 1996 as a reaction to the high hire costs charged by some city centre venues and a concern that has long been expressed in places like Wester Hailes that the Fringe had moved away from its original ethos of affordability.  The Free Fringe includes comedy, theatre, music and exhibitions.  You can find out more about what’s on here at The Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011.  The more the Free Fringe is supported, the more likely it is to continue growing so grab your umbrella and get in to the city centre to see some great performances!

Twirling In Wester Hailes

Twirler troupes are now a familiar part of any parade or fun day event adding a bit of razzamatazz and entertainment to the proceedings.  There are several troupes in the local area who also train hard for competitions.   In 1982 the Sentinel investigated the twirling phenomenon, discovering that baton-twirling was one of the fastest growing sports in Scotland.  They featured the award winning Clovenstone majorettes who were aiming to travel to the home of majorettes, the USA to see the North American Championships.  You can read all about the Clovenstone majorettes by clicking here on Sentinel October 1982.

Not So A.C. Rid

photo from the Sentinel 2001

We featured what was then an up and coming band Station 33 a couple of months ago.  The Sentinel ran a series of articles on local bands and in October 2001, reported on A.C. Rid who also had their roots in the WHEC and who were about to release a CD.  You can read the story by clicking here on Sentinel February 2003. 

The Sentinel also had a regular music column at this time called Terry’s Music Column which championed local talent.  In 2002, the column reported that when playing The Liquid Room, A.C. Rid were “stunning” with huge amounts of “tact, style and just plain coolness”.  You can read more of Terry’s review of this performance as well as of Station 33 and Namik by clicking here on Sentinel December 2002.   They were still going strong in February 2003, when Terry again gave them a great review.  So does anyone know what happened to A.C. Rid?  Did you buy their CD? Did they go on to bigger things or was their fame shortlived?