On Wednesday 7th September we hosted a visit by a group of architectural historians and urban planners who were in Scotland to speak at a prestigious international conference in Edinburgh.
These were high powered academics, well renowned in their fields, who were particularly interested to find out about the efforts being made, here in Wester Hailes, by local organisations and residents to record the social history of the area.
We had professors and doctors from all over – from Iowa State University, the Sorbonne in Paris, the Slovakian Academy of Sciences, the Estonian Academy of Sciences, from the Czech Republic, Romania and even Scotland itself – wanting to hear what was going on in sunny Wester Hailes.
The conference they were speaking at had been organised to discuss what they called the historical “heritage” of big housing schemes throughout Europe. In particular, how it was being recorded and preserved – or not. Their perspective was that the most important element of this was the buildings themselves, especially as many are now facing demolition as whole areas are redeveloped.
They seemed to be quite impressed with what we told them about how the various social history projects in Wester Hailes are developing – the blog, facebook, tagging using QR codes, Totem Poles, social history walks, and interactive mapping. But we had a bit of a debate as to what the true “heritage” of a place is.
Rather than buildings, we put forward the view that what was even more vital to preserve was the personal experiences and memories of the people that had lived in them and to understand the relationship between this and the changing story of their communities through the years. We won’t have changed any minds overnight but maybe we did give them some food for thought.