From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


Way back in November 1978 the issue of whether or not to set up a Community Council in Wester Hailes was being debated in the pages of the Sentinel. Essentially, it came down to a choice between two quite different approaches to local democracy. On the one hand, a body comprising representatives of existing local tenants groups or, on the other, a Community Council of directly elected local individuals.

At the outset Edinburgh District Council had taken the view that Community Councils were not needed within its boundaries and then modified that to agree only that they might be appropriate in the landward areas of Currie, Balerno, Ratho, Kirkliston and South Queensferry. This stance encountered sufficient public criticism for the Secretary of State for Scotland to order a public inquiry into the matter in the summer of 1977. The result of the inquiry was that the Council was ordered to put in place a scheme to promote the establishment of Community Councils in all areas of the city.

From the earliest years, while the building of the estate was still underway, tenants groups had begun springing up in the six neighbourhood areas of Wester Hailes – Clovenstone, Park & Drive, Murrayburn, Westburn, Hailesland and Dumbryden – to tackle various issues affecting the residents, in particular the chronic lack of facilities and problems associated with poor quality housing. In 1974, funding to deal with the increasing social problems started to flow into the area under the auspices of the Social and Community Development Programme. A local advisory committee – christened Scooby Doo – was set up to help decide how the money should be spent. Scooby Doo included representatives from each of the tenant groups and this was the body which was already in place when the District Council was instructed to encourage the creation of Community Councils.

The Social and Economic Development Programme was by this time coming to an end, but the board of Scooby Doo were strongly of the opinion that the structure established by it was the best way forward to represent the interests of Wester Hailes and that, to all intents and purposes, they were already doing the job of a Community Council. The idea of a Community Council had its adherents and the debate continued in the next couple of issues of the Sentinel but by February 1979 a new organisation had come into being – the Wester Hailes Development Advisory Committee – which was structured along more or less identical lines to Scooby Doo acting as a representative body for the local tenant groups. Sentinel February 1979

This was the model of grass roots democracy which was followed and developed in Wester Hailes over the next thirty years, leading directly to the formation of the Wester Hailes Rep Council. At its height, the Rep Council functioned as an umbrella organisation for more than twenty local Neighbourhood Councils plus other local community organisations and provided a unique and powerful focus for community action until its dissolution in 2009.