From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

MEMORIES OF SIGHTHILL CAMP

Well before Wester Hailes was built, before even the Calders prefabs, the first “new” Council housing provided in the area after the Second World War, was Sighthill Camp, also known as the “Ack Ack Camp” because of the anti-aircraft battery that had been sited there.

The Camp occupied what is now the south-west portion of Bankhead Industrial Estate and consisted of converted army Nissan huts divided up to provide homes for 52 families. In 1987, Mandy Rhodes, a reporter for the Sentinel, talked to Bert Falconer, former resident and community activist, aboout his memories of the place.

The accommodation was extremely basic and cramped:

“The long huts were separated off into two-roomed apartments that housed each family. Walls were thin and privacy in short supply. We all washed and cooked together in a big communal kitchen and washplace.”

Nevertheless, in Bert’s view, this close quarters form of living had plenty of positive aspects:

“Of course it’s true that you do tend to always remember the good times. It was difficult at times but we were all thrown together, lots of young couples. It forged strong friendship links and that helped us get through anything.”

Even if the actual accommodation wasn’t up to much there were other advantages – plenty of open space for children to play  and the Camp had its own nursery school and shop. Above all, there was the community spirit which made it a very special place to live.

“There was a family atmosphere and we all looked out for each other and, privacy notwithstanding, my family grew from a family of two children to a family of four children by the time we left in 1958.” 

There was a particular family addition which Bert recalled which perhaps best exemplified that close-knit, supportive atmosphere:

“We were all in a real flap because one woman was about to give birth to her first baby and it was the camp’s first birth so there were about 20 nervous “fathers” all pacing about waiting for the birth. But to everyone’s joy and surprise there wasn’t one baby but three! Triplets! There were a lot of toasts drunk that night.”

And what grew up was more than just an informal, good neighbour type of network. Following “a packed public meeting attended by council officials and councillors” a tenants association was set up of which Bert was a founder member and could well have been the first of its kind in Edinburgh.

Bert thought of Sighthill Camp as an extremely happy time in his life and believed it gave his four children a great start and a solid grounding in values. Ironic that a temporary housing expedient which, even for the times, was pretty basic living could result in such a positive outcome while subsequent schemes built to much higher standards, costing huge amounts more, failed so badly in this regard.

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