From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

The ’70s Sound

What do you remember about the decade that formed the 1970s?  The BBC is running a variety of programmes looking at the years 1970-1979, including “The 70’s” which is investigating whether our memories of that era match what actually happened.  Its presenter Dominic Sandbrook argues that whilst it is often characterised as a time of recession with power cuts, hardship and economic struggle, many people were actually entering a time of greater affluence than their parents had ever experienced.  With more disposable income leading to higher aspirations many more families bought their own homes, cars, colour TVs, holidays abroad etc. 

 It was against this background that the planners responsible for Wester Hailes famously built vast car parks throughout the estate, estimating that by 1980 every household would own at least one car, allowing one and a half car parking spaces per household.  In 1983, nearly 75% of the population in Wester Hailes remained without a car leading to desolate deserted car parks being a feature of the area.  Wester Hailes was completed during the mid 1970s.  Perceptions about the new housing were mixed.  Many people reported that their new homes were bigger, had inside toilets, baths, bigger kitchens, better storage space etc.  For those who had come from overcrowded tenements and slum conditions there were improvements.  But these improvements had been built with a multitude of cost cutting structural and design faults leading to major issues with dampness, poor sound insulation, leaking windows, loose roof tiles etc.  And the experience of high-rise living led to many feeling isolated and cut off from their neighbours.  The national economic situation with its turbulent politics, high inflation, and huge price rises also adversely affected communities like Wester Hailes where unemployment was twice the city average and a quarter of young people could not get jobs. 

 Yet the 1970s remains a time that seems to evoke affectionate memories and an enduring sense of nostalgia for many despite sometimes difficult living conditions.  Music can be an evocative reminder of the time it represents.  The Sentinel ran a regular music column during the late 1970s commenting with definite views on the diverse mix of music being released at the time.  The music listed in the pages should jog a few memories if this was your era.  It also included a regular Pop Puzzle – how good is your memory on hits of the 70s?  And does anyone remember Revolver’s short-lived run during 1978?  Here’s a selection of the Sentinel’s columns 1978-1979.

  •  August 1978: a review of the new Revolver in Charlie’s Music Column
  •  November 1978: looking at the big hits of 1978 and gimmicks used to sell records such as coloured vinyl and square singles in Music Scene
  •  February 1979: singles review from a reviewer who knows what they like and what they don’t in Sounds Familiar
  •  December 1979: the results of a Wester Hailes vote on favourite groups, singers, singles etc of the decade in Pop Poll.  It’s not stated what the age range of voters was for these particular results!

Finally, here’s one of those Pop Puzzles.

See how many you can answer sorry, no prize!


Queuing to vote

With turnout at today’s Scottish local elections expected to be as low as 30%, it is interesting to reflect on a story from 18 years ago in the Sentinel about another election that was taking place in what was then the world’s newest democracy. 

Margaret McCulloch a former regional councillor for Wester Hailes acted as an independent monitor in the first general election in South Africa after the end of apartheid.  She sent a special report into the Sentinel about her experiences, saying that she would never forget the sight of mile long queues full of people who could vote for the first time.  In the end, an extra day had to be allowed to ensure that everyone was able to cast their vote. 

 As the recent events across countries caught up in the Arab Spring have shown, the right to have a voice, an opinion and a vote free from intimidation is of paramount importance for those with no access to democracy.  If protestors were to see how little the right to vote is now valued here, they would probably not believe what they were seeing.  You can read Margaret’s story here in Sentinel June 1994.