From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Festival Eras

“It is a contradiction to live in Edinburgh and not experience the traditional cultural festivity.”( Sentinel 1986)

 Every year, the Sentinel encouraged people living in Wester Hailes to consider attending a Fringe event/ production.  Although the majority of the Fringe remained firmly within the city centre, there were productions being performed more locally, either because the company itself was local or because their ethos was all about making theatre more accessible through affordability.  In 1986, the Sentinel reported on the Merry Mac Fun Company who were bringing their play to Wester Hailes.  Also performing that year were Bits ‘n Pieces who were at the WHEC on the same bill.  Local residents could also see performances by Kaschperl Productions and Moving Parts brought together by a twinning exercise between the two areas.  Meanwhile the Fringe was celebrating its 40th anniversary, determined to maintain its “essential free and open nature” through running a Fringe Sunday that would be free to attend at Holyrood Park. 

 Many of the local Fringe events were organised by the Wester Hailes Festival Association.  Set up in 1979, the group co-ordinated the majority of the arts events that took place in the local area.  They were responsible for the packed Gala weeks, as well as a range of one off events throughout the year.  Although primarily involved in organising arts based events within the local area, the association also understood the value of linking in to wider city based occasions such as the Fringe.  But they also co-ordinated a programme throughout the year, taking advantage of the opportunities touring companies provided.  In 1984 there was a visit by the theatre company 7:84 who were known for their determination to take productions out to community venues.  The Baby and The Bathwater, a comment on Orwell’s vision for 1984 was performed at the WHEC as part of a tour of local areas.  Meanwhile the Festival Association had also succeeded in persuading another company, Mime Theatre Company to premier their new play at the WHEC.   The Sentinel reported on both performances and you can read the full story here

Sadly, in 1987, the Wester Hailes Festival Association announced that it was disbanding.  The group was struggling for resources and felt that the time had come to call it a day.  However, they were also hopeful for the future, seeing for example that local community bases had started to organise their own Galas.  By 1992, the Wester Hailes Arts for Leisure and Education had been established to promote access to but also participation in arts activities.  WHALE Arts Agency is due to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year so look out for more information about its upcoming 20 in 2012 celebrations. 

 Meanwhile the Fringe over the decades has continued to angst about its accessibility whilst continuing to grow more commercial and more expensive!  However fighting against the tide with growing success is the Free Fringe with more free shows than ever.  You can find their programme for 2012 here.

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