From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


This is the second of the Peter Matthews blog posts following on from My Stories and Wester Hailes published last week…

In the last post I wrote about the stories I collected during my earlier research in Wester Hailes. Because of this when this blog and particularly the Facebook site started collecting peoples’ stories I was immediately interested.

The Facebook page is absolutely fantastic in itself. It now has over 1,500 people liking in, and much to the embarrassment of our project partners RCAHMS, this is more than them! As a researcher though, the really fantastic thing about the Facebook site is you get to know a lot about the people who are telling their stories. Before I talk about this though, you may be wondering why I am calling the little comments on the photos of Facebook stories. Surely a story cannot be less than 400 characters long? Well, in the main they are not. But some are, for example as someone wrote about the Park and Drive high rises:

“My Gran lived at 4/16, i loved growing up here as i child, tell my kids n friends about the good old days in the high rise, it was like its own little comunity, an how we used to play hide n seek inside the block when it was bad weather, lovely memories from here B-)”

Just like we saw in Sheila’s story, this is descriptive, has a beginning, middle and end and really captures a happy childhood. On other photos the discussion that people have in the comments becomes a story. As researchers we were unaware of the reputation of the crows in Wester Hailes, so we particularly like the stories of crisps being stolen and people being attacked under this photo of the shopping centre

The really useful thing for a researcher like me about Facebook is that you can easily find out who is doing all this chatting and a little bit about them (gender and age, mainly). From this data I can tell you that every Thursday when the photos are uploaded about 100 people start talking about them with the next couple of days. If you look at the graph I have taken from the Facebook site for July below you can see that most of the talking is being done by women, and that most of these women are between the age of 25 and 44. Across the research literature on neighbourhoods like Wester Hailes this is the first time this pattern of engagement with social history has been recorded. This is really exciting and could change how researchers like myself understand neighbourhoods.

As has previously been reported here there is quite an impetus to get a new version of the Wester Hailes Sentinel going again, perhaps along the lines of the North Edinburgh News and Broughton Spurtle All this modern technology makes it very easy to create a newspaper as we can “aggregate content” from the other online sources in Wester Hailes like the Facebook page, blogs of organisations like CHAI and the  pages of the Community Council If we want this to really take off we also need some citizen journalists to find out what’s happening in Wester Hailes. What we wondered was whether some of those people writing stories on the Facebook site might write stories for the ‘Digital Sentinel’.

This presents a really big challenge and one that might not be overcome. In the sort of language I use in my research it means converting “bonding social capital” into “bridging social capital” – or to put it in a much simpler way, persuading people to stop chatting with their mates on a Facebook page to start shouting out to everybody in Wester Hailes! If you have any ideas of how this might be done, do let us know!


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