The Wester Hailes Opportunity Trust opened the doors of its shop in the front of the Wester Hailes shopping centre in 1987. It was established as part of a set of projects operated through the umbrella organisation, the Wester Hailes Employment Initiative. WHOT was started in recognition that many people felt daunted by the idea of accessing training and/or further education to improve their employment prospects. It offered local residents the chance to find out more about what they needed in terms of training and then supported them throughout the training process. The funding, provided jointly by Lothian Regional Council, Edinburgh District Council and the SDA, enabled WHOT to have both link workers and 6 co-ordinators providing more long term in depth advice. WHOT also provided crèche facilities so that parents were able to attend training without worrying about childcare. WHOT celebrated its launch with an open day which you can read more about here.
Over the years WHOT expanded its work and its partnerships, creating a range of courses to assist people into work. In 1990 as part of an advertising feature for the Wester Hailes Partnership, the success of a recent WHOT venture was featured. Young people were offered the opportunity of training as Children’s Representatives for holiday companies which resulted in all 7 of those taking part being given jobs through the scheme. The course was run in conjunction with Stevenson College and included both college work and work experience. The feature can be read in more detail here.
Later that year the Sentinel reported that WHOT had received a major investment by BT which would be used to run a new course “Going Places” aimed at men over the age of 23. The project had been trying to gain private sector backing and was delighted to have support from a major company.
In 1994, WHOT moved from the front of the shopping centre to a unit within the mall. Its 1994-1995 annual report was circulated as part of the Sentinel. The report showed the breadth of partnerships WHOT was working within including the Wester Hailes Training Fund, the Job Centre, Stevenson College and the WHEC. Another major development were additional “satellite” points, bases within community organisations taking WHOT services beyond the Shopping Centre. Funding at this stage was coming from the European Social Fund, Urban Aid, LEEL, Lothian District Council, Edinburgh District Council.
When WHOT was first established, it was at a time when there was very little provision for the local community in terms of employability development. High unemployment was a continuing concern for the area with local residents struggling to succeed within the labour market. During WHOT’s lifetime, a whole sector developed dedicated to supporting people into further training and/or employment. The essential features of WHOT’s holistic service- a local presence, informal setting, tailored flexible training etc. have been adopted as standard by other local agencies. In the current challenging economic climate, WHOT might have faced an upward battle: no amount of training will assist people into work if the jobs aren’t there. But it is still remembered with affection by those who benefited from its help.