From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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Snapping Up History

WHALE Snappers

Last year the WHALE Snappers was established as a group.  Local participants meet up every month at WHALE Arts to improve their knowledge and practical skills in black and white photography.  The group support each other to learn, express their creativity and make new friends.  They examine many themes and forms from social history to relationships, architecture, nature and the beauty all around us.

Recently the group was awarded funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) toheritage lottery fund document Wester Hailes past and present.  WHALE Snappers was one of the first groups in the UK to receive a HLF All Our Stories grant.  This exciting social history project documents Wester Hailes old and new.  This could include portraits of local characters, how the physical landscape has transformed and what the area means to them personally.  Wester Hailes is a community which is constantly adapting and changing.  WHALE Snappers plan to document and celebrate that.

All Our Stories was developed last year by the HLF in support of BBC Two’s programme series last year The Great British Story” and was designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage. With HLF funding and support, community groups were offered the opportunity to carry out activities that would help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.  The popular series was presented by historian Michael Wood and supported by a programme of BBC Learning activities and events got thousands of us asking questions about our history and inspired us to look at our history in a different way through the eyes of ordinary people.

Checking photosWHALE Arts has just celebrated its 20th Anniversary running art activities for the people of Wester Hailes and SW Edinburgh so this project is a chance for everyone to reflect and celebrate the evolution of Wester Hailes.  As part of the project there will be workshops in photography, training available in citizen journalism and oral history, trips to archive collections and exhibitions of the group’s work.  Social networking and media will be used to promote the accessibility of the work.   The first part of the project is now available to view as the Snappers have Member of Snappersan exhibition of their work at the Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council buildings at 14 Ashley Place from  Monday 11th February until April 2013.  Some Snappers also went to visit the Capital Collection at the Central Library on George IV Bridge last weekend.  It’s a free collection of old photos, maps and artefacts open to everyone with very helpful and friendly staff to guide you through it.  The Snappers recommend a visit!

TV presenter and historian Michael Wood said:

“We British love our history, and no wonder: few nations in the world, if any, have such riches on their doorstep, and so much of it accessible to all of us. It is really tremendous that the people of Wester Hailes have been inspired to get involved to tell their own story and to dig deeper into their own past. It’s brilliant that so many people are being given the chance to get involved through the All Our Stories grants. Having travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles this last year filming The Great British Story, I am certain that fascinating and moving stories will be uncovered which will not only bring to life the excitement of local history, but will illuminate and enrich every community’s connection with the national narrative.”

The WHALE Snappers is for everyone from beginners to skilled enthusiasts.  If you would like to join the Snappers just come along to the next session  which is on Wednesday 6th March 6pm- 9pm at WHALE Arts 30 Westburn Grove, or phone WHALE on 0131 458 3267.

We’re hoping to put some of the Snappers’ work in a future blog post.



The following document has been produced by local resident Eoghan Howard on behalf of Wester Hailes Community Council. It outlines how the construction of the new Healthy Living Centre and the anticipated housing development adjacent to it on the vacant Harvester Way site could become the springboard for a longer term process to redevelop and expand the town centre area of Wester Hailes.


Background:  The first serious plan for a fully integrated Town Centre for Wester Hailes linking up both sides of the railway line emerged in the early 1990’s. This was made possible through the demolition of the 8 Park & Drive high-rise blocks on the “south” side and various proposals for new housing and commercial leisure developments on the land that was made available. The repeated failure of several such commercial leisure proposals has meant that only part of the land on the eastern side of the site has since been developed  – i.e. The  Greenway Centre (now Harvesters Business Centre) in 1997 and Places for People Harvesters Way housing in 2008/9.

Proposal:  That, with the imminent opening of the currently under construction Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre in Autumn 2013, and adjacent Places for People housing proposal anticipated to be completed soon afterwards,  the long-term plan for a fully unified Town Centre is collectively pursued and finally  implemented.

Context & Benefits:  Of particular importance here has been the successful partnership between the Wester Hailes Community Council, local City Councillors, and the area’s constituency MSP (with further support from the Westminster MP), which resulted in the original plan for the re-opening of the underpass beneath the railway line – that had been partially blocked up by the Council in 1996 – being vastly improved.  Once opened, this new safe, accessible, and attractive pedestrian route between the shopping centre and the Healthy Living Centre, new housing, and other locations will provide a major opportunity to further integrate all WH Town Centre facilities. This would be expected to create additional social, leisure & shopping benefits for those who live or work on either side of the railway line and associated commercial benefits for the shopping centre and local traders.

The diagram below is intended to assist with the development of a  Wester Hailes Town Centre action plan – perhaps as a continuation of the successful underpass resident/ representative partnership and ideally with the inclusion of the Shopping Centre owners, Places for People,  and other interested parties. This has been influenced by the 2010 “Gehl Report” on the results of a major Placemaking exercise involving Edinburgh Council, Lothian Health Board, and various local agencies. 

NB: To see the diagram below in greater detail, just click on the image to see a larger version.

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This is the first of two posts by Peter Matthews who has been one of the key partners in the various social history/digital access initiatives that are currently being pioneered in Wester Hailes

As part of the activity around this blog an audio clip of Jean reminiscing about the community activism around Clovenstone Primary School was recently uploaded. This complements the activities done by the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland discussed here before. The sound clip came from me, Dr Peter Matthews, Heriot Watt University, as I am one of the partners in the project developing the “Off The Wall” QR codes and the digital totem pole.

My involvement in the project is in two areas. One of them is to evaluate and better understand all the stories being shared on this blog and on the Facebook page. I will talk about this in my next blog post. My other role is that I am fascinated by all of these stories of Wester Hailes and want to share some of them here.

I did the research for my PhD in Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park, Paisley to better understand the big changes the neighbourhoods went through in the 1990s. In 2007-8 I sat in on most of the meetings of the old Rep Council and talked to many community activists past and present. For me as an academic, it was a fantastic experience and very interesting to hear what had happened. These stories I recorded helped us as academics better understand what it feels like to live through experiences where your neighbourhood is substantially rebuilt.

I want to focus on the stories in this blog. Many people, and academics are particularly bad at this, discount peoples’s stories because, well they’re just stories. People forget things, or embellish details or don’t tell the truth. They are seen as not objective. For me, this is exactly why stories are so interesting. We all tell stories and it is how we make sense of what we experience and tell other people what has happened.

To give you more of an idea of this I want to look at a story told by Sheila when I spoke to her in 2007:

“Each area used to have it’s own, like Clovenstone’s got a community centre there, each area used to have its own wee hub and what have you where the community run them and there was community involvement. There was plenty youth activities and stuff like that most of that has now dwindled well all the hubs have dwindled away. There’s no a lot for the young people left in Wester Hailes whereas there used to be loads. I was also involved in a youth project as well which I gave fifteen years. I brought it from inception right through to mainstream funding but through the mainstream funding the open access work has disappeared and it’s now like teacher involvement social worker involvement and it’s more intense and more clinical – that’s a good word for it. It’s orientated against kids that have stability problems rather than the everyday young person who was actually supposed to be there to be a peer to those young folk with problems. I’ve seen a lot of them grow up a lot of them have changed from being those youngsters that were nightmares to actually quite nice young men and young females I meet them on the street.”

This is a really nice story of community activity and one that was often repeated by the people who I spoke to in Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park. It actually contains quite a few stories that are really important to understanding what has happened in the neighbourhood. Firstly there is a very positive story that starts about halfway through and ends with the last sentence – that Sheila helped get a youth group going and that the support that it provided meant that many of “these young folk with problems” are now “actually quite nice young men and young females”. Among all the bad headlines about Wester Hailes you don’t get to hear stories like this very often.

The second story is right there in the first sentence and quite depressed. “Each area used to have its own…community centre”. In both Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park in the years after 1999 there was a massive reduction in the sort of funding that kept community centres running. The lack of facilities for affordable fun activities for the community is still felt today. The third story is more complex and it was actually one of the main findings of my research. I called it the “narrative of project rise and fall”. It was told to me over and over again when I was doing my research and Sheila’s example is typical. Community activists start up a project and it’s an amazing success. They need a bit of money to keep it going and bring in a worker to take over some of the day-to-day tasks. It’s often at this stage that projects end because funding ceases and the worker leaves and the project ends. In this case the other fate befell the project – it was taken over as a mainstream service by the Social Work department and changed from its original purpose. It now just helped the most vulnerable young people. Very good work, but not what the original community-based project aimed to do.

There is so much in this story that it is almost too difficult to unpack! As an academic who is interested in policies to support neighbourhoods like Wester Hailes I think a lot more money should be available for projects such as this and it should be a predictable amount every year that community groups can spend on what they want. In many ways as researchers involved in helping with this blog and the totem pole we’re also worried that this story will repeat itself again. We have all really enjoyed working in Wester Hailes and think it’s brilliant that we can use money from the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities programme [] to help. A big question though is: what next? I will cover this a bit more in my next post where I will talk more about the Facebook page.


This was the headline in the Sentinel announcing the official opening of the Walkers estate in September 1992. It was the first development completed by Wester Hailes Community Housing Association – Prospect’s original name – and comprised 97 homes built on land at Hailesland formerly occupied by three high-rise blocks.

The guest of honour at the opening was local MP Malcolm Rifkind and the photograph below shows him in the living room of one of the new tenant’s homes together with (left to right along the middle row) local Councillor Willie Dunn, Wester Hailes Community Housing Association Chairperson Sheila Bunt and Scottish Homes Chief Executive Peter McKinlay.

Residents started moving into the completed houses twenty years ago almost to this very day. Marie Toolis who was the Housing Officer responsible for the allocation of tenancies recalls the tremendous atmosphere at the time:

Everyone was very excited. We felt like pioneers. It was the first housing in Wester Hailes where people were provided with their own back and front gardens.

She also remembers that because Walkers was so different from the rest of Wester Hailes, the estate was known locally in those days as “Brookside” after Channel Four’s popular soap.

The Sentinel recorded the delight of some of those who had been lucky enough to get one of the new homes, people like Amanda Lynch…

Also, Robert Lunn who moved into specially designed accommodation to help with his mobility problems – “as soon as I saw the house I knew it was for us“…and 62 year old Harold Brown who said his new home was “absolutely fantastic, well built and well designed“.

Wester Hailes Community Housing Association was established in 1988 thanks to the efforts of a small group of local residents. In the space of four years it secured funding approval from the government for a major development programme in the area, recruited its first members of staff, acquired the land at Hailesland from the City Council and designed and constructed the Walkers estate.

Pictured above, Ted Over, Treasurer of the Housing Association, speaks to the Clerk of Works about progress on-site during the building of the Walkers housing.


In carrying out some background research connected with last week’s post about the 1997 Community Map, we uncovered a bit of a puzzle. An article in the March 1998 issue of the Sentinel announced the sale of the last house in “Gillespie Gardens”. The scheme was described as being located in Clovenstone, constructed by Miller Homes and “the first new homes-for-sale development to be built in the area with grant aid from Scottish Homes“.

But the only housing which could possibly fit this description is at Alcorn Square and the photograph below which accompanied the 1998 article confirms this. So, where did the moniker “Gillespie Gardens” come from? Nobody we’ve spoken to locally can recall it. Maybe it was the original advertising name under which the developer marketed the new housing. However, in that case, it seems curious that Alcorn Square and not Gillespie Gardens  is the name given in the 1997 Map six months before the last house was actually sold.

Anyone out there able to shed  any light on this? One of the original residents of Alcorn Square perhaps?



In the first part of her Q & A, two weeks ago, Lisa McDonald revealed that she had helped edit an issue of the Sentinel along with some of her classmates at the WHEC. Intrigued by this, we searched through our archive and were able to find the particular edition (December 1988) to which she was referring. The front page carried a picture of the intrepid cub reporters and here they are:

As well as Lisa, the team consisted of Lynne Gow, Lorna Anderson, Sarah-Jane Hiroz and Conchi Peacock. The girls carried out a survey around Wester Hailes to find out people’s views about two popular subjects in 1988 – Bros and Neighbours. Bros had recently been topping the charts and the wedding of Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) in Neighbours had been screened on British TV the month before. 

Presumably to make the whole thing a little bit quicker and easier, the girls interviewed themselves as well as others and we thought we’d take the opportunity to share their responses with you. All of them, bar one, were rabid Bros fans…

Lynne loved Bros and described them as “wickedly happening” and the “best thing since Elvis“. Lorna thought they were “trendy dressers” and Luke was “so sexy“. Sarah-Jane also loved Bros, “they are happening” she said. Conchi thought they were “hip and trendy” and that Matt was “cool” and she also owned up to being a fan of Brother Beyond.

The one exception was Lisa who is quoted as saying that Bros were “indescribable rubbish” naming her favourite group as Aztec Camera. So far so good… but then she went on to confess that she loved neighbours ESPECIALLY Jason Donovan!

However she was in good company, all the rest of the girls were also big Neighbours fans: Lynne – “the talent is well chosen“; Conchi – “it is neat“; Sarah-Jane – “it keeps you watching“.

The feature which took up the whole of page 15 was written and designed by the girls and included a “Bros Factfile” and a list of “Ten things you always wanted to know” about Neighbours. 

Many thanks to Lisa for providing us with the clues to track down this long lost piece of journalism!

Every Community Needs Its Own Sentinel

Reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel, the Rep Council commented in an article for the special anniversary edition that

 “Every community needs to know where it has come from to know where it is going: every community needs its own Sentinel.”

 The article Fighting For Justice recalled the high level of community activity that accompanied the history of Wester Hailes, giving a whistle-stop tour of the past successes that had emerged from campaigns, lobbying and protest.  The Sentinel was recognised both as an early achievement and a main ingredient in this success story. 

 Last week we looked at the debate that has arisen in Edinburgh over the

pasting up the Sentinel pages 1985

potential of community run newspapers being given financial support if the current council newspaper Outlook is axed.  There is concern at a national level over the future of local independent newspapers in the light of the Johnston Press moving many long established daily local newspapers to weekly editions and with papers being increasingly amalgamated to cover larger areas.  An early day motion has been tabled by Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax, praising the role that local newspapers play in local democracy and stating a hope that these newspapers will continue to play an important role in the life of their communities for many years to come.  Louise Mensch MP has called for subsidies and tax advantages for community newspapers as a means of preserving the UK’s “most popular print media” 

 It is estimated that over half of the UK’s local newspapers could close by 2014.  Some of these have a considerable circulation and resources behind them.  Yet they remain vulnerable in a world where there is a steady loss of advertising and rising print costs.  It is no wonder that so many smaller community newspapers have had to close their doors in such conditions.  These developments have generated discussion in the national press.  Whilst there is much concern about what will happen if there is no local voice to hold authority to account, there are also good news stories showing that independent community news reporting is still finding ways to be heard.

 More and more, news is shifting to online formats.  Up to the minute, flexible and crucially cheaper, it seems the ideal medium for accessing information.  After all “Google” is now a verb and how we access information has changed as ease of using the internet has grown: our first inclination now when searching for facts, reviews, directions etc is to look online.  Newspapers now upload much of their content into online sites.  In years to come, this may well be the main way news is distributed.  But at present there is still a digital divide and a mix of formats needs to be maintained in the short term to ensure everyone is included. 

 Can online formats have a campaigning role?  Social media such as Twitter has shown both in this country and internationally that it can bring people together for protest, keep them informed and direct lobbying over issues.  When the Sentinel was first established, there was no idea that information could be shared via an online format with the internet itself as we know it a couple of decades away, let alone use of mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook etc as news formats.  If the Sentinel was being set up from scratch today, an online presence would be the norm. 

 It could be argued that the format is not really the issue, more that the journalism needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable.  In its 20 year anniversary issue, the Sentinel printed 20 things you didn’t know about your local newspaper, showing its loyalty to its community, its reach and its influence.  It is these qualities that gave it longevity and set a standard for any successors whatever their format.