From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

1 Comment

We All Must Play A Part


Whilst the Sentinel was a community newspaper focused on local issues and neighbourhood news, it also had an impressive capacity to look beyond the immediate area at major national and international issues.  People in Wester Hailes were encouraged not only to know about what was happening in the wider world, but also to understand how their views and actions could affect people living thousands of miles away.  In the week when the world gathered to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela, it seems fitting to highlight the efforts the Sentinel made to highlight the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

In July 1985 it carried an interview with Donald Kitson who had just been released after 20 years in prison where he had been jailed for his political activities against the regime.  He discussed the power sanctions had in affecting the existing regime and highlighted efforts being made by shop assistants in Dublin who had gone on strike after refusing to handle South African goods.  You can read the article in full here.

tambo picIn October 1985, the paper published an extensive interview with Dali Tambo, son of Oliver Tambo who was the president of the ANC at the time.  He brought a clear message to the people of Wester Hailes, asking for their support and explaining how their actions could make a real difference.  He asked local residents to support sanctions and to lobby their local MP to ask for their support.  The Sentinel re-iterated these comments, pointing out that “We all must play a part”. You can read the interview in full here.


Digital News in Wester Hailes

Don McCullin the renowned photographer called this week for more photographers to chronicle Britain.  Although best known for his war photography, McCullin spoke with conviction of the need to highlight life in local communities, both the positive and the problems faced by those living in the most deprived areas saying it was a way of promoting understanding and bringing a community together.  His first ever published photograph was “The Guv’nors”, a 1950s gang standing in a burned out building from his neighbourhood around Finsbury Park in London.

Sentinel officeThe ability to record many different aspects of local life in Wester Hailes was one of the real strengths of the Sentinel newspaper and contributed to developing a sense of community.  In 1977 the Sentinel’s first issue was sold for 5p and provided coverage of local activities and news about various tenants’ campaigns.  A committee of local residents was quickly formed to take over the running of the paper, deciding both content and format.  Although keen to show a different side to Wester Hailes in an effort to combat negative portrayals in other news sources, the paper never shied away from the reality of the issues facing people in the area.  Difficult and controversial subjects including drugs, AIDS, crime and vandalism were covered.  But some of the huge challenges facing people living in the area were also highlighted: unemployment, poorly built housing, a lack of infrastructure, and disinterested authorities.  Often the paper took a campaigning role, mobilising protest efforts and calling officials and representatives to account.  And it recorded the detail of life in the area: local meetings, events, activities, creating an archive of memories.  All this detailed content provides a complex and insightful depiction of a community over the years that both celebrates its achievements and reflects on the journey taken.

Photographs played a major role in this process and from the beginning, images of the area and the people living there were an important Woods Youth Centre Girls Teamfeature of the paper.  Photos were often used as a way of rallying residents over an issue for example images of building faults to highlight a campaign for improvements, or photos of local protests and demonstrations.  Photographs taken of the demolitions and rebuilding in the area, the redevelopment of the canal, the creation of green spaces showed the dramatic regeneration changes taking place.  Equally important were photos capturing everyday life, local events and activities such as carnival days and the fun run, photos of football teams, dance troupes etc.  Many people still remember having their photo taken by the Sentinel and the photos that are uploaded to the From There To Here Facebook page each week often attract comments and memories.

digital sentinel cardIf the original Sentinel was being set up today, it would not be looking at print as its primary medium but would instead be looking at the potential of online production, both in terms of economic savings but also level of outreach.  The new Digital Sentinel was formally launched in October this year as a community news website for Wester Hailes.  A group of local organisations and individuals put together the idea, based on using the ethos of the old Sentinel through a new digital format that takes advantage of the range of social media people now use.  Regular training sessions are now being held for local residents who are training to be citizen journalists and who are creating content for the site.  They are reporting on news, opinions and events relevant to the people living in the area using a variety of media including photographs, You Tube clips, Twitter and Facebook.  If you live locally and would like to be involved or have an idea for a story, they want to hear from you and you can contact them on, or for submitting a story/ event etc. –

Echoing the aims of the residents who established the original paper, the site says

“The Digital Sentinel is an ethical media site which aims to represent Wester Hailes as the vibrant and rich community it is.”

Digital Sentinel Facebook


1 Comment

Food For Free?

When Lord Freud commented this week that there was no causal link between the rise in food banks and recent benefit changes, he used the argument that when you provide something for free, there will be an almost “infinite demand”.  His background and lifestyle don’t immediately suggest that he has had much experience of food banks, but he was insistent that no proof existed to connect the sharp rise in referrals to food banks with the recent introduction of welfare reform.  The DWP has acknowledged that Jobcentre Plus staff are now referring some clients to food banks, so they might be in a good position to advise the Work and Pensions minister what circumstances would lead to this uptake of food bank services.

The idea that if you offer something like food for free, there will always be a demand for it seems on the surface to be persuasive.  But perhaps Lord Freud should have looked back a few years before sounding so definite.  Back in the 1980s, the UK Conservative Government of the day became involved in the distribution of EEC surplus butter, cheese and meat.  The EEC’s Common Agricultural Policy had led to food surpluses being created, generating controversy over piled high mountains of butter, milk lakes etc.  The EEC agreed that this surplus should be reduced through redistribution to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.  The Conservative administration was initially reluctant to allow this to happen, saying it would have a detrimental economic effect.  However, after an extremely cold winter it recognised the negative impact of being seen to refuse distribution and agreed the aid measures.

The Government kept a deliberate distance from the distribution, putting the Butter-Mountain-460onus on charities to carry out this work, a task that was difficult for them to refuse.  Charities were also left the job of publicising the scheme, and the decision making on who was eligible to receive the food.  This led to variances between areas, with some charities being stretched to the limit by the extra demand on their resources and budget and eligibility differing from one part of the country to another.  Queues outside distribution centres were a common sight.  Whilst a few people worked out that the lack of a central plan meant it was possible to visit more than one centre, many others felt a sense of stigma.  The food may have been free, but for them accessing it came at too great a price.  Others queued but felt devalued by the process.

Wester Hailes took a different approach to the situation.  In 1987, the Salvation Army had taken delivery of 300 tonnes of free butter and some of this was earmarked for Wester Hailes.  The local community had recently shown how effective it was at organising support through the Snowline campaign, leading to the Salvation Army asking Snowline to co-ordinate distribution efforts locally.  The Snowline organisers decided that everyone in the community should receive a share, and that they would deliver the butter door to door to make sure everyone got enough.  The Sentinel promoted the campaign, making sure everyone knew they were eligible for the scheme. distributing butter

16 tonnes of butter and 12 tonnes of cheese were distributed by a team of local volunteers. When challenged over their interpretation of need extending to everyone, the team pointed out that they were following government guidelines and that it was the government who had designated Wester Hailes as a multi deprived area.

“Coupled with the strong community participation in Wester Hailes, that made it possible for us to argue that every local man, woman and child should get their free share.”

You can read more about the distribution process here.

The door to door delivery and the equality of distribution took away any stigma and made sure that everyone received their entitlement.  And it was presented as an entitlement rather than a hand-out.  The Common Agricultural Policy had kept food prices high with those on a lower income being particularly affected by the cost of basic food stuffs.  It could be argued that they had already paid for the small EEC surplus they received through the scheme.

Whilst everyone in Wester Hailes benefited, in other areas of the country others did not access the support despite it being free, a fact Lord Freud might be interested in.  Meanwhile in 2013, the number of people using food banks has trebled over the last year despite that fact that most food banks operate a referral process, ensuring the food parcels go to those most in need.  Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager for the UK poverty programme at Oxfam, commented that

“You have to be in a pretty desperate place to ask someone else for food.”

For more information about the 1987 EEC distribution in Britain:

The reluctant philanthropists: Thatcherism, the butter mountain and the welfare state.
By Sue Kirvan and Alan Tuckman Critical Social Policy 1987

1 Comment

Celebrating Community Past and Present

Photo by Digital Sentinel

Photo by Digital Sentinel

Over 120 runners and walkers turned out to take part in the 2013 Wester Hailes Fun Run/ Walk.  All sorts of people took part: young and old, faster and the more sedate, families, local workers, runners in fancy dress, and parents walking with children in buggies.  Lots of people took part to raise money for

Photo taken by Digital Sentinel

Photo taken by Digital Sentinel

local charities and community groups.  The sun shone throughout the morning, and competitors were glad to find a water station at Clovenstone Community Centre after they had made it up that steep Greenway hill!  They were cheered on their way by local residents and by volunteer route stewards making sure that everyone went the right way.  The run was won by

Photo by Digital Sentinel

Photo by Digital Sentinel

Number 136, Richard Brown from the Wester Hailes Education Centre.  But for most people, the emphasis was on the fun of taking part and the achievement of completing the 5k route.  Funding for the event came from the South West Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership’s Community Grants Fund.  The Fun Run/ Walk was organised by a local planning group that includes Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Health Agency, Wester Hailes Community Council, Clovenstone Community Centre, Active Schools, WHALE, Police Scotland, SCOREscotland, and CHAI.

Fun Run 1994

The idea to bring back the Fun Run was suggested here a couple of years ago when looking at the history of this event.  The original Fun Run started in 1983 and quickly grew as a community event with over 500 people taking part in 1992.  Although the competitive runners took it very seriously, it was really about everybody taking part together and being involved in their local community.  Sentinel photos taken of the run show that a wide range of people took part and that the event really promoted a sense of a community celebrating together.

Fun Run 4When local residents and organisations got together to re-launch the Fun Run last year, they wanted to include some elements of the original route, and some of those involved remembered how the event used to be organised which was very helpful in planning out the new run.  But it was the sense of bringing people together that they felt was the most important aspect of the old Fun Run and they hoped that the new event could reflect this.  In 2012, despite the heavy rain, there was a feeling that this was happening as those taking part said how much they had enjoyed the experience.  This year, with a clear sky and sunshine, there was a great atmosphere but this was really generated by the people taking part who cheered each other on across the route.  Those who completed the run quickly stayed on to support those finishing at a more sedate pace.  There’s now a feeling that there should be something else in the park after the Fun Run to build on this sense of community celebration.

The Sentinel used to record the Fun Run each year with a report but most

Photo by Digital Sentinel

Photo by Digital Sentinel

importantly photographs showing the range of people taking part and the involvement of the community.  The 2013 Fun Run greatly benefited from the new Digital Sentinel who were there throughout the morning taking photos and interviewing participants.  As well as showing what happened, this is an opportunity to build an archive for the future.  It was seeing the old Sentinel photos of the Fun Run that really encouraged people to start asking if it was possible to start this event again.  These sorts of archives aren’t only about creating a record of the past as a memory.  They also have a role to play in shaping future ideas and activities through reflection on what can be learned from the past and adapted for the present.  The 2013 Wester Hailes Fun Run was not a replica of past events, but it contained echoes from the past that helped shape its success.

For more great photos of the 2013 Fun Run check out the Digital Sentinel’s Flickr site.

Digital Sentinel: A New Chapter for Local News

Digital Sentinel Tasters May 2013

“Every community needs its own Sentinel.”

 This was the conclusion of the Rep Council, reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel in 1996.  Over the last few years, we have regularly looked at the role theSentinel played within Wester Hailes in bringing together the community, Delivering the Sentinelrepresenting its voice, and encouraging democratic participation.  The Sentinel operated through print only during its lifetime but this was in common with many printed publications, and also reflected the relative lack of internet access within people’s homes in Wester Hailes even when the internet was growing in use as a media tool. However, if the Sentinel was being set up today, it would undoubtedly have an online presence.  Over the last few months, an exciting new project, the Digital Sentinel has been developing to establish a community news website for Wester Hailes, written and edited by local residents.  A series of workshops has been enabling people to start gaining skills and experience in how to use a variety of formats such as Youtube and Flickr, uploading their stories, news and views using a range of digital technology.

Now the emerging news agency has been recognised by the Carnegie UK Trust’s Neighbourhood News with a grant of £10,000.  It is only one of five projects to receive funding after facing strong competition, and the only project to be awarded funding in Scotland.  WHALE Arts Agency is leading on this project, representing a collaboration of organisations in Wester Hailes including Wester Hailes Health Agency, Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Time Bank and the Wester Hailes Community Council.  Together they have been working with academic research partners on providing access to online social history archives using QR codes, blogs and Facebook sites. It is one of a suite of projects under the banner “Our Place in Time” using digital media to provide access to archives and to tell the stories of Wester Hailes today.  The funding will enable further training to support the recruitment and development of citizen journalists to take the project forward.

QR codes on totem poleThe Digital Sentinel may turn out to look very different from the old printed paper but it will be firmly connected to the values associated with the original publication.  The experience of the Sentinel shows that above all, community news needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable.  It is great news that the new Digital Sentinel will continue in this tradition in its aspiration to be community led, with residents trained as citizen reporters and content managed by community editors.  The news will be produced by people within the community, with their own particular perspective.  They will be able to cover stories that are not of interest to larger news agencies and with the hope of reversing the trend for negative media representation of Wester Hailes that continues to be an issue in sections of the press.  And at the heart of the project will be the aim to continue the high ethical standards that the printed Sentinel set in its efforts to act as a unifying voice.

Crisis In Print

Back in 1986, the Sentinel ran a special feature on an on-going dispute that had caused 6,000 people to come out on strike and would result in 1,262 people being arrested over its duration.  Following on from the miners’ strike, it is remembered as one of the most bitter and violent disputes in British Industrial history.  On the 24th January 1986, nearly 6,000 newspaper workers went on strike following the collapse of talks on News International’s plans to move its editorial and printing operations to a new plant in East London at Wapping.  The Wapping dispute escalated swiftly with the striking workers being dismissed and the move to Wapping going ahead using newly employed staff, leading to mass demonstrations.  Whilst newspaper owners such as Robert Murdoch were keen to present the issue as powerful print unions trying to hold back technological progress, others saw it very much as an attack on the existence of unions and the rights of workers.

The Sentinel tried to include a balance of national issues alongside local reporting, and also recognised that some of the issues affecting the press at a national level could have implications for local journalism.  And it also encouraged local residents to feel that they still had a voice and could take practical action to influence national decision making.  So in April 1986 it published interviews with two union representatives: Brenda Dean from SOGAT (Society of Graphic and Associated Trades) and Harry Conroy from the National Union of Journalists.

brenda deanBrenda Dean wanted to point out that the unions were not against new technology and that SOGAT had wanted to move into Wapping.  However part of the new deal for workers was changes to working practices, no- strike clauses etc.  For SOGAT she said, the dispute was fundamentally about

 “Our members’ right to belong to a trade union of their choice, to be democratically represented and to negotiate about their terms and conditions of future employment and their future job prospects.”

You can read her interview in full here.

Harry Conroy was dealing both with Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell as theHarry Conroy general secretary of the NUJ.  In a more wider ranging interview he discusses the press in Scotland as well as the concern that the Wapping dispute is an attack by Mr Murdoch on the ability of trade unions to represent their members.

 “All we’re saying is that as an employer, he should behave by certain standards.  And he certainly isn’t behaving by our standards.”

He also shares his memories on producing a community newspaper back in 1973 when he published the Pollock News and then helped with the Shawlands News.  You can read his interview in full here.

Sentinel officeAs well as keeping people in Wester Hailes informed about what was going on, the Sentinel tapped into the campaign to boycott News International publications.  The Rep Council had already voted in favour of approaching Community Enterprises to ask that the community owned Carousel chip shop stop selling the Sun, News of The World and the Times until Murdoch agreed to sit down and negotiate with the unions.  Sentinel readers were urged to use their spending power to send a message by refusing to purchase Murdoch papers.  Local residents gave their views here.

Despite a sustained campaign of demonstrations, News International did not lose a single night of production during the strike.  Just over a year later, the strike was fading and the unions were facing bankruptcy and court action.  By 1988, all national newspapers had followed Rupert Murdoch away from Fleet Street to the newly-developed Docklands, and adopted new, cheaper computerised printing technology.  Part of a larger political landscape that sought the demise of trade union influence and power, those standing against Wapping found little support or sympathy from those in government.  With the huge expansion of media sources online and its up to the minute accessibility, the era of print journalism is facing a less certain future than ever.  Looking back from recent events there are some commentators who suggest that what Wapping should really be remembered for was the advent of a much closer co-operative relationship between government, police, lawyers and some newspaper owners that could be said to have led all the way to the phone hacking scandals.

Surfing Forward

Computer use

Wester Hailes has less than 50 years of history which means that long term trends evolving gradually over decades are not always reflected in the events and level of change within the community.  One area which is a definite exception to this is the fast paced development of computer technology and IT skills.  So much has changed so quickly that it can feel like we’re remembering a long bygone era when we look back at the size, shape, capacity and use of computers in Wester Hailes only a couple of decades ago.

ComputerBack in 1981, the Sentinel reported that the WHEC had a suite of four APPLE II micro computers for public use.  The micros had floppy disk drives, a printer and colour monitors.  As well as offering bookable slots, the computers were also going to be used to run short courses, including practical sessions on BASIC programming and an introduction to computer graphics.  You can read the article in full here.

By 1997, Wester Hailes was the first council estate to have an internet café, Cyberbytes Internet CafeCyberbytes, established by the Young Tenants Support Organisation.  As well as offering local residents access to computer training, the café provided cheap access to the Internet.  Although the Internet had been around since the late 1980s, it was still relatively difficult to engage with for many people particularly due to cost of use and a scarcity of computers within homes.  The Sentinel devoted its centre pages in April 1997 to explaining more about the Internet and its potential uses and benefits for local residents.

tech12 IT skills became increasingly important as essential requirements for work, and training courses started to reflect this.  In 2002, the new Learning Shop opened in the Shopping Centre and had 50 computers available for use.  Courses on offer included word processing, databases, spreadsheets, presentation graphics and the internet.

So if the Sentinel had still been around today, what would it have been reporting technology wise? WHALE IT suite Perhaps the rise of the smart phone and tablets, the power of Google or the explosion in use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Online communication is now a routine part of life for the majority.  Whilst seeing images of now long outdated computers can make us realise how much has changed so quickly, the history of IT in Wester Hailes also shows the importance of trying to combat the digital divide.  For although access to IT in the present day is now widely available, it is by no means universal.  Digital exclusion still creates barriers and whilst sometimes this can be generational, the number of people facing digital exclusion is higher in areas where incomes are lower and more people are marginalised due to their circumstances.  The provision of IT training over the years and facilities such as the Cyberbytes café was in recognition that people within Wester Hailes were in danger of being left behind with regard to computing experience and skills.

Combating digital exclusion is now more important than ever as access to services moves increasingly online.  One of the current known facts about the new controversial benefits system Universal Credit, is that applications are to be made online.  For applicants who do not have access to a computer within their home, this will mean they need to book a computer at their local library, Job Centre etc.  If they are not confident in using IT, a 90 minute application process may prove daunting and in some cases impossible.  Wester Hailes led the way across the years with initiatives such as the internet café and the Learning Shop. Hopefully with new projects and resources, local organisations will still be able to ensure people in Wester Hailes gain the skills and support they need to get online.