From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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.


Political Legacies

With the acres of footage and newsprint currently documenting the life and sentinel scoops 4times of a certain ex-prime minister, it seemed fitting to check whether the Sentinel with its fantastic ability of scooping interviews with major politicians had ever come face to face with Mrs Margaret Thatcher.  It appears though that the picture shown here on the front page from September 1988 was not the result of an interview or encounter.  Whilst efforts were made, the Sentinel reported in its 100th edition that she had declined the invitation, with the indication that she confined interviews almost entirely to “foreign newspapers”.

Wester Hailes is only 43 years old as a community and so much of its early and formative history is inevitably tied up with Mrs Thatcher’s ideology and her government’s policies during 1979-1990.  In October last year we looked at the results of the Fowler review brought in during Mrs Thatcher’s leadership in 1986, and what the changes in the welfare reform system would mean to Wester Hailes when implemented.  Whilst many of the government’s policies were well supported by some in society nationally, the effects in areas like Wester Hailes could be seen Youth Programme Soup Kitchenacross the front pages of the Sentinel as the local situation was documented over the months and years.  In April 1987 for example, the Sentinel led with the headline “Breadline Britain”, featuring several stories that demonstrated the rise in poverty within Wester Hailes.

Despite Mrs Thatcher’s reluctance to speak to a community newspaper, other politicians of the day were not so reticent and the Sentinel carried interviews with key national politicians including Neil Kinnock, David Steel, Norman Tebbit,  Tony Benn, George Younger and David Owen.  This editorial policy meant that local residents could read the views of national decision makers and just as importantly, it gave an opportunity to promote a positive view of the Wester Hailes community to people who may only have known about the area otherwise through more sensationalist press headlines.

Whilst we cannot bring you an exclusive Sentinel interview with Mrs Thatcher, we can feature two major politicians who were in parliament throughout her time in office.  It would be fair to say they were at different ends of the political spectrum on most issues but this is probably fitting as whatever everyone’s views are on Mrs Thatcher, she certainly provoked debate.

The first interview is with Tam Dalyell in 1985 who had visited Wester Hailes to give a talk about his views on the Falklands War.  The second interview is with Malcom Rifkind.  Mr Rifkind gave several interviews to the Sentinel over the years.  As we have just finished a series on the Wester Hailes Partnership, the featured interview is during 1988 when news of the new urban renewal plans was being launched.


The Wester Hailes Partnership was launched in 1989 under the banner “Wester Hailes – Full of Potential” tasked with developing and implementing a strategy to regenerate the estate by the end of the 1990s. In 1995, halfway through its expected lifespan, the Scottish Office Central Research Unit published what they called an “Interim Evaluation of the Wester Hailes Partnership”. The Evaluation’s findings were based on a range of existing reports including household surveys carried out in the area in 1989 and 1994, unemployment stats and interviews with a large number of people who had been or were currently involved in the work of the Partnership.

Just how far had the potential of Wester Hailes – located next to a large established industrial estate, close to the Gyle shopping and business hub, and with very good transport links – been realised after 5+ years? Interviews with residents  identified that more people thought that the area was changing for the better than had been the case prior to the Partnership being set up. Also, the energetic participation of the community (i.e. the time spent by unpaid local activists and volunteers across the full range of policy and strategy sub-groups) had been a major factor in getting things off the ground. However, the report also identified the complex administrative structure of the Partnership as placing great demands on these people, flagging up the issue of whether this level of involvement would be sustainable in the longer term.

The community might have been playing its part but, nevertheless, the report concluded that the Partnership “did not get off to a good start”. Edinburgh District Council and Lothian Regional Council were seen as being “reluctant participants” in the early stages when the Partnership was “trying to develop its agenda and create momentum”. The decision to make Wester Hailes a Partnership area was regarded by the two Labour-controlled Councils as being driven by the fact that it was located within the constituency of the then Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind. The lesson the Report drew from this was  that “partnerships formed from the bottom up were likely to pose fewer problems in terms of cohesion and drive” than a top down approach. Also, up to that point, the private sector (essentially private housebuilders) had played a minor role, due to the shortage of developable land.

In terms of actual measurable outcomes, the picture in 1995 was decidedly mixed. The launch of a major redevelopment of the town centre area was seen as a significant achievement. In addition, although health and crime  were not high priorities on the Partneship’s agenda, there was evidence of declining crime rates and of increasing confidence in the local secondary school. On the debit side, there had been no decrease in poverty with the proportion of households receiving benefit payments actually increasing from 68% to 74% between 1998 and 1994. The report interpreted this as reflecting a continuing flow of “disadvantaged households” into the area. And with regard to the Partnership’s economic strategy, there was little sign of reduction in unemployment relative to Edinburgh as a whole. It was noted that the issue of unemployment and the Partnership’s failure to tackle the problem more effectively was where “frustration at the pace of change was expressed most consistently” by interviewees.

Housing had been identified as the key element of the regeneration strategy but, here again, progress had been slow. This was due to a number of factors: there was little vacant land immediately available for development; it took time for Edinburgh District Council and Scottish Homes (the Government’s funding body) to establish an effective working relationship; and there was considerable delay in putting in place agreements to facilitate mixed tenure redevelopments. By 1995 it did seem as though this area of the Partnership’s work was belatedly starting to gain momentum. However, the report noted that the relatively slow progress in the early stages had “conveyed a poor impression of the effectiveness of the Partnership”.

So, according to the the Interim Evaluation, the Partnership’s report card for 1995 was a case of could have done better, maybe a lot better. Despite the fanfare of its launch it had got off to a slow start. There had been a few successes but, in terms of the main regeneration objectives of housing and the local economy, relatively little concrete progress had been made by the midway point. It left a huge amount to be achieved during the second five year period.

Next week we’ll take a look at what was ultimately achieved by the Partnership and what long term legacy it bequeathed to Wester Hailes.

Star Scoops

David Bowie celebrated his 66th birthday by releasing his first single for 10 years this week to the surprise and delight of his many fans. Although the Sentinel never managed to secure an interview with him, it did achieve a number of impressive scoops with influential performers whose sound helped define their eras

English: Ian Dury at the Roundhouse, Chalk Far...

A Durable Geezer
In June 1984, Ian Dury talked to the Sentinel about his experience of performing and his first attempts at acting. After 12 years in the public eye, he shows that he has not lost his strong and sometimes controversial views!


Ice Man Goes Berserker
The Sentinel catches up with Gary Numan after the release of his new single “Berserker” in January 1985. He explains what he’s been doing whilst out of the public eye, gives some detail about his new album and the reason behind his choice of blue make-up.

The Clash
Still performing in 1985, the Clash explain why they have gone back to playing at small venues, including busking on Princes Street. They talk about Wester Hailes and their interest in promoting change through action.

The Clash (album)

The Clash (album)

Towards Peace

“At the moment we are constructing a society of militarism, of secrecy, of nationalism, of injustice and of profitability…”

As well as covering local issues, the Sentinel tried to look outwards bringing a wider context and global issues to the attention of people living in Wester Hailes. In 1984, one of the major concerns causing much debate and controversy was the issue of nuclear disarmament.  The resurgence of the Cold War during the 1980s had galvanised opinion on the pros and cons of nuclear weapons.  The Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament saw a sharp rise in membership and found new alliances in the promotion of its cause.

In 1984, Monsignor Bruce Kent the General Secretary of CND, came to Edinburgh as a guest of the miners at their Gala for Peace.  The Sentinel were able to secure an interview with him the day before the miners’ gala.  He talks about the issue of the miners’ strike, the myths around nuclear power, the importance of creating a new society based on genuine community and the need to spend money on social welfare rather than social destruction.  He also had words of encouragement for the newly formed CND group in Wester Hailes saying “never lose heart”.

You can read the whole interview here at Sentinel August 1984.


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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.


Sheila Bunt was Wester Hailes Community Housing Association’s first Chairperson and is still, today, a very active committee member of Prospect. In conjunction with the official opening of Walkers she was interviewed by the Sentinel for its regular “First Person” Q&A feature. 

As the Sentinel noted, Sheila was already well known to more than a few Wester Haileans through her job behind the bar at Club 85. In the Q&A article, reproduced below, she lifted the lid on her worst habit, favourite book and favourite food and drink. As well as that, she shared her forthright views on men and officialdom and revealed a propensity to collapse in a heap.