From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


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 contact@digitalsentinel.net, or for submitting a story/ event etc. – submit@digitalsentinel.net.

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.”

http://www.digitalsentinel.net/

Digital Sentinel Facebook

@WHDigiSentinel

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Bus stopped

Bus to RestalrigPublic transport is one of the issues re-appearing in the Sentinel across the years, demonstrating its continuing priority for people living in Wester Hailes.  Pictures of local buses put up on the Facebook page always attract comment as people document memories and stories associated with bus travel.  The sprinter buses in particular are remembered with fondness!  But the popularity of the images also points to the fact that for many people in the area, buses were their only source of transport.

In 1983 only a quarter of the local population owned a car and were therefore reliant on bus routes.  This often required a detailed knowledge of bus times, and for some residents a long walk to reach a stop.  The report Ten Years On commented

 “In an area the size of Wester Hailes, certain neighbourhoods are obviously going to be worse off than others.  On top of this the estate is primarily designed for the private car and many areas are inaccessible to buses, so quite long walks to and from the bus stops are often necessary.”

Local interest in bus routes and timetables remained high, leading to Sentinel coverage whenever a route was introduced or altered or when a route was stopped.  In 1993 Hailesland East Neighbourhood Council organised a public meeting to discuss and debate the bus service or lack of bus service for the Hailesland/ Murrayburn/ Dumbryden area.  They were keen to lobby their local Regional Councillors to try to get the 30 route re-instated as was reported here.

Bus stoppedLater on that year, the Sentinel highlighted that in the blaze of publicity surrounding the new multi million pound Gyle Shopping Centre, there had been little consideration given to how residents from Wester Hailes would get there if they used public transport.  This was of particular concern to people who had managed to get jobs at the new site.

In 2000, First Bus withdrew their popular C5 service, leading to a reduced service for Clovenstone.  The Sentinel report highlighted the difficulties this caused, particularly for residents who found it difficult to walk to routes and stops further away, or the other side of busy roads.

Bus services into the city centre have improved over the years with frequent timetables and weekend and late night provision.  However, the issue of travelling round the area, or travelling to other neighbouring communities remains more problematic.  The community has had to fight to retain services such as the 18 and the 20, enabling access to the Gyle, Asda and the Royal Infirmary.  Now the community council is concerned that the public transport links to the new Healthy Living Centre, due to open next month, will not be suitable for people who find walking difficult.  It is frustrating that despite all the years of campaigning for better public transport routes, the local community is still not included in decision making processes when designs are being considered for this aspect.  If they had been, they would have been able to point out that the 30 whilst running near to the centre does not have stops close enough for people with limited walking ability, particularly if you are on the out of city route.  The community council has therefore organised a special meeting to look at this issue and to see if a proper solution can be implemented to ensure that the new centre is fully inclusive. The meeting is on Wednesday 14th August 6pm at the Wester Hailes Library.  Representatives from Lothian Buses and councillors will be there.


Green Times

Terry Nutkins at the Calders helping to plant trees

Terry Nutkins at the Calders helping to plant trees

With the sun shining and soaring temperatures, people want to be outside whenever possible to enjoy the weather, and to catch a cool breeze if it’s all feeling a bit too much for a Scottish summer!  In an area where many people don’t have their own garden or access to a communal garden, having areas of green space that can be used and enjoyed is of great importance.  In the mid-View over lake to shopping centre1960s when plans for Wester Hailes were being drawn up, it is clear that in the early stages, green space was an integral part of the design, with open planted areas and pathways lined by trees.  However these plans never made it off the drawing board, and the main open space provided was the famously vast car park deserts surrounding the new high rise blocks.

Whilst there were many pressing needs to be addressed in the early days of Wester Hailes, more accessible green space was part of the aim for a better area.  When looking at the current state of park land and possible sites for green development, the report Ten Years On commented that the fact there was no proper park in the area was deeply regrettable.  It went on to say

 “It is worth mentioning as an aside that even some of the worst industrial slums of the nineteenth century were provided with parks near at hand by the planners of the day.”

Over the years, great efforts were made to increase green space and to break up Clovenstone gardenthe concrete with grass, trees and planting.  The schools played an important role, with children taking part in planting projects.  This was sometimes to improve the area within the school playground such as the wildlife garden planted by children at Clovenstone Primary School in 1991.  But schools were also involved in wider planting schemes to improve local areas.  One hundred children from Dumbryden Primary School planted 100 plants in Dumbryden Grove as part of a series of environmental improvements carried out there.

The appointment of an Environmental Ranger for the area helped boost the profile of local environmental issues, and the Ranger had a regular column in the Sentinel.  After a year in post, he listed some of the new activities and groups with a focus on improving the environment.  Later that year he wrote about the importance of green space, and listed some of the nearest green spaces within walking distance of Wester Hailes.

union canalMany people from outside the area still have preconceived ideas about what the area looks like, and the enduring image of those desolate bare car parks seems to be part of the many myths surrounding Wester Hailes.  Visitors to the area, particularly on a summer day are often surprised by how different the reality is.  The environmental improvements carried out as part of the re-opening of the Union Hailes Quarry ParkCanal have resulted in a great asset for the area.  The development of Hailes Quarry Park has created community parkland with new additions including the recently planted wildflower meadow.  Over in Westburn, the Community Woodland was developed from a derelict woodland site into a conserved community resource.  Gate 55 is currently developing its garden space through a gardening project, there are new allotments at Dumbryden and a community garden, the Green Gym in the Calders.  These and other developments over the years have resulted in a better balance of developed land alongside green space with mature trees.  The City of Edinburgh Council recognises how important trees are and is in the process of consulting over Trees In The City, a draft set of policies and action plan which will be used to guide the management of its trees and woodlands.  In its introduction it states,

“Trees make a vital contribution to quality of life in Edinburgh.”

There has recently been disquiet in Wester Hailes over what some see as a new tarmacking policy being implemented in the area to reduce the need to maintain grass and bushy plants due to budget cuts.  Residents have mixed views but it is perhaps not much of a choice to be offered either overgrown untended bushes or an area of tarmac.  You can read about a recent campaign and its results here.

After an intensive planting scheme had been carried out in the early 1990s, the Ranger detailed in the Sentinel some of the benefits this planting brought to the people living there, to the community as a whole, and to the environment.

Benefits of green space


Investing In The Calders

Calders centre

The City Of Edinburgh Council announced this week that it is planning to give the Calders area a £500,000 makeover.  Work will include improving pavements, fencing, boundary walls and installing a new children’s play area.  The revamp project is due to start in November this year and be completed by Spring 2014.

The Calders as a housing area was developed earlier than the rest of WesterCalders high rises Hailes with 537 pre-fab homes being constructed in 1956.  However Edinburgh was facing a housing crisis as it sought to tackle appalling living standards in its tenements, many of which were now only fit for demolition.  Building new homes seemed the obvious answer, but there was a lack of suitable land, and the council of the day turned its attention to the land being occupied by low density pre-fabs.  Edinburgh had 4,000 of these, the highest number of any city in Scotland, and planners estimated that they could fit 10,000 new homes where the pre-fabs stood.  Despite strong objections from those living in the pre-fabs, they were cleared to make way for higher density housing, including high rise blocks to provide 1,300 homes.

Calders Residents protestAs with many of the high rise developments of the time, the Calders blocks suffered from design faults and building flaws.  Residents responded through protest campaigns and by working with the rest of the Wester Hailes community to highlight the problems.  In 1980, the Sentinel reported that a petition from the residents of Dunsyre House had led to the decision that a caretaker would be installed there, when appropriate housing became available.  The Sentinel commented,

In view of the difficulties which tenants experience in transferring out of high rise block, “appropriate housing” becoming available could take some time.

The council instigated improvements over the years, but these were still not always designed around the needs of the tenants.  In 1986 the Sentinel reported on the plight of a mother living in Cobbinshawe House who was struggling to get her pram through the block’s doors.  The sliding doors had been replaced after vandalism, but the new doors were now too heavy to hold open whilst pushing a pram.  You can read the story in full here.

The CaldersWhilst residents of the Calders faced difficult living conditions, community activity was strong.  Although Calders was not always included in initial local community structures, by the time the Representative Council was established, it was part of this key body.  In 1979 and 1980, much of local activity focus for the Calders was around the Outer City Bypass proposals.  But the tenants association also dealt with a range of other issues as can be seen in the Sentinel’s February 1980 Around The Areas Report.  Neighbourhood councils were formed to represent the different areas within Calders and in 1991, it was reported that the Calders Court and Gardens was the first low rise housing area in the Calders to establish a neighbourhood council.

It is therefore great news for the Calders not only to have this investment announced but also to know that residents in the area are continuing to invest in their area through campaigning and community events.  The Calders Residents Association recently organised a Summer Fete for the area and you can find out more about them here.


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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


Pages From The Past

This week we’re going back 32 years to June 1981.  The headline story featured the news that an independent inquiry into the building of Wester Hailes had been ordered by the District Council. Other stories included

  • Tartan Majorettes First Major Trophy
  • A report on unemployment in Wester Hailes compared to Edinburgh as a whole
  • Festival 1981 and Festival news
  • News From Around The Areas
  • Sounds Around’s review of the Scars gig.

You’ll find all these stories and more by clicking here on Sentinel June 1981.


Howzat Scotland and Wimblebore!

Pat McHat

During football’s closed season, what do sports commentators find to talk about?  Nowadays there’s always a match showing somewhere across the vast satellite network and if you’re prepared to take an interest in the Under 21 Euros or the Under 19s Championship you can even follow a tournament.  Of course there is also the Women’s Euro 2013 in July in Sweden.

However a couple of decades ago with fewer channels, there really was a closed season, leading to some sports writers being short of material.  The Sentinel’s reporters  rose to the challenge most years, although they were able to reduce the number of football free topics by book ending the season with reflections on the past year for football, and then predictions on the season coming up.

Nevertheless, the holiday months were an opportunity for Pat McHat to consider more summery sports, in particular tennis and cricket, both of which at that time were perhaps not overly popular north of the border.

In July 1995, Pat writes to his doctor, concerned that he had developed an interest in cricket, leading to him checking the latest score when he thinks no-one is looking.  You can read his letter in full here.  Despite his cricket consternation, in 1999 he covers the Cricket World Cup, reminding readers that it used to be a popular sport in Scotland.

Tennis, or more specifically Wimbledon also comes to the rescue of the summer sports column.  However Pat is not overly impressed by the quality of tennis star on offer as the title of his July 1996 report, “It’s Wimblebore” hints.  Once upon a time, he says you were guaranteed a high quota of talent, tantrums and thrilling five-setters.  But he feels the game now lacks charisma and is more Yawn than Lawn tennis.

However, it remains difficult to resist the lure of football and the 1998 World Cup provides a great chance to reflect on the players’ highlights of the hair kind as Pat considers how much French hairdressers must have benefitted from an influx of international footballers as customers.

Wester Hailes had its own summer sport of course in the form of the Fun Run.  Back in the 1980s, they also organised a gruelling Triathlon with a 40km swim, 10k run and a 34km cycle..  60 people took part in the first one held in 1986 and you can read more about it here.  The 2013 Wester Hailes Fun Run/ Walk takes place on Sunday 16th June starting at 10.00am at Hailes Quarry Park.

fun run poster 2013 jpeg