From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Run Away Success!

Runners on the canalThe 2014 Wester Hailes Fun Run/ Walk was all about the fun of taking part. Serious runners lined up with families, children in buggies, fancy dress runners and those who planned to walk round. A new route took everyone along the canal, as well as starting and finishing at the WHEC. The Lord Provost welcomed everyone to the day before taking off his chain and joining the competitors! Chloe Hynd, winner of the Edinburgh Libraries Baton competition got the race underway with a wave of her winning baton.

The Fun Run is organised by a group of local organisations including Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Community Council, CHAI, The Health Agency, SCOREscotland, KCYC Youth Club, WHEC, Clovenstone Community Centre and Police Scotland. Many thanks as well to the Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership and the Wester Hailes Land And Property Trust whose funding supported the event so generously.

The original Wester Hailes Fun Run took place during the 1980s and 1990s. It was a very popular event attracting serious runners but also those who were more interested in the fun element. It WH_FunRun17eventually stopped in the mid 1990s and was sadly missed in the area. After being highlighted as a great way to bring the local community together, it was decided by a group of local organisations and residents to bring back the fun run to see if the great community spirit of the original event could be passed on to the present.  The Digital Sentinel put together some great videos of the 2014 Fun Run which show how much of a community celebration it was.  The one below shows everyone warming up before the run.  You can see the other videos and photos at The Digitial Sentinel’s site.





This year, thanks to support from the WHEC, people taking part were timed. If you were part of the event, see if you can find your time below!  Either click on the link or check out the chart.  It’s the first year of trying this, so the Planning Group hope that the times recorded match what you think you achieved.  For those who couldn’t be identified, there will need to be a reminder next year to wear your number on your front, or just to remember to wear your number at all!


  2014  Fun Run Results

Wester Hailes Fun Run results 2014

Wester Hailes Fun Run results 2014




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.

Small Change: Big Difference

25 years of Comic Relief will be celebrated tomorrow as the 2013 Red Nose Day gets underway.  Despite the many issues and difficulties facing Wester Hailes, the local community responded generously and enthusiastically to initiatives such as Comic Relief and the history of the event over the years can be traced through the editions of the Sentinel.

dressing up 14In 1988, the year Comic Relief was launched, patients and staff at Sighthill Health Centre raised £46 with a spontaneous event held on the day.  By 1991, more local residents had been affected by red nose fever, raising money for Comic Relief with a variety of events and stunts.  WHEC students ran a school radio station for the day, broadcasting live to the school, and playing requests for 50p a time.  Meanwhile young people on YTS took to the streets in fancy dress to raise money while children at the Wester Hailes Child Care Project held a Hawaiian beach party.

dressing up 19a

1993 saw all the local schools involved with children being allowed to come to school in fancy dress if they paid 20p.  Westburn School went for sponsored silences which raised a quiet £150.

Numerous events were held to raise funds in 1997 including a football team 20tournament where 16 teams battled it out at the Sighthill Pitz.  The eventual winners were the WHOT Shop who beat Kristopher’s Hertz 6-5 in the final.  Other events went for a fancy dress theme with Sighthill pupils wearing specially made hats for the day.  They also held a mini sale and their final total was an impressive £350.

As well as Comic Relief, Wester Hailes took part in numerous other fundraising initiatives.  In 1985, as part of the Sentinel’s celebrations to mark its 100 edition, the Sentinel team coordinated fundraising efforts for the Band Aid Ethiopian Appeal.  This led to Bob Geldof visiting the WHEC to meet pupils who had raised £675 for the appeal.  He was full of praise for their efforts and for what the wider community was doing in response to Band Aid.  He said

 “Keep going, don’t stop now.  To know that people over here care about them and are doing things really helps.”

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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 Totem Pole is Open!

If you live or work locally you’ve probably noticed the most recent addition to Wester Hailes Totem PoleWester Hailes’ landscape.  At 4.5 metres high it’s hard to miss, Wester Hailes’ first totem pole located just across the road from the Plaza, on the Westside Waterfront down by the canal.  Officially launched on the 10th December by the Lord Provost, the totem pole is not only a first for Wester Hailes but also a first for Scotland as the first digital totem pole in the country, designed to encourage digital interaction with a variety of information sources including the social history of the area.

The pole was created and carved through a series of workshops organised by WHALE Arts Agency and was designed by local people who decided what images represented Wester Hailes and the community here.  As you can see from the QR codes on totem polephoto, the pole also has a series of QR codes around it.  These codes can be scanned with smart phones and link to different sites including our From Here To There Facebook page and the Community Council site.  People scanning the codes can therefore read information past and present about the area and about local priorities, aspirations and issues.  But the pole is also designed to encourage people to contribute their own information.  One of the codes links to the Digital Sentinel, a site that is looking for local contribution to create content that they think would be of interest to other local residents.  The eventual shape and scope of this site will be determined by those contributing and responding to it.  Whilst some areas of the site will be available generally online, the Totem Pole Community Noticeboard is only accessible from scanning the code at the pole.

WHALE are now planning to organise some workshops and sessions to bring scanning the QR codestogether local residents who might be interested in taking an active role in the development of the digital sentinel, learn more about digital media, assist in editing content etc.  With more and more important information and services moving to online access only, it is important that everyone has the skills and confidence to use online and social media sources.  Areas such as Wester Hailes can lag behind in terms of digital inclusion with people sometimes lacking the resources and training needed to take advantage of new technology.  This project will help to put Wester Hailes at the forefront of such advances and enable local residents to develop the skills they need to operate within the world of online information and media sharing.

The pole was funded through a grant from the South West Neighbourhood Partnership and funding from the Arts and Humanities Council which came as part of a much larger project looking at what creates a connected community and how the different ways people access information can affect their response to it and the area they are living in.  Through this the University of Edinburgh and Code BookHeriot Watt University have been working with local organisations and residents on a series of interlinked projects using local social history to encourage people to learn about their area, share memories and reflect on what could be achieved in the present.  As well as the pole, there are now also the Code Books produced by the Wester Hailes Health Agency.  These pocket sized books have a series of local history walks around the different neighbourhoods of Wester Hailes with QR codes to link to further information.  There are also plans to have a series of wall plaques again featuring QR codes that will enable people scanning them to see images past and present of the neighbourhood they are standing in.

If you would like to know more about the totem pole there is a great video produced by the Edinburgh Reporter covering Monday’s launch.  For more information on the thinking behind the concept and research being conducted see Chris Speed’s posting.

WHOT Next?

The Wester Hailes Opportunity Trust opened the doors of its shop in the front of the Wester Hailes shopping centre in 1987.  It was established as part of a set of projects operated through the umbrella organisation, the Wester Hailes Employment Initiative.  WHOT was started in recognition that many people felt daunted by the idea of accessing training and/or further education to improve their employment prospects.  It offered local residents the chance to find out more about what they needed in terms of training and then supported them throughout the training process.  The funding, provided jointly by Lothian Regional Council, Edinburgh District Council and the SDA, enabled WHOT to have both link workers and 6 co-ordinators providing more long term in depth advice.  WHOT also provided crèche facilities so that parents were able to attend training without worrying about childcare.  WHOT celebrated its launch with an open day which you can read more about here.

Over the years WHOT expanded its work and its partnerships, creating a range of courses to assist people into work.  In 1990 as part of an advertising feature for the Wester Hailes Partnership, the success of a recent WHOT venture was featured.  Young people were offered the opportunity of training as Children’s Representatives for holiday companies which resulted in all 7 of those taking part being given jobs through the scheme.  The course was run in conjunction with Stevenson College and included both college work and work experience.  The feature can be read in more detail here.

Later that year the Sentinel reported that WHOT had received a major investment by BT which would be used to run a new course “Going Places” aimed at men over the age of 23.  The project had been trying to gain private sector backing and was delighted to have support from a major company.

In 1994, WHOT moved from the front of the shopping centre to a unit within the mall.  Its 1994-1995 annual report was circulated as part of the Sentinel.  The report showed the breadth of partnerships WHOT was working within including the Wester Hailes Training Fund, the Job Centre, Stevenson College and the WHEC.  Another major development were additional “satellite” points, bases within community organisations taking WHOT services beyond the Shopping Centre.  Funding at this stage was coming from the European Social Fund, Urban Aid, LEEL, Lothian District Council, Edinburgh District Council.

When WHOT was first established, it was at a time when there was very little provision for the local community in terms of employability development.  High unemployment was a continuing concern for the area with local residents struggling to succeed within the labour market.  During WHOT’s lifetime, a whole sector developed dedicated to supporting people into further training and/or employment.  The essential features of WHOT’s holistic service- a local presence, informal setting, tailored flexible training etc. have been adopted as standard by other local agencies.  In the current challenging economic climate, WHOT might have faced an upward battle: no amount of training will assist people into work if the jobs aren’t there.  But it is still remembered with affection by those who benefited from its help.

Happy Birthday Wester Hailes Library!

The Wester Hailes Library celebrated it’s fifteenth birthday yesterday and you can see photos of the celebration and the Knit And Natter Group that meets there regularly on the South West Neighbourhood page.

Back in 1997, the Sentinel marked the opening of the library with a front page headline to celebrate the building of the biggest and best library in Edinburgh for over 100 years.  It also had Edinburgh’s first teenage library, providing access to computers for young people as well as “listening points”.  You can see the front page article in full here.