From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

Christmas Kaleidoscope

As well as organising a series of arts focused events and performances, the Wester Hailes Festival Association aimed to foster talent and encouraged people to express themselves through a variety of medium.  Poetry and creative writing were a regular feature on the pages of the Sentinel.  Recognising that children’s creative efforts were an obvious attraction over the Christmas period, children’s writing like the following two examples was featured in several Christmas editions.

Jack Frost
Jack is here anew
He’s come to give us all the flu
His coat is silver
His eyes are gold
He gives us all a nasty cold
Angie Merray (December 1979)

Gary’s Christmas
“It was Christmas Eve and all the children were in their beds.Christmas Snowman
Santa wasn’t in bed, he was looking through all the long
lists that had been sent to him.
One of the lists was from the Wilson family and there was
Joanne and Gary and Lee and Gary and Jayce and the last one was Samuel.
“Oh they have been very good so I will give them lots of presents” said Santa and so he did.
On Christmas Day they opened their presents and Gary got a palaeontology suit.  Gary put his suit on and the very next month he went to Sky where he found lots of dinosaur bones which made him happy.”
Gary Wilson aged 7 (December 1997)

But people of all ages were encouraged to contribute and particularly in the earlier Sentinels, the Kaleidoscope page gave space to poetry by local residents, some of whom were part of the Wester Hailes Writers Co-op.  A good example is the Kaleidoscope page for January 1894 which has a mix of reviews, poetry, opinion and a forward look to events in 1984.  The Festival Association were hoping it would be a year of music  and were encouraging people to form their own street bands with the aim of performing at the 1984 Gala. Click here to see the page.

sw sounds

With community arts and local talent being a constant thread throughout the history of Wester Hailes, it’s great to know that the WHALE Arts Agency is starting a new music project for local residents in January 2013.  Building on the success of their first South West Sounds project, they now have another 2 years for this project thanks to funding from Creative Scotland.  Rod Jones (Idlewild, The Birthday Suit) will continue to be WHALE’s Musician in Residence and will be organising weekly song writing, recording and performance workshops.  Look out for further details or call 0131 458 3267.

And as Christmas is now only days away, here is one of the songs produced by South West Sounds last year.  The music for A Whale of A Christmas was written through South West Sounds workshops with the lyrics written by Eoghan Howard.

Finally, you may have notice snow falling across the blog.  It is intentional and hopefully not too distracting!  It will be around for a couple of weeks over the festive period but it’ll be gone in the New Year!


Happy 20th WHALE!

Community arts has had a continuing role in the history and development of Wester Hailes.  Drawing on local ability and talent, people were encouraged to take active roles in local productions, writing groups, music workshops and filming opportunities.  The Wester Hailes Festival Association co-ordinated a diverse programme throughout the year as well as managing the annual Festival week.  Although the Association eventually disbanded, other organisations emerged to support local community arts activity.

 WHALE Arts Agency has now been operating for 20 years and was originally based in the blue hut on the Murrayburn Greenway.  It held an official launch in August 1992 with an outdoor celebration that included a balloon launch as well as live music and street performers.  You can see the launch information here, and a report on the day here.

Although WHALE organised a programme of performances for local residents to access, from the beginning it emphasised the value of active participation in the arts.  People were encouraged to take part in workshops, to develop new skills and talent, and to take part in decision making about WHALE’s direction and priorities.  Through training and courses, local residents were able to move on to further education and learning at Edinburgh’s colleges and universities.  And as well as working with adults, WHALE developed a programme for children and young people, giving them the chance to improve their confidence and try out new skills.

In 1998, WHALE secured a grant of £650,000 to create a purpose built arts centre.  The new centre featured the first dark room in Edinburgh with disabled access as well as space for a café, crèche and performance area.

The new building was officially opened in November 2000.  At the same time, WHALE launched the first NQ Access course in Scotland which aimed to support individuals who were traditionally failed by colleges.

WHALE’s innovative approach has attracted much interest over the years.  Recently they were featured in a series of articles written by students in The University of Edinburgh’s 2010/2011 postgraduate programmes, the MSc in the city, and the MSc in Architecture and Urban Design.  Kaitlyn Hay looked at WHALE in her study Creativity On The Fringe which was reproduced on the blog last year.

Scary Stories!

With Halloween only being last night, it’s not too late to get a couple of scary stories in!  The Sentinel used to print children’s stories on a regular basis and they seemed to like plenty of  fear and gore in the tales they wrote.  Here are  two from 1980.

In 1987, the Writers Co-op produced their own Halloween short story called The Banshee Of Wester Hailes which you can see in full here, accompanied by some Halloween themed photos.

Festival Eras

“It is a contradiction to live in Edinburgh and not experience the traditional cultural festivity.”( Sentinel 1986)

 Every year, the Sentinel encouraged people living in Wester Hailes to consider attending a Fringe event/ production.  Although the majority of the Fringe remained firmly within the city centre, there were productions being performed more locally, either because the company itself was local or because their ethos was all about making theatre more accessible through affordability.  In 1986, the Sentinel reported on the Merry Mac Fun Company who were bringing their play to Wester Hailes.  Also performing that year were Bits ‘n Pieces who were at the WHEC on the same bill.  Local residents could also see performances by Kaschperl Productions and Moving Parts brought together by a twinning exercise between the two areas.  Meanwhile the Fringe was celebrating its 40th anniversary, determined to maintain its “essential free and open nature” through running a Fringe Sunday that would be free to attend at Holyrood Park. 

 Many of the local Fringe events were organised by the Wester Hailes Festival Association.  Set up in 1979, the group co-ordinated the majority of the arts events that took place in the local area.  They were responsible for the packed Gala weeks, as well as a range of one off events throughout the year.  Although primarily involved in organising arts based events within the local area, the association also understood the value of linking in to wider city based occasions such as the Fringe.  But they also co-ordinated a programme throughout the year, taking advantage of the opportunities touring companies provided.  In 1984 there was a visit by the theatre company 7:84 who were known for their determination to take productions out to community venues.  The Baby and The Bathwater, a comment on Orwell’s vision for 1984 was performed at the WHEC as part of a tour of local areas.  Meanwhile the Festival Association had also succeeded in persuading another company, Mime Theatre Company to premier their new play at the WHEC.   The Sentinel reported on both performances and you can read the full story here

Sadly, in 1987, the Wester Hailes Festival Association announced that it was disbanding.  The group was struggling for resources and felt that the time had come to call it a day.  However, they were also hopeful for the future, seeing for example that local community bases had started to organise their own Galas.  By 1992, the Wester Hailes Arts for Leisure and Education had been established to promote access to but also participation in arts activities.  WHALE Arts Agency is due to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year so look out for more information about its upcoming 20 in 2012 celebrations. 

 Meanwhile the Fringe over the decades has continued to angst about its accessibility whilst continuing to grow more commercial and more expensive!  However fighting against the tide with growing success is the Free Fringe with more free shows than ever.  You can find their programme for 2012 here.

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Many local people, especially in the Calders, will remember Clare Galloway who lived and worked there for a number of years. Clare is a hugely talented artist and visionary who became passionately committed to transforming the environment of the Calders and the living conditions of its residents.

Soon after moving into the area she joined the Calders High Rise Neighbourhood Council and before long she had become it’s chairperson. In this role, she brought tremendous energy to the tasks of championing the area, badgering the authorities to recognise and tackle long-standing problems and reinvigorating local people and organisations with her fresh and radical thinking.

Sadly, Clare moved away in 2008 and it was a huge loss to the community. Now she has written a no-holds-barred piece about her experiences as a resident and activist in Wester Hailes. Find it at: Hailes.pdf

It is worth a read if you are at all interested in the issues and problems surrounding peripheral housing estates and multi-storey flats. You might not agree with everything says but her insights and conclusions are certainly provocative and stimulating.

The Ballad of Wester Hailes

 In January 1986, the Sentinel launched a competition under the banner of Wester Hailes Folk.  As the paper pointed out, folk music can be a lot more than “people sitting around log fires in fisherman’s jumpers singing about herring boats.”  It has a history interwoven with movements for civil rights, empowerment and community identity.  The medium of folk could be used both to protest and to unite.  The Sentinel competition sought to utilise this, looking to capture the distinctive history of Wester Hailes and to promote its sense of identity.  To encourage entrants, it published The Ballad of Wester Hailes by Ricky Brines as inspiration.

The Ballad of Wester Hailes
(If it Wasnae Fur Oor Centres)

If it wasnae fur oor Centres
Where wid ye be?
you’d be in the hoose the noo
Watching your T.V.
Cause you’d be watching Match of the Day
Or even Dynasty
Because ye didnae ken all aboot yer Centres.

Oh Wester Hailes is wonderful, Oh Wester Hailes is brave
It’s no got any harling, and dampness as well
But one thing for sure, you could always tell
The Tory Cooncil all had pairs o’ wellies.

Oh Wester Hailes is beautiful, Oh Wester Hailes is great
We’ve got a Labour Cooncil noo
And hope they’re working straight
But one thing for sure, they will have to know
They cannae come here withoot their wellies.

If it wasnae fur oor Centres
Where wid ye be?
you’d be in the hoose the no0
Watching your T.V.
Cause you’d be watching Match of the Day
Or even Dynasty
Because ye didnae ken all aboot yer Centre.

You can read the details of the competition in full by clicking here on Wester Hailes Folk. 

As the entries for the competition came in, those acting as judges were impressed by their variety and quality.  The Sentinel applied to the Recreation Department of the Edinburgh Council for funding to produce a booklet entitled Wester Hailes Folk.  The resulting publication contained a mixture of poems, songs, prose and photographs. Norman Buchan, the then Shadow Minister For the Arts provided the introduction, emphasising the importance for all people of the right and need to be listened to.  You can read the introduction in full by clicking here

The overall winner was a Mrs C Emery who received her prize from the Lord Provost of Edinburgh at the Wester Hailes Folk event held in Clovenstone Community Centre.  You can read all about the event and other prize winners here at Provost Presents Prizes.  And this was the winning poem:

A Damp Nuisance

My budgie’s got bronchitis
With the dampness in the hoose
He tells me he’s fair scunnered
And is threatening to break loose.

When the cold east wind is blowing
And the rain comes seeping in
He squawks and squeals in anger
That his wing should be a fin.

With his feathers wet and tattered
He stamps his claws in rage
And croaks that his wee thrapple
Feels like the bottom of his cage.

So unless the building’s remedied
He’s reaching for the stars
As he disnae see why it should be him
And no’ the cooncil behind bars.

Pages From The Past

This week Pages From The Past is going right back to January 1979 to see what was happening then.  The main story reports how the Wester Hailes community became involved with Radio Forth’s Snowline.  An emergency number for the area was provided after FISH Neighbourhood workers became concerned about people needing help due to the weather conditions.  The report highlights the enthusiasm shown by local people volunteering to help those who might be struggling. 

 Other stories include

  • Concerns about the proposed by-pass road with the map showing the line the road would follow
  • WHEC’s new swimming pool opening and a report on problems being experienced with the building’s heating, resulting in the Third and Fourth Years being sent home much to the annoyance of the First and Second Years!
  • News from around the areas
  • Music report Sounds Familiar which despairs of the choices made by the BBC for the best hits of 1978
  • Photos from the smash hit Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, WHEC’s Christmas panto.

You can read all the news by clicking here on Sentinel January 1979.