From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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  Whilst seeing images of now long outdated computers can make us realise how much has changed so quickly, the history of IT in Wester Hailes also shows the importance of trying to combat the digital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.



Following on from last week, here’s the second part of Lisa McDonald’s question and answer interview. Lisa moved to Wester Hailes in 1974  when she was one year old and went to school at Dumbryden Primary and then the Wester Hailes Education Centre.

Did you work in Wester Hailes? If so, what was your job and can you tell us a bit about it?

I worked in Greggs the Bakers in Wester Hailes Centre for five years while I was at school and college. It was a brilliant place to work, the girls I worked with in the shop were great and the customers were lovely (mostly!) too. It didn’t ever feel like hard work to have to go in there. My most embarassing moments there were the time I sold someone a fake Christmas cake on Christmas Eve not knowing it wasn’t real ( they never did complain!) and on my 18th Birthday the Centre security asked over the tannoy for all shopping centre customers to make their way to Greggs – little did I know it was so they could watch the stripping vicar kissogram my workmates had got for me!

In what ways do you think Wester Hailes has changed over the years?

I had a gap of around fifteen years where I didn’t go into Wester Hailes, so to me it feels like it’s changed massively. My primary school in Dumbryden has gone and Greggs has moved within the centre, but the biggest changes for me are the ones around Westside Plaza, especially with the canal being open. It’s great to see money being put into improving housing too.

If you live somewhere else now, how does it compare with living in Wester Hailes?

I still live in West Edinburgh now, so I’ve not ventured far and while it’s nice where I am now, there’s not the same community spirit that we had in Dumbryden.

Dumbryden Gala Day 1979 – Lisa is the wee flower girl

What was the best thing about living in Wester Hailes?

The people and the community spirit.

And the worst?

Other people’s perception of what Wester Hailes was like. Even now occasionally people will judge me or comment on me having been brought up in Wester Hailes, yet I’ve got nothing but good memories. Wester Hailes is like anywhere else, it has its good points and its bad points, but a place is only as good as the people who live there and the people I know from Wester Hailes are pretty good!

What one thing would do most to change Wester Hailes for the better?

Ensure that there are enough things for kids to do in the community so that they grow up to be proud of where they come from.

What are your hopes for Wester Hailes twenty years on from now?

That organisations like the Council, WHALE and Prospect Community Housing continue to invest in the area and the people to ensure that the community continues on. Also that the Facebook groups like “Dumbryden Primary School” and “From There To Here” continue to flourish – having an archive of the history of Wester Hailes is important and it’s all the better when the archive is being added to by the people who lived and continue to live in Wester Hailes.

Next week we’ll be featuring a page from the January 1989 issue of the Sentinel written and designed by fifteen year old Lisa and four of her classmates from WHEC. It’s all about  Australian soap Neighbours and the pop group Bros (any Matt & Luke fans still out there?).


 A couple of weeks ago we told you about a book of essays produced by students at Edinburgh University who had been carrying out research on aspects of Wester Hailes – past, present and future. We said that we hoped to publish individual pieces by some of them, and here’s the first.

Entitled “Creativity On the Fringe” by Kaitlyn Hay it traces the history of WHALE Arts, the effect on the local community and the relationship with the cultural hub of the city centre. We will be running the article in three parts and today’s section focuses on urban theory, cultural regeneration and the ethos and aspirations through which WHALE has developed over the years.

Creativity On the Fringe 

[as published in Gamma/ Jaamma Urban Fragments: Casablanca/ Edinburgh, June 2011]


A harlequin-faced boy on a unicycle is a recurring motif in the 1986 documentary Huts: A Film from Wester Hailes. The unicyclist, as well as flame-swallowers, a circus ringmaster, jugglers, and other costumed individuals, appear throughout the film. These characters are resonant of the culture of performance at Edinburgh’s summer festivals. Edinburgh has been the host of arts festivals since 1947 and in 2010, city organizations embarked on a collective scheme to brand Edinburgh the Festival City with a year-round schedule of events. Despite the proximity of the Wester Hailes residential estate to the city centre — a mere half-hour bus journey — the movement of creative experiences from city-centre to suburb (and vice versa) is less than free flowing.

How can we better grasp the nature of this relationship between city-centre and suburban arts production? What does it tell us of the contemporary creative city?  It has been through the scholarship and advocacy of Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist, and other related urbanists, that the idea of the creative city has in recent years come to the fore of urban development agendas. According to Florida’s core argument, urban growth, and specifically regeneration of cities in economic and population decline, can be kick started by state-led investment in the creative industries such as architecture, design, fashion, music, film, software and publishing. In addition, local city authorities can actively work to attract certain industries and creative classes to their previously declining cities on a globally competitive stage (Florida 2004). Florida’s plan for urban growth via cultural industries expansion has been widely adopted by city councils and planners in the past decade — though not without skepticism. For example, academic critiques focus upon Florida’s weak economic grounding, subjective indices of growth, and glib repackaging of development trends that have been underway since the eighties. This idea of the creative city overlooks — and may even be a threat — to other kinds of urban creative expression such as non-touristic community arts. Moreover, Florida’s creative city also appears to have a very specific urban geography involving renovated heritage architecture in the inner city or revitalized waterfront areas. It is not usually linked to the suburbs, and certainly not to deeply stigmatized postwar neighborhoods like Wester Hailes.

The city of Edinburgh, host to the world’s largest summer arts festival (Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010) and first UNESCO City of Literature (Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature 2006), is an example of a city that has ridden the creative tide long before Florida’s ideas became the zeitgeist. However, the international character and frantic profusion of festival events fail to transcend the geographic heart of the city despite the efforts of arts organizations and partnerships. How can an economically deprived and socially denigrated community such as Wester Hailes not only encourage a culture of talent, but also build its creative capital and ensure that its creativity is better integrated into Edinburgh’s festival activities? Aspects of this question were addressed by a consultation conducted by the UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2004, published under the title Culture at the Heart of Regeneration. The consultation solicited responses from 132 participants regarding the role of the DCMS in promoting culture in urban and other regeneration projects. The consultation was very much a product of Floridian views on city regeneration via mobilization of talent. Responses indicated that visionary individuals are essential in leading projects to completion and delivering results, cultural projects should be relevant to the community as well as of a high quality, and culture can be a force of community cohesion and improve quality of life by contributing to health and wellbeing. That said, it was also noted that hindrances to such development could result from poor infrastructure such as lack of venues, poverty, and a reliance on volunteers. A range of existing facilities  — libraries, churches and village halls — and events such as ‘fêtes, country shows and festivals’ all held value and potential in relation to state-led creative industries regeneration (Culture at the Heart of Regeneration: Summary of Responses 2004, 6).

 WHALE Arts Agency             

The challenges facing cultural production and participation have shaped the arts agency WHALE: Wester Hailes for Arts, Leisure and Education, founded in 1992. WHALE Arts initially operated as a community development initiative, based in the blue hut on the Greenway between Murrayburn Grove and Hailesland Gardens. The first events sponsored and organized by WHALE Arts were a summer carnival and Christmas show — geared towards entertainment and local participation. Programmes in the mid-nineties focused on providing training in marketable skills such as photography, video and computer applications. According to founder Jim Tough, the didactic approach and emphasis on learning that could lead to employment became a critical part of the organization’s ethos. Tough worked in community education before spearheading the foundation of an arts group in Wester Hailes — which was to have a ‘developmental structure’ from the outset. Activities and programs were designed based on the people’s needs, thus influencing the art produced (Interview of Jim Tough 2001). The programming at WHALE has evolved continuously as the feedback loop between arts agency and community grows more fluid with time and persistence. Classes that emphasize training and further education, such as Fireworks, which allowed individuals to shadow theatre professionals, and Access to Creative Arts, a partnership programme with Stevenson College, Telford College and Napier University, enable the creative agency of Wester Hailes residents. It is the content and delivery of these sorts of programmes that cast WHALE Arts as a community arts centre, distinct from a professional studio, theatre venue or gallery — the types of amenities Richard Florida hails as the seedbed of the creative class. Programming oriented towards training local enthusiasts and students, serving as a springboard to higher learning and careers, is a mode of cultivating talent quite separate from the programming and resources that Florida emphasises in his plan of the creative city.

Pages From The Past

This week we’re taking a look at what was happening in Wester Hailes in May 1993.  The lead story was a report about faulty smoke alarms and controversy over who was responsible for their ongoing maintenance.  Other stories include

  • New job opportunities
  • A public meeting to address concerns over the poor bus service for Dumbryden
  • Information about some of the local groups and services in the area as part of Adult Learners Week
  • What’s On In Wester Hailes
  • McRobert on Sport arguing for changes to the Scottish League.

You can read all these stories and others by clicking here on Sentinel May 1993. 

Hailes Quarry Park

 The history of Hailes Quarry has been well documented but of as much interest is the story of transforming this piece of land into accessible space that could be used by local Wester Hailes residents.  As with so many amenities, the community had a battle on its hands over the future of the site and faced a series of delays before the area was turned into the park it is today.  Access to green space is recognised as having an important part to play in the wellbeing of communities.  However, simply providing areas of open grassed space is not the whole answer.  These areas are of limited value if they have no purpose or focus to encourage people to use them. Such areas remain empty and as a result feel unsafe. 

 Hailes Quarry itself was active from 1750 to 1900 and at its peak period of production employed 150 men with 100,000 tons of stone being

Hailes Quarry 1892

taken out each year.  Stone from the quarry was much in demand and was used for stairs and landings during the building for the New Town.  It was abandoned in 1902 when it became flooded with water.  There was some talk around turning the area into a speedway circuit when the speedway at Old Meadowbank was demolished in 1967.  This idea didn’t go any further and the site was used for landfill during the 1970s before being grassed over. 

 During the 1970s a plan was put together to turn the site into a park.  However, there was a series of delays as funding became an issue.  Early in 1980 people from Hailesland, Dumbryden, Kingsknowe and Longstone formed a group to provide an adventure playground for children and the Hailes Park Action Group was formed to campaign for the construction of a proper park for Wester Hailes and the wider area. This led to the park area being cleared.  In 1981 permission was given to use the land at the top of the area next to Dumbryden to build a playground and a community base and work began on establishing the Adventure Playground which came to be known as Quarrie Venchie. 

 However, funding for the maintenance of the area remained an ongoing issue.  In 1985 the Sentinel reported on the appearance of 40 foot craters.  Barriers were put round the worst affected areas but not before some people had fallen into the holes. 

There was concern that the plans for the park that included a sports centre and a BMX track would now be put on hold.  The holes were filled in by the council after taking advice from geologists.  Over the years, the area became gradually more run down and neglected. 

 In 2005, Hailes Quarry Park was selected as a pilot Placemaking project by the City of Edinburgh Council.  Greenspace Scotland produced a report detailing the process and the results of this approach.  The pilot aimed to identify ways the part could be improved based on local opinion and to then involve the local community in the park’s developments.  Four areas for priority were identified through this work:

  • Encouraging community use of the park and canal
  • Creating more obvious entrances to the park so that people would know the park was open to all.

    Hailes Quarry Park

  • Creating better linkages between the park and the canal
  • Improving the paths and drainage of the park. 

 Through the consultations and workshops that took place, a vision emerged for the area:

“Hailes Quarry Park is a focus for events and activities in the surrounding communities. It is a multi-functional, accessible and welcoming park, well-used and valued by local people. The Park and the Union Canal are linked to produce a truly special place.”

 As a result of the placemaking exercise, development of the park was taken forward by the council and by the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust who have led on the project since 2006.  Over the last 4 years there has been a series of environmental improvements including the creation of 2km of new cycleway, and the installation of features to make the park more welcoming and accessible, including entrance features, seating, steps and handrails.  A play area has been created for children.  New planting has increased the park’s bio-diversity.  A bike track with over 340 metres of trail including jumps was installed last year.  A map showing the different routes and giving information about the area was produced and distributed.  And stone distance markers were placed round the paths.  There has also been an ongoing programme of events and projects to raise awareness of the park and to encourage more people to use it. 

Hailes Quarry Park

 The most recent development for the park is the Learning and Discover area which is being created in the middle of the park.  The space will provide an opportunity for young people to experience and learn about nature and biodiversity in an informal and fun setting.


The biggest arts festival in the world has just kicked off again. The centre of Edinburgh is crammed with tourists and sometimes even they seem to be outnumbered by those doing the acting, the singing, the stand up routines …the juggling, puppeteering, fire eating …the organising, publicising, reviewing …etc etc etc. Within a mile or two of Princes Street there are literally hundreds of festival venues and thousands of events taking place.

 Not quite the same in Wester Hailes. The annual deluge of visitors and media saturation typically arrives and departs leaving it almost, or even totally, untouched. Is that wrong? Why? What should be done about it? Who cares anyway? These were the sort of questions posed and debated at an event entitled “Whose Culture Is It Anyway” held in the Wester Hailes Arts Project (WHALE) building as part of the alternative Edinburgh People’s Festival in 2003. It was chaired by the then co-ordinator of WHALE and featured a range of participants in the arts including such luminaries as the Director of the Festival Fringe and Richard Demarco.

 According to the transcript of the discussion, most of those who took part thought that Wester Hailes and areas like it in Edinburgh did suffer from problems relating to access and exclusion which acted as barriers to local people participating in and benefitting from what was on offer at the Festival. Colin Fox, who played a major part in re-establishing the People’s Festival in 2002, has spoken of “the silence in the schemes” during the Festival period and the fact that local talent doesn’t get much of a look in.

photo taken by Kevin Walsh 1992

That seems to have been at the heart of the debate but it isn’t true to say that there has simply been “silence” in Wester Hailes. Local theatre groups such as Bits n Pieces and Moving Parts have participated in the Fringe and some of their shows have been in venues within Wester Hailes. Moving Parts has developed and gone from strength to strength, tackling increasingly ambitious material plus there is the local Westfest organised by WHALE which features a full and varied range of arts events and is running during this week. On top of that, there have been all sorts of other visual, musical and literary events and initiatives which have taken place, producing much good stuff over the years and we hope to post some examples of at least a few of these in this blog during the coming months.

The Wester Hailes Festival Association produced a programme in 1980 that was sent out to residents via the Sentinel.  They organised an ambitious range of events and productions that ran for a fortnight.  Highlights included Scottish Ballet workshops, Live Bands and a Community Musical.  The world famous clown, Reg Bolton, also brought his innovative circus to Wester Hailes.  You can see the programme by clicking here.  Festival programme 1980

The Children’s Circus

When the circus came to Wester Hailes, it was first brought by Reg Bolton whose fascinating career and life included pioneering an innovative concept of “new circus”. During the 1970s, Reg was Director of the Theatre Workshop Edinburgh which ran a variety of community arts projects including original shows for children. Reg became interested in the possibilities of using circus for “education, self-fulfilment and community development”. He developed his Suitcase Circus, taking it to the outer Edinburgh estates including Wester Hailes and Craigmillar during the Festival weeks.

Exhibition photograph

The Wester Hailes Festival Association recognised the impact such an approach could have for young people and the wider community. In 1981, they employed Haggis the Clown, Mike Alderdice who had been on a Youth Opportunity Post with Craigmillar Festival Society. Haggis started circus workshops in Wester Hailes before bringing together a group of young people to form a travelling circus company The Children’s Circus. They toured different venues and were invited to take part in Reg Bolton’s Suitcase Circus International. Pictures of Haggis working with Reg Bolton are on the website Reg which is dedicated to the life and work of Reg. Haggis can be seen in photos from Strood in 1982, and at the Festival Fringe 1984.

In 1982 the Sentinel highlighted the work of Haggis and the achievements of The Children’s Circus. To see the full story and pictures, click here.  Festival Circus 1982