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, or for submitting a story/ event etc. –

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.”

Digital Sentinel Facebook



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

Pages From the Past

pupils from Clovenstone Primary School

This week we’re going back 33 years to March 1980 to see what was going on in Wester Hailes.  The headline story gives details of a new initiative focused on creating a greener environment for the area.  Workers from a local project and local volunteers were planting trees and shrubs in Clovenstone and Calders.  Pupils from Clovenstone Primary School were also involved  leading to the school setting up a gardening project.  Other stories include

  • Who does What- a response to a then common issue on whether the Edinburgh District Council or the Lothian Regional Council were responsible for the footpaths and internal walkways.
  • A report on new efforts to set up tenants’s associations in Clovenstone and Westburn
  • Concern that the issues raised by the tenants of Dunsyre House had still not been resolved satisfactorily.
  • News from around the areas including information about a youth exchange with Munich for young people from Clovenstone.
  • Cilla’s Kidz Column with a variety of stories, including a couple of tales that show their young authors’ abilities to put a gory twist in the most unlikely subjects!

You’ll find all these stories and more by clicking here.

Sentinel cartoon march 1980


Officially launched in 1989, the Wester Hailes Partnership was a government-led initiative intended to implement a strategy for the long-term regeneration of the area. It brought together representatives from the community and the public and private sectors to plan for and carry out these changes. Under the banner: “Wester Hailes – Full Of Potential”, the Partnership aimed to achieve a major transformation to the estate by the end of the 1990s.

The key elements of the strategy were identified as being: 1) Housing – in particular, to widen the types and tenures of accomodation available and to improve the physical environment; 2) Land Use & The Environment – to use available land to create more jobs, more low-rise housing and more attractive open space; 3) Training & Unemployment – to reduce unemployment and raise incomes, and 4) Wester Hailes’s Image – to dispel misleading and negative images of the estate.

Full of Potential

The Partnership’s Board of Management was made up of local councillors, senior officials from a range of bodies (including the City Council, Scottish Homes, Lothian & Edinburgh Enteprise Ltd, the Employment Service and Lothian Health) and five community representatives. It was chaired by a senior civil servant from the Scottish Office and met around six to eight times per year. However, much of the more detailed and complex work was handled by a range of policy sub-groups which were chaired by community representatives. In addition, the Partnership had a small staff team to support the Board and its sub-groups.

The the immediate programme it set out for itself in 1989 were challenging and included:

* Replacing most of the high rise flats with new low-rise housing;

* Building two new industrial/commercial estates;

* Creating an outdoor sports centre;

* Enhancing childcare provision;

* Widening the opportunities for employment training and adult basic education.

As part of its public launch, the Partnership made much play of the enormous potential of the area: like the fact that it was located next to the large established industrial estate at Bankhead; close to “the fastest growing development area in Edinburgh” – i.e. the Gyle; and that its communication links were very good – a railway station, an adjacent motorway bypass and an airport only a short drive away.

Next week, we’ll examine to what extent the Partnership was able to deliver on its promises and how much of the potential of Wester Hailes it was actually able to unlock.

1 Comment

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.

Pages From The Past

This week we’re taking a look back at February 1984, 29 years ago.  The main story features two local boys heading for jobs as acrobats with Cottle’s Circus.  Both boys had trained with local clown Haggis and been members of the Wester Hailes Children’s Circus.  Other stories include

  • Greenham Women For Peace: a report on the recent protests at Greenham Common
  • The cost of combating dampness at Hailesland Park worked out to be £4,000 per flat.
  • News from Westburn Hut and efforts in Clovenstone to start a skills exchange
  • An interview with George Chisholm
  • Views and Reviews of the latest music and record releases at a time when record shops sold vinyl.

You can read all these stories and more by clicking here.