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


Crisis In Print

Back in 1986, the Sentinel ran a special feature on an on-going dispute that had caused 6,000 people to come out on strike and would result in 1,262 people being arrested over its duration.  Following on from the miners’ strike, it is remembered as one of the most bitter and violent disputes in British Industrial history.  On the 24th January 1986, nearly 6,000 newspaper workers went on strike following the collapse of talks on News International’s plans to move its editorial and printing operations to a new plant in East London at Wapping.  The Wapping dispute escalated swiftly with the striking workers being dismissed and the move to Wapping going ahead using newly employed staff, leading to mass demonstrations.  Whilst newspaper owners such as Robert Murdoch were keen to present the issue as powerful print unions trying to hold back technological progress, others saw it very much as an attack on the existence of unions and the rights of workers.

The Sentinel tried to include a balance of national issues alongside local reporting, and also recognised that some of the issues affecting the press at a national level could have implications for local journalism.  And it also encouraged local residents to feel that they still had a voice and could take practical action to influence national decision making.  So in April 1986 it published interviews with two union representatives: Brenda Dean from SOGAT (Society of Graphic and Associated Trades) and Harry Conroy from the National Union of Journalists.

brenda deanBrenda Dean wanted to point out that the unions were not against new technology and that SOGAT had wanted to move into Wapping.  However part of the new deal for workers was changes to working practices, no- strike clauses etc.  For SOGAT she said, the dispute was fundamentally about

 “Our members’ right to belong to a trade union of their choice, to be democratically represented and to negotiate about their terms and conditions of future employment and their future job prospects.”

You can read her interview in full here.

Harry Conroy was dealing both with Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell as theHarry Conroy general secretary of the NUJ.  In a more wider ranging interview he discusses the press in Scotland as well as the concern that the Wapping dispute is an attack by Mr Murdoch on the ability of trade unions to represent their members.

 “All we’re saying is that as an employer, he should behave by certain standards.  And he certainly isn’t behaving by our standards.”

He also shares his memories on producing a community newspaper back in 1973 when he published the Pollock News and then helped with the Shawlands News.  You can read his interview in full here.

Sentinel officeAs well as keeping people in Wester Hailes informed about what was going on, the Sentinel tapped into the campaign to boycott News International publications.  The Rep Council had already voted in favour of approaching Community Enterprises to ask that the community owned Carousel chip shop stop selling the Sun, News of The World and the Times until Murdoch agreed to sit down and negotiate with the unions.  Sentinel readers were urged to use their spending power to send a message by refusing to purchase Murdoch papers.  Local residents gave their views here.

Despite a sustained campaign of demonstrations, News International did not lose a single night of production during the strike.  Just over a year later, the strike was fading and the unions were facing bankruptcy and court action.  By 1988, all national newspapers had followed Rupert Murdoch away from Fleet Street to the newly-developed Docklands, and adopted new, cheaper computerised printing technology.  Part of a larger political landscape that sought the demise of trade union influence and power, those standing against Wapping found little support or sympathy from those in government.  With the huge expansion of media sources online and its up to the minute accessibility, the era of print journalism is facing a less certain future than ever.  Looking back from recent events there are some commentators who suggest that what Wapping should really be remembered for was the advent of a much closer co-operative relationship between government, police, lawyers and some newspaper owners that could be said to have led all the way to the phone hacking scandals.

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

Welfare Reform Information

Welfare benefits reform has now regularly been hitting the headlines as the media has finally realised the huge effects of the new legislation on the lives of thousands of people.  It seems that every week now for example there are requests on Twitter for people affected by the bedroom tax to contact journalists eager to produce stories highlighting the new policy on “under occupation”.  It would have perhaps have been helpful to have had this level of interest 2 years ago as the bill proceeded through Parliament but it may have been hard then to imagine the implications of what was being proposed.

Last year we looked at the role the Sentinel had to play in keeping people aware Youth Programme Soup Kitchenand informed about major benefit changes affecting them in the 1980s and 1990s.  The sweeping changes brought about through the Fowler Review and the resulting effects for those claiming benefits were highlighted in detail by the paper and readers were encouraged to get advice from local organisations and agencies.

With these new changes coming into force starting in April this year, it is equally important that those affected are aware of how the new requirements will impact on their lives and that they receive advice on their particular situation and potential options.  A Welfare Reform Information Event is being held next week in Wester Hailes on Wednesday 13th March at the Library.  This is a drop in session organised by Prospect Community Housing, CHAI and City of Edinburgh Council.  It’s a chance for local residents to find out if they are affected, who they need to talk to and where to get further support.  People can drop in at any time between 3pm-7pm.

welfare reform ad

Creating The News

Sentinel officeIn 2013, the way we keep up to date with what’s going on is changing.  There’s now an online world just a click away and lots of us prefer to get our news and information through the internet and social media.  Current, instant and relevant, the huge range of online sites has something for everyone.  For extremely localised news, there is space for all sorts of issues and information that is of huge interest to those in the immediate neighbourhood but would have little significance to anyone beyond the area.

It feels a world away from how printed newspapers used to be produced.  In March 1985, the Sentinel celebrated its 100th edition.  As part of its anniversary edition, it ran a detailed article on how the Sentinel was produced from 20 empty pages to the printed paper.  Once the copy had been produced, stories went to the sub-editor’s desk where copy was marked up ready for typesetting.  The sub editor set aside space for photographs, edited the copy and wrote the headlines.  This was then put through the typesetting machine which turned the written words into “gallies”.  These were then cut up and pasted down on special grids by graphic artists.  Meanwhile, photographs for the paper were developed in the dark room and then pasted down with the typeset gallies.  This was a long process with each page taking hours to paste-up. The “camera ready” copy was then picked up by the printers and used to make plates and negatives to print the paper.  You can read more about producing the Sentinel by clicking here.

The way printed newspapers are now produced has moved on completely with the development of IT and associated technology.  And most newspapers now have an online presence that is as important as their printed paper with layouts designed to be highly interactive and “clickable”, with readers able to comment instantly.  Online versions are now specifically designed for smart phones, tablets, e-readers as well as PCs so that readers can access them easily wherever they are.  Meanwhile regular tweets through Twitter alert subscribers to breaking news, directing them to the site for further details.

The Digital Sentinel is an idea developed as part of the new digital Totem Pole.QR codes on totem pole  Recognising that producing a printed newspaper requires substantial on-going resources, the plan is to have an online site where news, information and opinions can be shared locally.  Whilst the online development is the immediate priority, it is also recognised that not everyone wants to or is able to use internet access.  There are potential options to ensure that everyone can access key news and information.  And there is also an aim to help more people get online, particularly as the introduction of Universal Credit will move benefit claims to an online system. It is more important than ever that people feel confident about using the internet, have the skills to access the sites they need, and  the resources to make this access easy.

Over the next few months there will be a series of workshops organised by WHALE Arts Agency to bring together local residents who are interested in learning more about digital media.  They will be looking for people who might want to become citizen journalists, learn more about using online media, or have a view on what the new online site should be featuring.  The sessions will be designed for all levels of experience.  Crucially, these sessions will also be designed to encourage local residents to become part of an editorial team so that the site is community led.

The Digital Sentinel might seem very different to the old printed Sentinel in some ways, but in the emphasis to create a democratic online space, run by community members it is firmly connected to the values associated with the original community newspaper.  The Sentinel was owned by the people of Wester Hailes who took on all the management functions of newspaper ownership.  Local residents were also the main contributors, producing content for the paper on a voluntary basis, writing articles but also submitting cartoons and photographs.  It was therefore in all senses a community led newspaper and this community emphasis is one those involved with the new Digital Sentinel are keen to put at the heart of the new project.

If you live locally and you’re interested in being involved in the Digital Sentinel look out for details over the next few weeks.

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.

Pages From The Past

Sentinel Banner December 1997

This week we’re going back 16 years to look at what was happening in Wester Hailes at the beginning of 1996. The headline story is a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which praises the Wester Hailes Representative Council as “a good example to estates all over Britain of how local people can work in partnership to improve their area.”  The report, which outlined a strategy to regenerate Britain’s housing estates suggests the Rep Council structure and approach could be a role model for other areas. Also featured on the front page is a sell-out Christmas performance by the Dove Centre which was a great success.  Other stories include

  • A stained glass window designed by women from Homeline and donated to the Rachel House Hospice.
  • A visit to the European Parliament by 2 WHEC students
  • News from around the neighbourhoods and a Christmas poem
  • WHALE’s Christmas show Santa’s Last Stop, written by a group of local residents from creative writing workshops run by the Platform Project.
  • Feature on Jean Allison, Principal Music Teacher at the WHEC who had been chosen the previous month as the 1995 University of Edinburgh Aumna.
  • Pat McHat’s list of Christmas letters found in Santa Claus’ sack.

You’ll find all these stories and more at Sentinel January 1996.