From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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.

Digital Sentinel: A New Chapter for Local News

Digital Sentinel Tasters May 2013

“Every community needs its own Sentinel.”

 This was the conclusion of the Rep Council, reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel in 1996.  Over the last few years, we have regularly looked at the role theSentinel played within Wester Hailes in bringing together the community, Delivering the Sentinelrepresenting its voice, and encouraging democratic participation.  The Sentinel operated through print only during its lifetime but this was in common with many printed publications, and also reflected the relative lack of internet access within people’s homes in Wester Hailes even when the internet was growing in use as a media tool. However, if the Sentinel was being set up today, it would undoubtedly have an online presence.  Over the last few months, an exciting new project, the Digital Sentinel has been developing to establish a community news website for Wester Hailes, written and edited by local residents.  A series of workshops has been enabling people to start gaining skills and experience in how to use a variety of formats such as Youtube and Flickr, uploading their stories, news and views using a range of digital technology.

Now the emerging news agency has been recognised by the Carnegie UK Trust’s Neighbourhood News with a grant of £10,000.  It is only one of five projects to receive funding after facing strong competition, and the only project to be awarded funding in Scotland.  WHALE Arts Agency is leading on this project, representing a collaboration of organisations in Wester Hailes including Wester Hailes Health Agency, Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Time Bank and the Wester Hailes Community Council.  Together they have been working with academic research partners on providing access to online social history archives using QR codes, blogs and Facebook sites. It is one of a suite of projects under the banner “Our Place in Time” using digital media to provide access to archives and to tell the stories of Wester Hailes today.  The funding will enable further training to support the recruitment and development of citizen journalists to take the project forward.

QR codes on totem poleThe Digital Sentinel may turn out to look very different from the old printed paper but it will be firmly connected to the values associated with the original publication.  The experience of the Sentinel shows that above all, community news needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable.  It is great news that the new Digital Sentinel will continue in this tradition in its aspiration to be community led, with residents trained as citizen reporters and content managed by community editors.  The news will be produced by people within the community, with their own particular perspective.  They will be able to cover stories that are not of interest to larger news agencies and with the hope of reversing the trend for negative media representation of Wester Hailes that continues to be an issue in sections of the press.  And at the heart of the project will be the aim to continue the high ethical standards that the printed Sentinel set in its efforts to act as a unifying voice.


In the third part of Rehousing The Capital, Pat Rogan shares more stories about slum life in the Edinburgh of the 1950s, how he publicised the atrocious conditions to which people were subjected and, in particular, how the emblematic Penny Tenement disaster kick-started a major programme of slum clearance. 

…While answering queries from constituents, I was often asked to visit families where the parents were illiterate, but were anxious to lodge a housing application form. I would procure a form, fill it in for them, and then would deal with any subsequent correspondence; so their privacy was respected. It was my custom to visit these constituents on a Sunday morning, so that I could explain matters to them directly. One Sunday, while going my rounds, I entered a fairly dark tenement, and, following my usual custom, I knocked on the door of the house I was visiting, shouted my name, turned the handle (no locked doors in these properties) and entered. Instead of meeting the family I wanted to see, there were three men in the house, standing around a table covered with bottles of whisky and cartons of cigarettes. I then remembered I had heard, earlier that morning, that a local pub had been “turned over” the previous night. Before I had the chance to say anything, one of the men said, “Och, it’s only Pat!” Another said “Do you want a bottle of whisky?” I asked about the family I had called to see, and were informed they were in another house upstairs. Fifteen minutes later, when I came downstairs, the loot, and the culprits, had gone!

In my efforts to speed up slum clearance, I approached our Planning Department, and to my disgust learned that no action in Holyrood Ward, my ward, was contemplated within the next twenty years. Then one night, when I was having a chat with a reporter from one of our two local papers, I recounted to him some of the miseries endured by my slum-dwelling constituents. He was interested, and very soon stories began to appear about the hidden face of Edinburgh, and the citizens who were compelled to live in repulsive conditions. Before long, the rival Edinburgh paper approached me, and from then on, I supplied both papers with horror stories that highlighted the obscenity of our slums. The publicity embarrassed the ruling party in the Council, and culminated in a “Panorama” programme, revealing the slums, which featured a little girl talking about the mice that ran over her feet when she was preparing for bed. Festival-conscious Edinburgh was outraged, and plans were made to provide more money for the housing rate fund contributions, and so accelerate the housing drive. This assistance was very welcome, but not enough!

However, help was on the way, and it arrived in a most peculiar fashion. I mentioned earlier that there were many properties in Edinburgh that had been abandoned by their owners. Such was a tenement located in Beaumont Place, within my ward; its owner, a Mr Rosie, refused to carry out repairs, and, when pressed to do so, offered the tenement to the Town Council for the sum of one penny. Thereafter the property became known as the “Penny Tenement”. One night, towards the end of 1959, I was called out to the Penny Tenement because the occupiers were alarmed about a bulge which had appeared in a gable wall. As the hour was late, I advised them to remove themselves and their belongings towards the middle of their houses, and I would inform the City Engineer first thing in the morning. Around four o’clock in the morning, I received a call (from a priest who was returning from a sick call) that the gable had collapsed. Fortunately, the injured were few, but the tenement had to be evacuated, and temporary accommodation provided. This near-disaster received wide publicity, and again focused attention on Edinburgh’s slums. I may tell you that, at that time, a rather shocking story went the rounds in Edinburgh that I was seen running away from that tenement with a pick and shovel!

In the City Chambers, I asked the Town Clerk who would be responsible if anyone was killed or injured in a similar mishap. A week later, he came back with the legal answer that Edinburgh Corporation would be responsible! This information sent alarm bells ringing, so immediate inspections on all doubtful properties were ordered by the City Engineer. This move brought quick results, and within nine days 101 families were removed from dangerous homes and re-housed in safer surroundings. During this rapid movement of families, we unearthed many social tragedies that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. In the Dalrymple Place area, we found two young women and their babies living in a cellar, their bedding being mattresses on the stone floor. They earned a living by street-walking, each mother taking it in turn to look after the babies while the other one went to work. An old man was found living in a house that had been closed some time previously. He was unable to fend for himself, and he depended on the help of another old man to keep him supplied with food, and an odd bottle of beer.

As a result of this movement, debt collectors were given a sore time. At first the Corporation supplied the collectors with the new addresses of the debtors, but this was soon stopped, no doubt much to the delight of many families. Furniture removals were undertaken by the Town, vans and lorries from the Cleansing Department being pressed into service. The Lord Provost, as with all his predecessors, had his own benevolent fund, built up over the years to a sizeable sum. Because of the sudden upheaval to their lives, a number of near-destitute people came to me for help, and the Lord Provost responded most generously.

All in all, that was a most exciting time. Everyone was caught up in the hectic job of finding new homes. The enthusiasm of our officials was marvellous, and previous apathy was cast aside. The urgency of identifying dangerous buildings went on at a high speed, and the Dean of Guild Court, of which I was a member, was in constant demand to visit suspect properties, and ajudicate when necessary over disputes regarding their stability…

Copyright: Pat Rogan

Star Scoops

David Bowie celebrated his 66th birthday by releasing his first single for 10 years this week to the surprise and delight of his many fans. Although the Sentinel never managed to secure an interview with him, it did achieve a number of impressive scoops with influential performers whose sound helped define their eras

English: Ian Dury at the Roundhouse, Chalk Far...

A Durable Geezer
In June 1984, Ian Dury talked to the Sentinel about his experience of performing and his first attempts at acting. After 12 years in the public eye, he shows that he has not lost his strong and sometimes controversial views!


Ice Man Goes Berserker
The Sentinel catches up with Gary Numan after the release of his new single “Berserker” in January 1985. He explains what he’s been doing whilst out of the public eye, gives some detail about his new album and the reason behind his choice of blue make-up.

The Clash
Still performing in 1985, the Clash explain why they have gone back to playing at small venues, including busking on Princes Street. They talk about Wester Hailes and their interest in promoting change through action.

The Clash (album)

The Clash (album)

Pages From The Past

This week we’re looking back at November 1984.  The headline story was floods in Hailesland as hurricane strength winds damaged roofs in Hailesland Park. Other stories included

  • A feature on Edinburgh District Council’s report on high rise living in the city.  With 81 blocks across the city, the council were needing £45 million over the next 10 years to put faults and damage right.
  • The issue of road safety for pedestrians in Wester Hailes is highlighted, with concerns about the ongoing lack of pavements beside busy roads.
  • A report on the recent opening of the Forum shopping centre with a starring role for Lewis Collins who cut the ribbon.
  • A visit to Clovenstone Community Centre from a Japanese delegation looking at youth centres in the UK.
  • A report from Hailesland Tenants Association who attended the Scottish conference for Bison tenants.

You can find all these stories and more here.

Party Politics

The party political conference season is well underway with an array of politicians taking turns over the weeks to promote their policy messages and to explain what makes them different from the party you heard from last week.  This year Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and Perth are playing host to the different parties keen to catch the headlines as well as motivating the party faithfuls.

UK national newspapers vary in their level of overt political persuasion but the majority are to some degree partisan, shaping stories and news items to reflect well on the party they favour or to criticise the opposition.  The community newspaper sector has to be more careful in this regard, particularly if they are receiving public funding although most have historically sought to hold local political power to account and have not shied away from asking challenging questions.  The Sentinel sometimes faced criticism that it was acting under the influence of party political requirements rather than community interests when it was highlighting particular issues and leading campaigns.  However, many journalists would argue that such criticism is all too often a form of defence, spin by the council, politician, or department in question in an attempt to deflect interest away from awkward questions and potential embarrassment!

The Sentinel had a great record in obtaining interviews with national politicians from across the political spectrum.  At a time when politicians are becoming increasingly indistinguishable, we’ve chosen three interviews with politicians who could not be mistaken for each other!  The articles are in strict date order in case you are wondering if there is any bias in their listing priority!

Tony Banks spoke to the Sentinel when he was invited up to Edinburgh to speak at a conference on the future of the arts.  In the article, he talks in particular about his experiences on the Greater London Council and his involvement with its Arts Policy.  He felt that this was a vital component to express important social messages and to bring people together.  The interview was given in the light of central government’s move to abolish the Greater London Council.  He felt that whatever happened to the GLC, the arts movement would survive, saying “institutions can be dismantled, ideas can’t be destroyed.” You can read the interview here at Popular Arts Movement July 1984.

David Steel was interviewed during his years with a different coalition as the Liberal Party formed an alliance with the Social Democratic Party in an effort to reclaim political power.  He spoke about his connections with Wester Hailes when he rented a cottage in Baberton back in 1962.  He also talked about the merger discussions that were ongoing between his party and the Social Democrats.  And he discussed the importance of community politics, commenting on the success of the Wester Hailes Community Programme which was administering Manpower Services Commission funded jobs, saying “politics has got to start from the ground upwards, not from the top downwards.”  You can read his interview here at The Middle Way December 1984.

Norman Tebbit provided an article for the Sentinel talking about the importance of enterprise and small business initiative.  He had just been appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party and the article looks at his vision for the future development of Britain.  He is keen to promote recent Government policies that he feels will assist small businesses to flourish.  He includes positive comments on the Wester Hailes Community Enterprise.  Although he feels the new measures introduced will be of benefit to the economy he comments, “in the long term Government measures cannot act as a substitute for the flair, initiative and enterprise of individuals willing to take risks.”  You can read his article in full here at In My Own Right September 1985.

Action Success!

Sentinel October 1997

We’ve been following the progress of the debate over pedestrian access to the new Healthy Living Centre that is currently under construction in Wester Hailes.  It became clear to local residents last year that access to the new centre had not been designed as fit for purpose, relying on an existing underpass that was not fully accessible for anyone with a disability or for parents with pushchairs.  The story has been featured in the blog as the fight to improve this underpass is not a new one, dating right back to 1996 when it was partially blocked, forcing everyone to use steep stairs to continue using the underpass which was simply not an option suitable for everyone as this story in the Sentinel showed. 

 Despite community efforts at the time to have the underpass improved, it remained in this state until this year.  However, the arrival of the Healthy Living Centre required improved access routes.  Although the planners had designed a potential solution, it was within a restricted space and seemed unsatisfactory to local residents who felt it was inadequate to meet the needs of the community.  The Community Council pushed for new negotiations with the owners of the Plaza over the use of car parking space.  They also asked for a public joint meeting of the two Neighbourhood Partnerships to look at other possible options and to ensure that local councillors and council officers heard the views of the community directly.  And they publicised the meeting thoroughly to ensure people knew the meeting was taking place.  It was clear from the high attendance and from the views expressed that an alternative access proposal was wanted by the community.

 The City Council recognised the strength of local feelings over the issue and relooked at the proposals.  At last week’s community council meeting, local representatives heard that the matter was now due to go to a full Edinburgh City Council meeting where the expectation was that a new proposal would be approved in full.  This would ensure that the underpass had proper pedestrian access through a straight low gradual slope so that it would be suitable for all abilities and needs.  Without the efforts and persistence of the Community Council it seems unlikely that this would have been the end result.  It’s great to know that Wester Hailes still has a strong voice and the ability to influence decisions that affect the community.