From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


Investing In The Calders

Calders centre

The City Of Edinburgh Council announced this week that it is planning to give the Calders area a £500,000 makeover.  Work will include improving pavements, fencing, boundary walls and installing a new children’s play area.  The revamp project is due to start in November this year and be completed by Spring 2014.

The Calders as a housing area was developed earlier than the rest of WesterCalders high rises Hailes with 537 pre-fab homes being constructed in 1956.  However Edinburgh was facing a housing crisis as it sought to tackle appalling living standards in its tenements, many of which were now only fit for demolition.  Building new homes seemed the obvious answer, but there was a lack of suitable land, and the council of the day turned its attention to the land being occupied by low density pre-fabs.  Edinburgh had 4,000 of these, the highest number of any city in Scotland, and planners estimated that they could fit 10,000 new homes where the pre-fabs stood.  Despite strong objections from those living in the pre-fabs, they were cleared to make way for higher density housing, including high rise blocks to provide 1,300 homes.

Calders Residents protestAs with many of the high rise developments of the time, the Calders blocks suffered from design faults and building flaws.  Residents responded through protest campaigns and by working with the rest of the Wester Hailes community to highlight the problems.  In 1980, the Sentinel reported that a petition from the residents of Dunsyre House had led to the decision that a caretaker would be installed there, when appropriate housing became available.  The Sentinel commented,

In view of the difficulties which tenants experience in transferring out of high rise block, “appropriate housing” becoming available could take some time.

The council instigated improvements over the years, but these were still not always designed around the needs of the tenants.  In 1986 the Sentinel reported on the plight of a mother living in Cobbinshawe House who was struggling to get her pram through the block’s doors.  The sliding doors had been replaced after vandalism, but the new doors were now too heavy to hold open whilst pushing a pram.  You can read the story in full here.

The CaldersWhilst residents of the Calders faced difficult living conditions, community activity was strong.  Although Calders was not always included in initial local community structures, by the time the Representative Council was established, it was part of this key body.  In 1979 and 1980, much of local activity focus for the Calders was around the Outer City Bypass proposals.  But the tenants association also dealt with a range of other issues as can be seen in the Sentinel’s February 1980 Around The Areas Report.  Neighbourhood councils were formed to represent the different areas within Calders and in 1991, it was reported that the Calders Court and Gardens was the first low rise housing area in the Calders to establish a neighbourhood council.

It is therefore great news for the Calders not only to have this investment announced but also to know that residents in the area are continuing to invest in their area through campaigning and community events.  The Calders Residents Association recently organised a Summer Fete for the area and you can find out more about them here.


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


REALIZING THE POTENTIAL – HALFWAY THERE?

The Wester Hailes Partnership was launched in 1989 under the banner “Wester Hailes – Full of Potential” tasked with developing and implementing a strategy to regenerate the estate by the end of the 1990s. In 1995, halfway through its expected lifespan, the Scottish Office Central Research Unit published what they called an “Interim Evaluation of the Wester Hailes Partnership”. The Evaluation’s findings were based on a range of existing reports including household surveys carried out in the area in 1989 and 1994, unemployment stats and interviews with a large number of people who had been or were currently involved in the work of the Partnership.

Just how far had the potential of Wester Hailes – located next to a large established industrial estate, close to the Gyle shopping and business hub, and with very good transport links – been realised after 5+ years? Interviews with residents  identified that more people thought that the area was changing for the better than had been the case prior to the Partnership being set up. Also, the energetic participation of the community (i.e. the time spent by unpaid local activists and volunteers across the full range of policy and strategy sub-groups) had been a major factor in getting things off the ground. However, the report also identified the complex administrative structure of the Partnership as placing great demands on these people, flagging up the issue of whether this level of involvement would be sustainable in the longer term.

The community might have been playing its part but, nevertheless, the report concluded that the Partnership “did not get off to a good start”. Edinburgh District Council and Lothian Regional Council were seen as being “reluctant participants” in the early stages when the Partnership was “trying to develop its agenda and create momentum”. The decision to make Wester Hailes a Partnership area was regarded by the two Labour-controlled Councils as being driven by the fact that it was located within the constituency of the then Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind. The lesson the Report drew from this was  that “partnerships formed from the bottom up were likely to pose fewer problems in terms of cohesion and drive” than a top down approach. Also, up to that point, the private sector (essentially private housebuilders) had played a minor role, due to the shortage of developable land.

In terms of actual measurable outcomes, the picture in 1995 was decidedly mixed. The launch of a major redevelopment of the town centre area was seen as a significant achievement. In addition, although health and crime  were not high priorities on the Partneship’s agenda, there was evidence of declining crime rates and of increasing confidence in the local secondary school. On the debit side, there had been no decrease in poverty with the proportion of households receiving benefit payments actually increasing from 68% to 74% between 1998 and 1994. The report interpreted this as reflecting a continuing flow of “disadvantaged households” into the area. And with regard to the Partnership’s economic strategy, there was little sign of reduction in unemployment relative to Edinburgh as a whole. It was noted that the issue of unemployment and the Partnership’s failure to tackle the problem more effectively was where “frustration at the pace of change was expressed most consistently” by interviewees.

Housing had been identified as the key element of the regeneration strategy but, here again, progress had been slow. This was due to a number of factors: there was little vacant land immediately available for development; it took time for Edinburgh District Council and Scottish Homes (the Government’s funding body) to establish an effective working relationship; and there was considerable delay in putting in place agreements to facilitate mixed tenure redevelopments. By 1995 it did seem as though this area of the Partnership’s work was belatedly starting to gain momentum. However, the report noted that the relatively slow progress in the early stages had “conveyed a poor impression of the effectiveness of the Partnership”.

So, according to the the Interim Evaluation, the Partnership’s report card for 1995 was a case of could have done better, maybe a lot better. Despite the fanfare of its launch it had got off to a slow start. There had been a few successes but, in terms of the main regeneration objectives of housing and the local economy, relatively little concrete progress had been made by the midway point. It left a huge amount to be achieved during the second five year period.

Next week we’ll take a look at what was ultimately achieved by the Partnership and what long term legacy it bequeathed to Wester Hailes.


Surprise Delivery!

Many people have been hooked by the stories and characters portrayed in Call The Midwife.  With the programme generating huge viewing figures, it looks likely to hold onto its prized prime Sunday evening slot.  As a nation, we seem to love stories about new babies and unusual deliveries.  Today we’re able to bring you just such a story from the pages of the Sentinel.

We were contacted on the Facebook page a couple of weeks ago about a story from the Sentinel featuring an unexpected guest.  Back in June 1989, Mary Stewart who was nine months pregnant was on her way home with her friend Rena.  She had just got to her front door when she realised her baby was well on the way.  There was no time to take off their coats, let alone call an ambulance, and Rena realised that in the absence of any midwife, she would need to step into the role.  So she rolled up her sleeves and calmly delivered Mary’s baby girl.  Mary told the Sentinel reporter

“There can’t be many women who can say they had their baby with their coat on.”

You can read the story in full by clicking here.


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.


1 Comment

THANKS FRASER!

On 14th July 2008, in a corner of Wester Hailes Library, a small group of people met for the first time. This informal get together had been organised by Fraser McAllister, one of the Library staff, to discuss the setting up of a local history archive.

Following the closing of the Wester Hailes Representative Council earlier in the year, the Library had become home to what remained of that organisation’s written records and photographs. Also, not long before, the West Edinburgh Times had ceased publication and the paper’s extensive archive, including that of its predecessor, the Wester Hailes Sentinel, had been transferred to Prospect for safekeeping.

Taken together these materials amounted to a treasure trove, documenting in tremendous detail, the social history of the area stretching back over thirty years. Fraser had called the meeting to put forward the idea that these collections should be catalogued and digitised and then a web site created to maximise access for anyone who wanted to study them and find out more about the Wester Hailes’s past.

As can often be the way with new ideas, there was a bit of a slow start but once things got properly into gear, groundbreaking projects followed one after the other. First, it was this blog, then the From There To Here facebook page, followed by the Wester Hailes codebook with its social history walks (courtesy of Eoghan Howard and the local Health Agency), and the Digital Totem Pole. And that’s not the end of it. Currently, as readers of this blog will know, plans for interactive wall plaques incorporating QR codes; and the establishment of a Digital Sentinel – an online successor to the old Sentinel – are also well advanced.

Unfortunately, staff reorganistion meant that Fraser was with us for a too-short time before he had to move on. Nevertheless, he was one of the key figures in those early days when we were still finding our feet. His enthusiasm helped kick-start something that turned out to be much bigger than I think any of us who attended those early meetings could ever have imagined. Thanks Fraser.