From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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We All Must Play A Part


Whilst the Sentinel was a community newspaper focused on local issues and neighbourhood news, it also had an impressive capacity to look beyond the immediate area at major national and international issues.  People in Wester Hailes were encouraged not only to know about what was happening in the wider world, but also to understand how their views and actions could affect people living thousands of miles away.  In the week when the world gathered to mark the passing of Nelson Mandela, it seems fitting to highlight the efforts the Sentinel made to highlight the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

In July 1985 it carried an interview with Donald Kitson who had just been released after 20 years in prison where he had been jailed for his political activities against the regime.  He discussed the power sanctions had in affecting the existing regime and highlighted efforts being made by shop assistants in Dublin who had gone on strike after refusing to handle South African goods.  You can read the article in full here.

tambo picIn October 1985, the paper published an extensive interview with Dali Tambo, son of Oliver Tambo who was the president of the ANC at the time.  He brought a clear message to the people of Wester Hailes, asking for their support and explaining how their actions could make a real difference.  He asked local residents to support sanctions and to lobby their local MP to ask for their support.  The Sentinel re-iterated these comments, pointing out that “We all must play a part”. You can read the interview in full here.

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.

Political Legacies

With the acres of footage and newsprint currently documenting the life and sentinel scoops 4times of a certain ex-prime minister, it seemed fitting to check whether the Sentinel with its fantastic ability of scooping interviews with major politicians had ever come face to face with Mrs Margaret Thatcher.  It appears though that the picture shown here on the front page from September 1988 was not the result of an interview or encounter.  Whilst efforts were made, the Sentinel reported in its 100th edition that she had declined the invitation, with the indication that she confined interviews almost entirely to “foreign newspapers”.

Wester Hailes is only 43 years old as a community and so much of its early and formative history is inevitably tied up with Mrs Thatcher’s ideology and her government’s policies during 1979-1990.  In October last year we looked at the results of the Fowler review brought in during Mrs Thatcher’s leadership in 1986, and what the changes in the welfare reform system would mean to Wester Hailes when implemented.  Whilst many of the government’s policies were well supported by some in society nationally, the effects in areas like Wester Hailes could be seen Youth Programme Soup Kitchenacross the front pages of the Sentinel as the local situation was documented over the months and years.  In April 1987 for example, the Sentinel led with the headline “Breadline Britain”, featuring several stories that demonstrated the rise in poverty within Wester Hailes.

Despite Mrs Thatcher’s reluctance to speak to a community newspaper, other politicians of the day were not so reticent and the Sentinel carried interviews with key national politicians including Neil Kinnock, David Steel, Norman Tebbit,  Tony Benn, George Younger and David Owen.  This editorial policy meant that local residents could read the views of national decision makers and just as importantly, it gave an opportunity to promote a positive view of the Wester Hailes community to people who may only have known about the area otherwise through more sensationalist press headlines.

Whilst we cannot bring you an exclusive Sentinel interview with Mrs Thatcher, we can feature two major politicians who were in parliament throughout her time in office.  It would be fair to say they were at different ends of the political spectrum on most issues but this is probably fitting as whatever everyone’s views are on Mrs Thatcher, she certainly provoked debate.

The first interview is with Tam Dalyell in 1985 who had visited Wester Hailes to give a talk about his views on the Falklands War.  The second interview is with Malcom Rifkind.  Mr Rifkind gave several interviews to the Sentinel over the years.  As we have just finished a series on the Wester Hailes Partnership, the featured interview is during 1988 when news of the new urban renewal plans was being launched.


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.


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.


This is the final part of Pat Rogan’s speech about the clearance of Edinburgh’s slums. In this section, Pat concentrates on the challenges faced by the Council in finding the land to build new houses and getting a massive development programme into gear. In doing so, he gives some interesting insights into the decisions taken: like the demolition of prefabs (which happened in the Calders) and the almost complete absence of facilities in many of the new schemes – a problem which afflicted Wester Hailes in its early years. The final paragraph, which talks about the housing problems caused by a previous recession, could, unfortunately, be just as easily applied to the situation faced by many people today.

… So, at long last, the removal of the slums was underway. At the same time, action was now being taken to close down unfit houses, and grant, where necessary, overcrowding certificates on a more liberal scale. I discovered at this time that approximately 1,200 houses were available every year, through deaths, moonlights or evictions, but that the bulk of these houses remained empty for long periods because of slowness in preparing them for letting. These obstructions were soon removed, and welcome additional houses were now available.

Progress – but now we were faced with a shortage of building land. This had been anticipated, and some years earlier a number of high flats had been built to alleviate the difficulty. But the problem remained, so our thoughts turned to invading the Green Belt. Private builders, also hunting for building land, hoped that we would give a lead, but the opposition was too powerful and would have caused delays, which we couldn’t afford.

At this time – 1962 – I was made Chairman of the Housing Committee. The Council was beset by political stalemate; three Liberal and two SNP councillors held the balance, and – no doubt to stop my perpetual complaints! – the Progressives didn’t oppose me. The pressing need for land was still with us, and my first task was to tackle this question. In the immediate postwar years, Edinburgh had erected 4,000 prefabs – the largest number of any city in Scotland – and these houses were occupying valuable land, at a very low density. It was estimated that, by removing them, we could build 10,000 houses on the site made available.

The first hurdle was to get Government permission, because these houses were intended to last at least 20 years, and there were still a few years to go. However, it was discovered that the aluminium floor joists were showing signs of fatigue, so approval was granted. Opposition from the prefab tenants was another matter. They were very happy in their homes, and, if a brick skin could have been built around the exterior, then they could have stayed forever. But I refused to countenance any delay, and set in motion a system whereby we appointed contractors to remove the prefabs, and design and build their replacements. Understandably, this did not please some architects, but the need for houses was great, and the reward was a production of houses never before achieved in Edinburgh.

Dwellings under contract soared from 700 in 1961 to 2,700 by 1962, and two years later, before I demitted office, the number of houses under construction, contracted for, or tendered for, amounted to 3,617. The very worst of the slums had been demolished, and a programme was in place to deal with the remainder. Today, Edinburgh is free from the awful, disgraceful slums that existed 40 years ago.

Edinburgh being a very old city, and tourism being a main industry, it was vital that many of our old properties be retained, repaired or rebuilt. Although, at times, I found myself in conflict with conservationists over slum clearances, many buildings, especially in the Royal Mile, were saved from demolition. Unfortunately, the salvage operation should have been started many years earlier. But in the Canongate and Leith, we have many families settled in rehabilitated buildings, that are a great credit to Edinburgh.

In retrospect, many improvements could have been made on the housing crusade of thirty years ago. Unfortunately, wholesale developments were not controlled entirely by the Housing Committee. In preparing a large scheme, land had to be allocated for a school, but, time and time again, and years later, the land was not used. Requests to include libraries, community centres, and recreation facilities were never received from those committees, and provision of shops – the responsibility of the Finance Committee – was usually left to the good sense and judgement of the City Architect. This meant that many new housing estates were deprived, at the beginning, of amentities that would have made life more comfortable. It was my view then, and now, that in these matters a co-ordinator should be employed, so that all aspects of a new development can be considered well beforehand. But, then, are we ever again likely to see the building of large-scale municipal housing projects?

Last week, to complete these notes, I went up to the City Chambers in Edinburgh, and had a talk with the Depute Convener of Housing of Edinburgh District Council. I learned that the waiting list is now no less than 25,000, about half of that number being homeless. When I left office as Housing Chairman in 1965, the waiting list had been reduced to 6,000, but that number’s back up to 25,000! In discussing multi-storey blocks it appears that the public are still divided. Some love them, some loathe them. At present, there are 72 multi-storey blocks in Edinburgh. Seventeen are due for demolition, leaving 55, with 4,500 flats. But the most interesting thing that came out of our discussion was this. The District Council plan, for the next five years, has a paragraph headed: “Acquisition of Land and New Building”. It reads:

The District Council owns sites which have potential to be developed to meet housing need. At present, however, the Housing Department lacks the capital finance to embark on its new building programme. It also has to consider the “Right to Buy” implications of any new building scheme, as tenants will be able to purchase their homes at full discount after five years, leaving the Council with a large, longstanding loan debt on the houses sold, and with a reduced revenue base to service the debt.”

So, in effect, Edinburgh District Council is barred from embarking on worthwhile projects. Meantime, vast sums are being spent on maintaining existing housing stocks, and rehabilitating private properties – the point that was touched on by Dick Mabon earlier, and where, I may say, the money’s being used to very good advantage.

But, overall, the future certainly looks bleak, as the private sector is also stagnant, mainly because of the present recession. And therefore the whole future, for the homeless, and for those hoping to acquire a new home – especially the young ones coming up, who are looking for new homes of their own – I may say that the future, at least the near future, doesn’t look too bright at all. However, we can but hope that things will improve as they go along – that’s certainly my sentiment! Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.


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