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.

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Surfing Forward

Computer use

Wester Hailes has less than 50 years of history which means that long term trends evolving gradually over decades are not always reflected in the events and level of change within the community.  One area which is a definite exception to this is the fast paced development of computer technology and IT skills.  So much has changed so quickly that it can feel like we’re remembering a long bygone era when we look back at the size, shape, capacity and use of computers in Wester Hailes only a couple of decades ago.

ComputerBack in 1981, the Sentinel reported that the WHEC had a suite of four APPLE II micro computers for public use.  The micros had floppy disk drives, a printer and colour monitors.  As well as offering bookable slots, the computers were also going to be used to run short courses, including practical sessions on BASIC programming and an introduction to computer graphics.  You can read the article in full here.

By 1997, Wester Hailes was the first council estate to have an internet café, Cyberbytes Internet CafeCyberbytes, established by the Young Tenants Support Organisation.  As well as offering local residents access to computer training, the café provided cheap access to the Internet.  Although the Internet had been around since the late 1980s, it was still relatively difficult to engage with for many people particularly due to cost of use and a scarcity of computers within homes.  The Sentinel devoted its centre pages in April 1997 to explaining more about the Internet and its potential uses and benefits for local residents.

tech12 IT skills became increasingly important as essential requirements for work, and training courses started to reflect this.  In 2002, the new Learning Shop opened in the Shopping Centre and had 50 computers available for use.  Courses on offer included word processing, databases, spreadsheets, presentation graphics and the internet.

So if the Sentinel had still been around today, what would it have been reporting technology wise? WHALE IT suite Perhaps the rise of the smart phone and tablets, the power of Google or the explosion in use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Online communication is now a routine part of life for the majority.  Whilst seeing images of now long outdated computers can make us realise how much has changed so quickly, the history of IT in Wester Hailes also shows the importance of trying to combat the digital divide.  For although access to IT in the present day is now widely available, it is by no means universal.  Digital exclusion still creates barriers and whilst sometimes this can be generational, the number of people facing digital exclusion is higher in areas where incomes are lower and more people are marginalised due to their circumstances.  The provision of IT training over the years and facilities such as the Cyberbytes café was in recognition that people within Wester Hailes were in danger of being left behind with regard to computing experience and skills.

Combating digital exclusion is now more important than ever as access to services moves increasingly online.  One of the current known facts about the new controversial benefits system Universal Credit, is that applications are to be made online.  For applicants who do not have access to a computer within their home, this will mean they need to book a computer at their local library, Job Centre etc.  If they are not confident in using IT, a 90 minute application process may prove daunting and in some cases impossible.  Wester Hailes led the way across the years with initiatives such as the internet café and the Learning Shop. Hopefully with new projects and resources, local organisations will still be able to ensure people in Wester Hailes gain the skills and support they need to get online.


Death Of A Dream

YTS Logo

“One of the saddest things about unemployment is the number of young people involved.  These young people with their abundant energy and fresh ideas have much to contribute to society and it is society that must suffer from this present crisis.”

Unemployment amongst young people in the UK continues to be a cause for concern as the country faces difficult economic times and the on-going effects of austerity measures.  However, these words were written 35 years ago by the Chair of the Wester Hailes Youth Opportunity Programme as the WHYOP was launched.  He went on to say

 “Wester Hailes has never been slow to face up to its responsibilities and is proving true to form in this new venture which offers young people an alternative to the dole queue.”

yts traineeWhilst youth training programmes attracted their fair amount of critics, Wester Hailes seemed to find creative ways to provide placements, training and improved community services.  The scheme was able to offer placements for example with the Sentinel, the community café and a recycling project.  From an early stage the project took a holistic approach, recognising that some young people needed a broader range of training including life skills to become fully equipped for work.  This inevitably raised the project’s costs but enabled the scheme to have a more positive and permanent impact for the young people involved. Over its lifetime it had a 95% success rate with its trainees and was regarded as one of the most successful projects of its kind.

When the Youth Opportunity Programme was replaced by the Youth Training 10th birthdayScheme, the programme in Wester Hailes was adapted to meet the new requirements. In 1988, the Sentinel reported on 10 years of the Wester Hailes YTS.  During that time nearly 400 young people had benefited from being involved.  It was also one of the longest running voluntary YTS group in the country.  It also specialised in working with young people who found it difficult to access mainstream training, providing additional support and training to ensure they could take up training opportunities.  You can read more about their success story here.

The project got to a stage when it really needed new premises and in 1990, the Sentinel reported on the on-going tussle with the Wester Hailes Partnership over the promised funding that had yet to materialise.  When Malcom Rifkind visited the YTS, the manager took the opportunity to raise the issue with him, with the matter being reported in the paper.

Wester Hailes young people demonstrating against the YTS closureIn 1992, the scheme faced its biggest challenge, which sadly proved to be its last.  The main funding came from Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise Ltd.  When the government made cuts to their funding, those cuts were passed on making the YTS unsustainable.  In April 1992 it was announced that the YTS would close.  The Sentinel paid tribute to all the scheme’s achievements and pointed out the many ways that the wider community had benefited from the support and activities of the YTS trainees.

last yts trainees


The Greening of Hailes

Wester Hailes

Early photos of Wester Hailes are dominated by the high rise blocks separated by wide seas of concrete and tarmac.  The green spaces that were included were certainly spacious but were not usable public space and sometimes seemed barren and arbitrary in design.   Efforts to keep pedestrians away from traffic greening partnership photoswithout consulting on where residents actually needed pedestrian routes simply resulted in people using the grass verges or crossing the roads at sometimes dangerous points rather than following official paths.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the work and legacy of the Wester Hailes Partnership Group which oversaw an ambitious programme of development for the area.  Part of its strategy included improving local green spaces and addressing a number of environmental issues affecting the area including pedestrian routes, roadside footpaths and increasing the number of trees and plants in the area.

In 1990 the Sentinel devoted a double page spread to the Greenway Improvement Scheme.  Forming the pedestrian “backbone” of Wester Hailes, it  was supposed to be a 20th century Royal Mile for the area, linking housing with local facilities and services.  But lack of investment and minimal maintenance had led to the route being underused due to concerns about safety.  Public consultation had shown that the top priorities for improvement were lighting, repaving and new planting.  Plans for upgrading the route included new junctions and focal points as well as redesigning the paths.

This scheme was one of a number of environmental projects that were aimed at improving the area in particular through creating more distinctive accessible green spaces that linked neighbourhoods rather than separated them.  The Wester Hailes Land Use Unit reported on progress in the 1992 Representative Council Annual Report.  Environmental improvements included roadside and boundary planting aimed at “greening” Wester Hailes and developing a plan for roadside footpaths.  Over the next couple of years an extensive planting programme was put into action resulting in thousands of additional plants and trees for the area.

greening column picThe Land Use Unit also developed a proposal to employ an Urban Environmental Ranger.  This proposal was submitted to the Urban Aid panel with the application being successful.  This project was the first of its kind with the Ranger engaged in a variety of projects with local children and young people.  The Ranger worked with schools and neighbourhood councils encouraging local residents to become involved in litter picking, planting and other environmentally focused projects.  A Wildlife Club for children was also established for children to learn more about the environment through games and activities.  A regular column Environmental Outlook written by the Ranger featured in the Sentinel for several years during the 1990s.

wildlife club

Is Wester Hailes now greener than it was?  With Spring finally arriving, now would be a good time for residents to judge for themselves.  Last year the increased use of tarmac in the area was raised at a Wester Hailes Community Council meeting with concern being expressed that trees and shrubs are being cut back or removed and replaced by areas of tarmac as have some areas of grassland.  The issue is not clear cut however, with some residents indicating that they preferred this to overgrown shrubs and the associated issues such as rubbish and blocked paths.  Yet with so much work and investment over the years being put into developing Wester Hailes’ green space it seems a shame that this might now be in danger of being reduced.  Last year the City of Edinburgh Council published a report, the first of its kind in Scotland that estimated the value of Edinburgh’s trees in absorbing carbon dioxide, thus reducing pollution.  The 600,000 trees across the city are estimated to have an economic value in removing airborne pollution of around £2.3 million.  Announcing the report, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Government’s Environment & Climate Change Minister commented

“Urban trees, together with community woods, parks and green spaces are the lungs of our Capital.”

The trees planted back in the early 1990s in Wester Hailes are playing their part in reducing pollution.  Hopefully, they will be able to carry on this role for a long time yet as well as bringing a wealth of other environmental benefits to the community.  In 1993 the Environment Outlook column explained that many of the newly planted trees were native Scottish species, trees that would have been growing in the area if the land had not been cleared.  As shown below, the column gave information about the trees and some of the folklore associated with them.

greening column  trees


TEN YEARS AFTER

It was originally intended that the Wester Hailes Partnership would have a lifespan of 10 years, and conclude operations in 1999. However, under the section headed “What Remains To be Done”, the 1997 Partnership report recognised that there was a “considerable regeneration task remaining” and announced that its work would continue on until 2002.

Here we are, just over ten years on from that, a good point at which to assess whether or not the Partnership wrought any fundamental changes to an estate which had struggled from the outset with housing, socioeconomic and environmental problems and to ask to what extent it succeeded in bringing lasting benefits to the lives of the local residents.

The extended 1999 – 2002 programme was to be driven forward under the aegis of a new development strategy entitled “Maintaining the Momentum”. This was published in September 1998 and talked rather grandly of “enhancing and entrenching…the development of innovative, community owned and managed service delivery agencies” while its vision statement identified “economic vibrancy” and “an empowered, active” local community as key objectives.

As has been noted in previous posts in this series, unemployment and the local economy were areas in which the Partnership had struggled to make any significant headway. Nevertheless, the 1997 report was bullish about the future. In particular, it highlighted a new flagship initiative, the Westside Training Agency, which had just been launched to provide training and improve access to employment. It also anticipated further job creation through “a range of commercial and leisure developments” on vacant land at Wester Hailes Park and Drive.

However, even before “Maintaining the Momentum” had been published, the Westside Training Agency had collapsed, after less than six months in existence, due to the discovery of what the Sentinel reported as “financial irregularities”. Also, one of the main achievements trumpeted by the 1997 report, the Greenway Centre, a purpose built leisure and civic centre, survived only until 2003 when it closed because of financial difficulties. The lease of the building was bought over by the Wester Hailes Land & Property Trust who converted it into office space to let.

The commercial developments at the Park and Drive never happened. Various schemes which were mooted never came to fruition. Part of the site was eventually redeveloped for housing while the greater part lay empty and derelict for m0re than 15 years and is only now being partly redeveloped as a Healthy Living Centre. While this is a very welcome development and will provide new, modern facilities to serve the local community, it is also something of a misnomer as the majority of the floorspace will consist of City Council offices occupied by relocated staff and will not create a significant number of new jobs within Wester Hailes itself.

The 1997 report spoke of the the Wester Hailes Rep Council as being “one of the most sophisticated local democratic structures in Britain – from neighbourhood through to estate-wide management”. And yet, by 2002, the final year of the “Maintaining the Momentum” programme, the existence of this lauded institution was being called into question following an independent evaluation which concluded that it had become overly bureaucratic and had lost sight of its original objectives. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2007, but only three years later voluntarily dissolved itself following withdrawal of funding the previous year and having had to make all its staff redundant. In addition, as a direct consequence of this, most of the Neighbourhood Councils who made up the grassroots structure of the the Rep Council went out of existence.

The demise of the Sentinel, latterly the West Edinburgh Times, had preceded this in 2008, also as a result of the withdrawal of funding, and after 35 years in existence. That same year, the Tesco store in Dumbryden closed after nearly three decades and relocated to Hermiston Gait despite efforts to get the company to redevelop land adjacent to the Wester Hailes shopping centre (could this be the only recorded case of Tesco actually moving out of an area?). In the context of these losses, it is hard to see “Maintaining the Momentum” as being anything other than a horribly ironic title for the culmination of the Partnership’s 13 year long efforts to transform and revitalise Wester Hailes.

Nor do statistics suggest that anything was achieved in tackling employment issues. Through 2002 to 2008 unemployment remained well above 20% in Wester Hailes (around 30% in Clovenstone and Dumbryden) as against an Edinburgh figure of under 10%. In other words, there was no discernible improvement (in fact, actually an increase) compared to the rate at the start of the Partnership, while the gap between Wester Hailes and the city as a whole had remained as large as ever. Furthermore, since 2004, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, none of the data zones that make up Wester Hailes have moved out of the worst 15%. The majority remain in the worst 10%, over half in the worst 5% and, in terms of the key indicators used to measure SIMD, employment is the one which has fared the worst.

It cannot be denied that a great deal was achieved in terms of housing and the environment. The vast majority of the multi-storey blocks, containing the worst accommodation, was demolished, transforming the skyline of Wester Hailes. In many cases, these monstrosities were replaced with lower density housing which was much more popular with local people. Hundreds of existing homes were completely refurbished. A greater variety of housing tenure was created and people started moving into the area to buy the new private housing which was on offer. The general environment was improved and Wester Hailes, to this day, remains significantly greener in its physical aspects compared to many similar peripheral estates built after the war. The canal was re-opened after a gap of thirty years, partly thanks to the efforts of the community and the Partnership, and remains another enduring asset.

Nevertheless, huge amounts of money were poured into Wester Hailes during the 1990s – to the extent that it got the nickname “Treasure Island” – and the underlying issues of poverty and deprivation have remained, more or less unchanged, up to the present. Most of the initiatives designed to tackle these problems had little real impact and quickly faded away along with the vision statements, high ambitions and bold promises that characterised the rhetoric which surrounded the Partnership. Wester Hailes is still, as the Partnership proclaimed at the outset, “full of potential” but, sadly, insufficient momentum was generated and maintained across the board and much that made this a special community has been lost along the way.


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.


WESTER HAILES – FULL OF POTENTIAL

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.