Included in the Sentinel’s two page spread on the occasion of Rep Council’s 20th anniversary was a potted history covering the growth of community-led initiatives in Wester Hailes leading up to and including the Rep Council itself.
Interestingly, it would appear that what happened at the start had, by that time, more or less faded from the collective memory. The Sentinel pinpointed 1973 as the year when the first Wester Hailes wide organisation was set up: “existing tenants groups amalgamated into Wester Hailes Association of Tenants (WHAT) and campaigned for better services and improvements to housing“.
In fact, WHAT was set up as the result of a public meeting in December 1970 and pre-dated any other tenants groups. Subsequently, as the construction of the estate proceeded, smaller groups representing the individual neighbourhood areas (seven in all) formed and affiliated themselves to WHAT.
Also missing was any reference to WHAT’s successor, known locally as Scooby Doo, which came into being when the Social and Community Development Progamme (SCDP) was set up, funded by the UK Government and the EEC. Scooby Doo was the local advisory committee established to help decide how this money was spent throughout Wester Hailes. It included representatives from each of the tenants organisation and became the main focus for the community’s efforts to get better facilities supplanting WHAT which disappeared from the scene (for a lot more information about these early days see our blog article YOU NAME IT, WE HAVE NOT GOT IT!).
After 1973, the next years highlighted in the Sentinel’s history were 1977 – when community workshops, precursors of the “huts”, were built and 1978 – which saw the formation of the Wester Hailes Urban Regeneration Programme Action Committee (have a go at saying that three times quickly!) the successor umbrella group to Scooby Doo.
Then, in 1981, came the birth of the Rep Council:
“The Wester Hailes Representative Council is formed to provide a united voice for the community of Wester Hailes. Four forums are set up to co-ordinate action on Local Facilities, Housing, Youth and Media. Voting representatives from the existing community groups meet monthly to discuss estate wide policy and instigate action.”
By 1983, the Rep Council had gone “from strength to strength” with many more initiatives begun and the membership has grown to “over 30 locally constituted groups”. And then, in 1987, a new, expanded democratic structure was put in place:
“The Neighbourhood Strategy begins with the development of Neighbourhood Councils. The intention is that these would be locally accountable committees of residents pursuing their own workplans for physical, social and cultural improvements in the area.”
Come 1992, there were twenty six Neighbourhood Councils each with a voting representative at Rep Council meetings and elected spokespersons linking up with other projects and partnerships.
Over these twenty years the Rep Council, building on the efforts of its predecessor organisations, developed a highly sophisticated participatory framework and demonstrated a track record of innovation and sustained development. It brought together the local groups working to make Wester Hailes a better place and provided a forum for open debate and the formulation of strategic, community-driven policies. Will we ever see its like again?