Ten years ago, the Sentinel produced a two page centre spread to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Wester Hailes Representative Council.
Heading it up was a piece by Connie Gourlay, the Chairperson of the organisation, which in a few sentences got to the heart of what the Rep Council was about and what made it special. Connie invited readers to think back and consider how much had improved since its birth in 1981. All of it, she wrote, had been achieved “by people working together and growing in confidence”.
“The Rep Council has united the community and given it a strong voice. We now work directly with the Health Board, the Police, the City Council and also with local colleges and the Private Sector to keep the improvements coming. Imagine what life here would have been like if we hadn’t started organising ourselves and getting things done.”
People doing it for themselves – getting together, deciding what had to be tackled and making it happen – a community in action.
The achievements over the years had been considerable. As the Sentinel put it “one way or another” the Rep Council had played an important role on many of the major changes which had taken place. It had:
“…set up a host of community led projects…successfully campaigned for the demolition of the high rise flats in Westburn, Hailesland and Wester Hailes Drive…fought for improved housing conditions including total renovations of whole areas…helped in the successful campaign to build a police station in Wester Hailes…led the way in the fight for a town centre…played a big part in the re-opening of the canal.”
The article included a number of quotes praising the effectiveness of the organisation in terms of its ability to represent and empower the people of Wester Hailes:
“The Rep Council reaches people and does things in a way that National and Local Government just can’t do” – Dr John Reid, Secretary of State for Scotland, 27 November 2000.
“Through its Representative Council, Wester Hailes enjoys one of the most sophisticated and democratic community structures in Britain” – Strathclyde University Study, 1996.
“The strong sense of community in Wester Hailes has been created by including all the residents in its regeneration. Much of the credit must go to the Wester Hailes Representative Council who I met to learn the lessons of how to really involve people in transforming their community” – Wendy Alexander, Minister for Communities
“The Rep Council sits at the top table…if you involve the community you get better design, better results and a better area in which to live” – Jackie Baillie, Minister for Social Justice.
In particular, there was a personal tribute from Iain Gray, the local MSP or, as the Sentinel described it, a message “From the Scottish Parliament to the People’s Parliament”. In it, Iain extolled the success of the Rep Council but he also drew attention to what he regarded as the most important aspect of all which was that it was underpinned by a network of local Neighbourhood Councils. Through them the Rep Council was able to extend democracy down to the very grass roots and allow hundreds of locals to have their say. “I should know”, he said “I attend all the AGMs and have to face the questions they have about why local problems have not been resolved”. That, he concluded, made the Rep Council “a powerful vehicle…unique in Edinburgh, if not in Scotland”.