From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes

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This is the first of two posts by Peter Matthews who has been one of the key partners in the various social history/digital access initiatives that are currently being pioneered in Wester Hailes

As part of the activity around this blog an audio clip of Jean reminiscing about the community activism around Clovenstone Primary School was recently uploaded. This complements the activities done by the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland discussed here before. The sound clip came from me, Dr Peter Matthews, Heriot Watt University, as I am one of the partners in the project developing the “Off The Wall” QR codes and the digital totem pole.

My involvement in the project is in two areas. One of them is to evaluate and better understand all the stories being shared on this blog and on the Facebook page. I will talk about this in my next blog post. My other role is that I am fascinated by all of these stories of Wester Hailes and want to share some of them here.

I did the research for my PhD in Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park, Paisley to better understand the big changes the neighbourhoods went through in the 1990s. In 2007-8 I sat in on most of the meetings of the old Rep Council and talked to many community activists past and present. For me as an academic, it was a fantastic experience and very interesting to hear what had happened. These stories I recorded helped us as academics better understand what it feels like to live through experiences where your neighbourhood is substantially rebuilt.

I want to focus on the stories in this blog. Many people, and academics are particularly bad at this, discount peoples’s stories because, well they’re just stories. People forget things, or embellish details or don’t tell the truth. They are seen as not objective. For me, this is exactly why stories are so interesting. We all tell stories and it is how we make sense of what we experience and tell other people what has happened.

To give you more of an idea of this I want to look at a story told by Sheila when I spoke to her in 2007:

“Each area used to have it’s own, like Clovenstone’s got a community centre there, each area used to have its own wee hub and what have you where the community run them and there was community involvement. There was plenty youth activities and stuff like that most of that has now dwindled well all the hubs have dwindled away. There’s no a lot for the young people left in Wester Hailes whereas there used to be loads. I was also involved in a youth project as well which I gave fifteen years. I brought it from inception right through to mainstream funding but through the mainstream funding the open access work has disappeared and it’s now like teacher involvement social worker involvement and it’s more intense and more clinical – that’s a good word for it. It’s orientated against kids that have stability problems rather than the everyday young person who was actually supposed to be there to be a peer to those young folk with problems. I’ve seen a lot of them grow up a lot of them have changed from being those youngsters that were nightmares to actually quite nice young men and young females I meet them on the street.”

This is a really nice story of community activity and one that was often repeated by the people who I spoke to in Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park. It actually contains quite a few stories that are really important to understanding what has happened in the neighbourhood. Firstly there is a very positive story that starts about halfway through and ends with the last sentence – that Sheila helped get a youth group going and that the support that it provided meant that many of “these young folk with problems” are now “actually quite nice young men and young females”. Among all the bad headlines about Wester Hailes you don’t get to hear stories like this very often.

The second story is right there in the first sentence and quite depressed. “Each area used to have its own…community centre”. In both Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park in the years after 1999 there was a massive reduction in the sort of funding that kept community centres running. The lack of facilities for affordable fun activities for the community is still felt today. The third story is more complex and it was actually one of the main findings of my research. I called it the “narrative of project rise and fall”. It was told to me over and over again when I was doing my research and Sheila’s example is typical. Community activists start up a project and it’s an amazing success. They need a bit of money to keep it going and bring in a worker to take over some of the day-to-day tasks. It’s often at this stage that projects end because funding ceases and the worker leaves and the project ends. In this case the other fate befell the project – it was taken over as a mainstream service by the Social Work department and changed from its original purpose. It now just helped the most vulnerable young people. Very good work, but not what the original community-based project aimed to do.

There is so much in this story that it is almost too difficult to unpack! As an academic who is interested in policies to support neighbourhoods like Wester Hailes I think a lot more money should be available for projects such as this and it should be a predictable amount every year that community groups can spend on what they want. In many ways as researchers involved in helping with this blog and the totem pole we’re also worried that this story will repeat itself again. We have all really enjoyed working in Wester Hailes and think it’s brilliant that we can use money from the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities programme [] to help. A big question though is: what next? I will cover this a bit more in my next post where I will talk more about the Facebook page.



Here’s the last of the series of Community Maps produced by Wester Hailes Rep Council. This one was drawn up in the Autumn of 1997 and, unlike the incremental changes that occured during the nine years between the 1983 and 1992 versions, the differences a further five years on are quite dramatic. As with the other maps, if you click on it you’ll be able to to zoom in and see any bit you wish in more detail.

Essentially it’s a story of large scale demolitions and, in some cases, redevelopment. Starting at the top, the blocks of Council housing at 20-31 Clovenstone Park are labelled as due for demolition that year (we think this actually took place in 1998). Other Council blocks at 1-18 Clovenstone Drive have already been demolished and replaced by a new housing development – Alcorn Square. This was the result of a partnership between Miller Homes, the City Council and Scottish Homes to build the first new-homes-for-sale scheme in the area.

Moving down towards the shopping centre, a number of the Wester Hailes Drive Council blocks have gone and been replaced by low rise housing built by Prospect in the re-named Dumbeg Park. Just below that, all the multis at Wester Hailes Park and Wester Hailes Drive have also disappeared and the two sites are earmarked for “Proposed Commercial/Leisure Development”.

Finally, on the other side of the railway, the Westburn Gardens multis have been pulled down, and in their place Prospect’s new Westburn and Morvenside developments have been constructed, extending beyond the old multis site and into a large greenfield area down as far as the Canal.

Other changes to note are the re-naming of the shopping centre – now Westside Plaza – and, adjacent to it, the new multiplex cinema.


Recently we did a couple of posts based on a major Sentinel article in 2001 celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Wester Hailes Representative Council.

We highlighted the historical process by which residents’ action groups had formed and developed over the years culminating in the unique and sophisticated democratic structure that was the Rep Council. What it was all about, we said, was people doing it for themselves – getting together and making things happen to improve their lot.

We mentioned the work that had been done to represent and empower the people of Wester Hailes; how the Rep Council had provided a forum for open debate and become an engine for the formulation of strategic, community-driven policies. The organisation’s 1994-5 Annual Report, a copy of which we’ve discovered in the Sentinel’s archive, gives lots more information about just how extensive these activities were.

The efforts of 27 Neighbourhood Council fed into the main Representative Council. These were the bedrock on which everything else was based. Between them they covered every part of Wester Hailes and were tasked with getting as many residents as possible involved in community action. They met every month and developed individual annual work plans to improve the housing and environment in their area and tackle any other issues of concern identified by their memberships.

An Executive managed the staff and resources of the organisation according to decisions and policies agreed at the full Representative Council. there was also a Neighbourhood Sub-Committee “to encourage the development of strong and healthy Neighbourhood Councils”, a Marketing Group and a Staff Sub-Group. The other key element in terms of representation was a panel of elected Spokespersons “to represent the views of the Representative Council to other agencies and to initiate the development of community policy around their particular area of responsibility”. There were over a dozen of these including Childcare, Community Facilities, Economic Development, Employment & Training, Education, Housing and the Environment.

The Rep Council’s staff were headed by a Co-ordinator and had three main outreach teams: the Community Leadership Development Unit to provide training in leadership skills for those representing the community; the Community Housing Information Project whose aim was to promote and develop tenant involvement in housing matters; and, the Neighbourhood Support Team which supported grass roots community activity and the Neighbourhood Councils.


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?