Thursday, 10 November 2016

Historic Housing Day: A Wester Hailes Story

Samar has joined LHSA for a year on the Scottish Council on Archive's Skills for the Future Programme. As a part of her traineeship, it is encouraged that she completes training days at a variety of archives in order to gain a broad understanding of the archive sector.

As a part of my traineeship, I had a day out of the office attending an event for Housing History Day, which was jointly run by the Tower Block Project and the Our Place in Time Project. I had a really great time, and learnt lots of new things that I thought would be worth sharing with you!

The morning was spent at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which is an organisation that investigates, cares for and promotes Scotland’s historic environment. We participated in a series of workshops about the history of housing in Scotland, which were led by Diane Watters and Dawn Ewers. During our workshops, we were given an introduction to the Tower Block Project. Through the Tower Block Project, HES is creating an interactive visual archive of Britain’s multi-storey public housing with the aim of recording every tower block built, including those that have already been demolished. The project is being run by Edinburgh College of Art and recently received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help digitise photographs and support local outreach initiatives which encourage high-rise residents to tell their stories, and aid them in telling community histories. In order to expand the Tower Block Project’s collection, HES have also been collaborating with Our Place in Time, a project based in Wester Hailes which aims to record the constantly evolving history of the Wester Hailes estate.

Archive Images of Wester Hailes courtesy of Prospect's Facebook page.

We also attended a seminar which provided us with guidance on how to research the history of buildings in Scotland, with a specific focus on local history and housing. HES have a number of diverse resources available on architectural history, including preservation registers, publications, building surveys and inventories, aerial photographs of Scotland from several time periods, as well as 18th and 19th-century etchings, drawings and paintings of residential buildings and estates. After the workshops, we were given a tour of HES’ archive and library, which gave us an opportunity to see some of these materials in person.

Archive Images of Wester Hailes courtesy of Prospect's Facebook page.

In the afternoon, we travelled to Wester Hailes together to visit Our Place in Time’s archive. Our Place in Time has not only collaborated with HES, but a variety of community organisations in Wester Hailes and West Edinburgh, as well as other institutions within the wider Edinburgh community. One of these community organisations is Prospect, a community housing information service which houses Our Place in Time’s archive. When we arrived at Prospect, we were given a presentation introducing the Our Place in Time project. We learnt that in the process of recording the history of Wester Hailes, the project ensures that all Wester Hailes residents, past and present, can contribute to the documentation of their history. The information gained by this project also hopes to help plan for, and secure, future opportunities for the Wester Hailes area and community. In order to ensure this, Prospect have created a blog entirely dedicated to the project which includes articles, images of archive materials, community maps and a timeline of Wester Hailes’ history. In addition, Our Place in Time also provides online access to their archive materials through their own website and very popular Facebook page ‘A Wester Hailes Story’.

Archive Images of Wester Hailes courtesy of Prospect's Facebook page.

The archive material I most enjoyed exploring at Prospect was the ‘Sentinel’ collection. The Sentinel was a community newspaper which ran in the Wester Hailes area from the late 1970s through to the year 2000. The Sentinel provided a voice for the community, both within Wester Hailes and out to the rest of Edinburgh city. The Sentinel archive is now fully digitised, broadening its reach to a global community. After the digitisation project was launched online, local social media activity led to a relaunch of the newspaper as a digital news service. Citizen journalists around Wester Hailes collect stories on smart phones and tablets and upload them to the relaunched Sentinel.

Archive Images of Wester Hailes courtesy of Prospect's Facebook page.

We ended the day with a social history walk around Wester Hailes, which was led by Eoghan Howard, one of the partners of the Our Place in Time project, and a Wester Hailes resident. The walk demonstrated the area’s history, the history of post-war housing in Wester Hailes tower blocks, and the narrative of Wester Hailes as told in the Sentinel.

My favourite site that we visited on the walk had to be the totem pole next to Union Canal. It was installed in December 2012 and is a symbolic “ladder to the clouds” which represents all the information about Wester Hailes which is now in the digital “cloud” online. The pole includes 5 quick-response (QR) codes which, when scanned with a smart phone, links passers-by with all the online resources about Wester Hailes made available through the Our Place in Time project. The pole was designed by local people who decided what images represented Wester Hailes, and the carving of the designs was also done by the local community through a series of workshops organised by community-led arts charity and social enterprise WHALE Arts Agency. You can watch the ceremony in which the totem pole was raised online

A picture we took by the totem pole courtesy of Prospect's Twitter account.

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