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Never Give Up: Foreword

By 12 February 2012No Comments

I first came to North Edinburgh when I started teaching at Craigroyston.  Between teaching there, working for the Pilton Central Association, living in the area and representing Pilton on the District Council, I was actively connected with the area for 18 years.  The world has changed since then.  So has North Edinburgh.  Most notably, local employment has disappeared with the de-industrialisation.  What has not changed is the spirit of the people.  This is a community which produces the fighters who tackled the powers-that-be over dampness.  It nurtured the Pilton Festival for many years (while, naturally, the Edinburgh Festival totally ignored it) and more recently the Muirhouse Festival.  The community itself created and financed the Pilton Youth Retreat at Ratho and the Adventure Playground.  The Pilton Sporting Club, from a totally local base of adult workers, many despite the club name from Drylaw, engaged countless local youngsters over many years.   It fought the housing privatisation and the enforced decanting of local families.  It poured support into the Midlothian mining communities during the 1984 strike.  It has always been a strong community with an open, generous heart.
West Granton was, in design terms, a modernist disaster, but, in the West Granton Tenants Association, it threw up one of the area’s most robust campaigning organisations in the 1980s.  West Pilton’s original, pre-war, design was based in part on some of the most modern architectural ideas in cities such as Vienna.  Of course such events as the Second World and the lack of timber intervened to transform what were in their time dream homes into flat-roofed, metal window-framed flats in which cold and dampness soon ravaged the lives of residents.  Local reaction to such circumstances could also teach lessons to contemporary visitors and residents alike.  Campaigns by residents and local doctors to eliminate tuberculosis, in part a result of the damp conditions, were not only successful in public health terms but also built a real sense of solidarity in the West Pilton and Royston-Wardieburn areas.  The battle against these conditions, as this fine history illustrates, tragically continued for decades as did the efforts of local people to improve the social, economic, recreational and cultural facilities of the community.
That community however was shaped by typically Edinburgh-establishment attitudes.   Not long after I started working at Craigroyston High School in 1973, I stood in the Head Teacher’s office, puzzled by a map on the wall which showed the school’s catchment boundaries.  “Why the zig-zag boundary,” I asked, “separating Silverknowes Primary’s area and Davidson Mains Primary’s?”
“Go and see,” I was told.  Of course it was the fence separating council housing and owner-occupied housing.  The ultimate irony was that the old Silverknowes Primary had a front door facing the private housing in Silverknowes but never a child entered from there.  Despite its name and the direction in which its door faced, the school recruited only from Muirhouse.  Edinburgh is truly a divided city.  It was then and it is now.  That division was not accidental but the deliberate result of the actions of the building companies and the City’s planners.
It was also a community which attracted fine professionals who served it with dedication, GPs, local priests and ministers and teachers, all contributed to the community.  The spirit of the community however rested in local residents whose often unsung work maintained countless local organisations  but it is noteworthy how many of the leaders of the community have been women.  Part of the strength of these activists was that they understood some simple truths.
They knew only too well that the world was ill-divided, and that “them that works the hardest are the least provided.”  They knew that none of the improvements to their lives or their community were given willingly but had to be won by their own efforts or their own struggles, usually against entrenched privilege or uncaring bureaucracy.  These truths shine through this history and hopefully will inspire others to continue to struggle for better and more rewarding lives in North Edinburgh in the years to come.
The above piece was used as the foreword for North Edinburgh Social History Group’s publication, Never Give Up, in 2011

Alex Wood in 1980 - as used in the publication


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