ANGRY Niddrie representatives have hit back after a community activist claimed their neighbourhood was plagued by drug-fuelled “zombies”.
Accusations in a national newspaper that addicts were turning the suburb into a no-go area also sparked a furious backlash from residents on social media.
Community workers were keen to point out progress made in health, housing and education.
“You wouldn’t want to walk about there in the dark,” the activist was quoted as saying. “They come out at night. They look like zombies.”
Susan Carr has worked at the Neighbourhood Alliance for more than 17 years – and a further ten years in Niddrie before that. She said that while the area has had problems with drugs and motorbike offences, crime was not an “acute problem”.
“We have regular meetings and social events in the evenings and not once have I felt threatened. It’s not an issue that’s been raised and hasn’t been a problem,” she said.
“In all the time I’ve worked here, there’s always been a community pride in the area. It might have been a place of poverty but there’s a great sense of community spirit in this area.
“What makes this area really special is it’s always had community pride which nobody can deny.
“When problems come about, people come together to make Niddrie as good as it could be.
“There’s huge pride in how far it’s come. There are beautiful areas and people should come down and have a look, not go on what people say.
“There’s a lot of quality housing and people are desperate to move into Craigmillar.”
Niddrie residents, meanwhile, took to social media to defend their community.
Catherine Brown posted on Facebook: “Well I’ve lived most of my life in Niddrie. I’m in my 60s and even if I won the lottery I still wouldn’t move out of Niddrie.”
And Jill Brooks posted: “This article takes away from all the hard-working, law-abiding families in this area.
“I have lived in the area for many years and although like many other areas there are people with drug problems I have never been scared to walk around at night or been frightened of ‘zombies’.”
Groups working in the area include the Jack Kane Community Centre on Niddrie Mains Road, which runs activities for young and old.
And having been saved from closure thanks to a community campaign, Castlebrae High School is going from strength to strength and is expected to move soon into a new complex.
A new velodrome is promised as part of the Meadowbank redevelopment while supermarket giants Lidl and Tesco have opened new stores in the area.
Green councillor Mary Campbell said: “I think Niddrie is a lovely place to live with a real community feel and really welcoming. It’s got great community groups doing great work.
“Within Edinburgh, people moving to the city and for younger people, they don’t see Niddrie in that negative way and it’s sad to see it portrayed as such.
“That’s the Niddrie of decades ago. Obviously there are people with drug addiction problems or mental health issues but that’s not just this area, that’s across the city.
“It’s a real shame and I think they’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”
Among acclaimed community projects is the Thistle Foundation, which promotes health and wellbeing, while the Neighbourhood Alliance is striving to empower local people.
The Kids in the Street project, based in Hay Avenue, is tackling crime and antisocial behaviour through sports and healthier eating.
And the White House Kitchen, a community cafe in Niddrie Mains Road, is also promoting healthier, affordable diets.
The area has also played an important role historically in the development of grassroots culture.
Dr Helen Crummy launched the Craigmillar Festival in the 1960s, a forerunner of the community arts movement. The event became so significant that it influenced London’s Notting Hill Festival.
Back in February, her son, Andrew Crummy, unveiled the first square of the Craigmillar Tapestry to celebrate the suburb.
Labour councillor Maureen Child said the area had a very strong community spirit. “Some people are a little poor, some people suffer health problems but I’ve represented the area for ten years and never felt unsafe,” she said. “There’s a lot of poverty but there is in other areas of Edinburgh – there’s a huge gap between rich and poor.”
Those suffering drink and drug addiction needed support not stigmatising, she added.
And Norrie Davies, a Craigmillar Community Council member of 20 years, said there was “good and bad” in the area, just like any other.
“There are a lot of houses being built and a lot of good things going on in the community,” he said.
Mr Davies pointed to healthy eating courses and football camps run by the likes of Kids in the Street as evidence of the progress being made.
“All communities have problem tenants and people who are substance abusers but there are a lot of positive things going on here,” he added.
Diana Paton, chief executive of the Thistle Foundation, has worked in the area for 40 years. She said she had witnessed “huge amounts of change” as newcomers move in.
The Thistle Foundation has more than 30 volunteers, many from Niddrie, who help others with everything from Tai Chi classes to gardening.
“We’re one of the biggest employers in the area and a huge number of our employees live in the area and a lot of our volunteers live in the area,” said Ms Paton.
“We absolutely wouldn’t be able to deliver what we do without the people of this area,” she added.
SNP MSP Ash Denham said: “The people of Niddrie and Craigmillar are sick and tired of being painted solely as neighbourhoods of drugs and crime, and sensationalised articles that make Niddrie look like a real-life ‘Walking Dead’ episode are unfair and do not help.
“Niddrie is a strong community full of kind, hard-working people who look out for one another. It has also been experiencing healthy development with numerous new residential projects going up throughout the community.
“Like other areas throughout the country, Niddrie has had its challenges with drug abuse and crime. Those issues should never be ignored. However, people suffering from addiction should not be made out to be monsters.”
Ms Denham said any addict could recover with treatment and resources. She also urged those with concerns about drug abuse in their family or communities to contact her office for help.
“The key to combatting crime and drugs in Scotland is not to berate local communities like Niddrie,” she said. I am proud to have my constituency office in Craigmillar, and anyone familiar with the area knows Niddrie and Craigmillar have a real community feel, with great schools, and organisations that have invested in the community.”