IT was on August 24, 1998 that 12 good and righteous people sat down together for the first time to try and find a way to make whole what was considered at the time to be a very divided city.
The remit of the Lord Provost’s Commission on Social Exclusion, set up by Councillor Eric Milligan, involved a serious attempt to tackle the social inequities in Edinburgh which were becoming ever more apparent as the city boomed economically.
The aim was to find a way to make all those living in poverty, living on the peripheral housing estates, living on the edge of life, feel like they were part of this new go-ahead Edinburgh and not just inconvenient truths shunted to the outskirts and into which millions of guilt-assuaging public money would be poured with little result.
It was a bold move. The sort of thing that marked Edinburgh out as a city which was different to others. A move which said that despite its economic wealth, Edinburgh had a social conscience which meant more than ensuring there were enough social workers to deal with “problem families”.
A glossy report was published. Good games were talked, social inclusion became buzz words for the Labour administration’s policies of the time. There were even some great books written by brilliant Scottish authors and sold to fundraise for a new social inclusion charity, the One City Trust, which would be funded by the council to action the report’s recommendations.
But then what happened? What concrete measures actually changed anything for the people who were excluded from Edinburgh life?
Did the children from Craigmillar who never went nearer to the city centre than Cameron Toll shopping centre suddenly realise what was available to them? Did people in Muirhouse and Wester Hailes become regular visitors to the magnificent galleries, museums, even gardens of “the town”?
Perhaps they did for a while – do they still? Or has the relentless round of visits to job centres and benefit offices, food banks and charity shops in these recessionary times made them more excluded than ever?
I ask because it’s the launch of Edinburgh’s Christmas this weekend with all its sparkling lights, festive Spiegeltents, carousels, big wheels, fir tree mazes, market stalls, Santa and mulled wine, and it reminded me that at one time such an event would be used as a way of bridging the gap between the excluded and the privileged included.
Christmas should be the one time of the year when those who barely set foot in the city centre the other 12 months want to come into town and soak up the atmosphere; to feel part of Edinburgh’s Christmas.
Yet if they do get on a bus, then “experiencing the atmosphere” might be all they can do. You can look but don’t touch. For the price of the rides and other events are not remotely affordable for those whose incomes are way below the median.
Totting up how much it could cost my family of five to take part in almost all that will be on offer and it was around £158 – without forking out for over-priced food and drink which will undoubtedly be sold.
We’re fortunate enough to be able to still come in and give the kids a rationed experience, but what about those who have little to no disposable income. How are they to be included in Edinburgh’s Christmas?
It’s not the job of Underbelly, the company contracted to run the attractions, to think about social inclusion. They just want to offer a good experience and make a profit.
But the Christmas and Hogmanay festivities are funded by the city council to the tune of £1.29 million, and much will be made of how this is a small investment for the return reaped by the city in tourism publicity terms and the boost to shops and hotels and therefore employment.
Which is all great – but is there a trickle-down effect? Where are the cheap-day family tickets for those on benefits or the free ride vouchers being sent to schools for the kids living in areas still stuck in deprivation no matter how many times houses are knocked down and rebuilt?
That Lord Provost’s Commision reported that the gap between the haves and have nots would widen if nothing was done. Yet here we are 15 years on and the streets of our more deprived areas are awash with cheque centres instead of credit union offices and people in Pilton are still more likely to die early than those in Barnton.
At a time when the social divides have never been more obvious across the UK, as well as in Edinburgh, sharing a little of the Christmas spirit to those who are excluded through lack of work and opportunity and money, would be a real gift.
Adventurous approach will pay dividends
HOT on the heels of the council hoping to appoint a “play champion” to encourage outdoor activities and fun approaches to learning, six Edinburgh primaries are having their playgrounds upgraded to include wigwams, timber caves and treehouses.
My recollection of school playgrounds are hard, knee-scraping concrete with the occasional low wall thrown in as an extra hazard. They kept the school nurse busy. Even nowadays some playgrounds can be more concentration camp than adventure time. So here’s hoping more schools will get a Bear Grylls makeover.
How to tackle the bullies in an imperfect world
A NEW anti-bullying campaign (pictured) which urges physically bullied children not to hit back has the old “two wrongs don’t make a right” attitude at its core. And of course in a perfect world that is utterly correct.
Bullying should be reported and punished by schools and parents. Yet there are times that standing up to bullies is the only way and if that means hitting back, then that’s OK with me.