Story of the Capital’s slums to be told in forthcoming art project

Visitors are shown the interior of the new high flats at Muirhouse in Edinburgh February 1966.
Visitors are shown the interior of the new high flats at Muirhouse in Edinburgh February 1966.
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A UNIQUE arts project is set to tell the story of Edinburgh’s slum clearances from the mid-20th century.

Pennywell Road-based North Edinburgh Theatre will capture the experiences of families who moved into Muirhouse from the 1950s to 1970s.

The I See Tomorrow work will include a series of monologues, a film, a photographic exhibition and a programme of radio broadcasts.

“Being able to share this important community story is all the more important as Muirhouse undergoes another period of change with the plan for 700 new homes in the area,” said Kate Wimpress, director of theatre hosts North Edinburgh Arts.

“The learning and research that are inherent within the project will contribute to the regeneration of the area, offering reasons for residents old and new to come together to share the common experience of joining a new community.”

Retired electrician Willie Black’s mum Isobella lived with her parents and four brothers and sisters in a single-end home in Dunbars Close, off the Royal Mile, after the war.

Despite the cramped 
conditions of seven living in one room plus a kitchen, Willie, 66, says they were fun times.

“My mum loved it,” he said. “They were always dancing and carrying on.”

The family moved first to Ferry Road Drive, where Willie was born in 1950, then on to Wester Drylaw Drive.

“It was just corn fields before,” said Willie, of the area they called Greater Pilton. “People looked at the new houses and thought they were great. There were tennis courts, bowling greens and football pitches in the middle of Pilton. We had great times going down to the beach on our bikes or going camping.”

Having given talks in schools about the area, Willie is keenly anticipating the new arts project dedicated to the slum clearances.

“People need to know where they come from – it’s important,” he said. “This will tell a new generation why they live where they do and what was there before.”

Working on the project will be acclaimed photographer Elliot Hatherley, musician and storyteller David Francis and theatre maker Stephanie Knight.

North Edinburgh Arts has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant of £9,700 to deliver the work.

Research is under way and heritage collected will be recorded and shared with others in innovative ways to include community events, an exhibition and soundtrack of both traditional and pop songs of the time.

A premier screening is scheduled for October with the exhibition and radio play next year.

The project follows up North Edinburgh Theatre’s sell out success of the 1d Tenement Opera in January 2015, based on the lives of people who lived in an Edinburgh tenement.

“We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, North Edinburgh Arts will be opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year,” said Lucy Casot, of 
HLF.

andy.shipley@edinburghnews.com