The walls come tumbling down: Sighthill tower blocks to be demolished

William and Maureen Murdoch, left, and Alan and Norma Graham say goodbye to their former home

William and Maureen Murdoch, left, and Alan and Norma Graham say goodbye to their former home

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TURNING the key eagerly in the lock, quickly flinging the front door open, William and Maureen Murdoch took an excited gasp as their eyes frantically scanned their new home.

Crisp clean walls, a fresh new kitchen, a sitting room they had longed for, and two spacious bedrooms that would soon be filled with the laughter of the three children the young couple would go on to have.

The Broomhouse roundabout as seen from the top of Glenalmond Court

The Broomhouse roundabout as seen from the top of Glenalmond Court

It was January 1967 and William and Maureen could not quite believe their luck when they were offered one of the first flats in the council’s 16- storey Glenalmond Court tower block.

“I remember we were very excited when we got the keys,” says former cleaner Maureen, 73. “It was a big empty flat and it was like ‘Wow, it’s massive! How will we ever fill it?’

“We really enjoyed our time there and I know we would have stayed forever.”

But on Sunday, along with its neighbouring Hermiston and Weir Courts, the iconic Sighthill tower block will be demolished as the city council makes way for new housing built to modern- day standards and requirements.

Christine Notman, one of the last to leave Glenalmond

Christine Notman, one of the last to leave Glenalmond

Maureen and William were one of the first families to arrive and one of the last to leave the area, moving out of their ninth-storey flat just before the Christmas of 2009, before demolition crews got to work on stripping the buildings of their interiors.

Today, along with former neighbours – some of whom they have known since the 1960s – they are saying goodbye to the homes in which they spent a huge chunk of their lives, raising their children, toasting the arrival of many a new year, and sharing countless gatherings with family and friends.

“It’ll be a sad occasion, but I really hope Maureen doesn’t cry,” says William, 78, who used to work at the SMT garage in Fountainbridge.

“We raised our family in the tower block and for that reason it will always hold special memories. It was home and it will be hard, but nice, to say cheerio to it.”

Norma and Alan Graham share the sentiment having spent 20 years in Glenalmond Court, moving in to the fifth floor the same year as William and Maureen arrived on the ninth.

“It was just lovely – a great place to live,” says Norma, 73, a retired supervisor at Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

“It was the sense of community I liked, the fact that everyone spoke to one another and would take turns washing the stairs, that type of thing.

“The children grew up together, went to school together, and would play outside in the park. It was great.

“We kept the same neighbours for so many years, and a lot of them are still living nearby, which is nice.”

Moving from a tiny tenement flat in Fountainbridge to the lofty heights of Glenalmond Court was an exciting prospect for Norma and Alan, 75, a retired sales manager with Smith’s crisps. There they set up home, raised their two children Susan, 42, and Carol, 41, Norma helping to run a local playscheme for youngsters in the area during the school holidays.

Today they live in Stenhouse. But by the time they left the Sighthill flat, eager for a bigger property for their family, Norma had had enough.

“I feel that when a lot of the original tenants moved out, the council was just putting anybody in,” she says. “Some people would use the lifts as a toilet, which wasn’t nice and also very embarrassing if you were having visitors round.

“Everyone just got on with it, though, and I will be emotional on Sunday when the blocks come down. We lived there for 20 years, which was a big part of our life. I’d never want to go back now, though – we’re happy where we are.”

Blighted by antisocial behaviour in recent years, the buildings became an eyesore in the Sighthill community, as well as and an ever-growing problem for the police and council, which often struggled to let many of the 285 flats within them.

It is no surprise that many long-standing residents have mixed emotions about the demolition. Among them is Christine Notman, 54, who spent 18 years on the eighth floor of Glenalmond Court with her husband Craig, 58, and their children.

“It will definitely be strange to see them no longer there, but in other ways is will be good,” says the grandmother, who now lives in Hutchison.

“Some people say there was a community atmosphere but I didn’t think there really was, especially for families and elderly people.

“I always felt secure there, though, even when we were one of only three or four families living in the whole block.”

Christine and Craig left Glenalmond last Christmas when most of their neighbours had moved on to pastures new, but she insists it wasn’t as eerie as many people may have imagined.

“A lot of people have asked us whether it was scary being there with only a few neighbours, but it was fine,” she says. “It went downhill, though, as the council didn’t want to spend money on it, which is fair enough. My husband always kept our bit of the stair clean, though, right up until we left.

“I’m not sure how I will feel on Sunday. We spent 18 years there and although the flats don’t look much from the outside, inside they were really nice and we were sad when we moved out. We probably wouldn’t have left if we hadn’t had to go – we were quite happy there.

“Saying that, we have our own garden where we live now – something we never had in Glenalmond–- and we can just pop out when we want to. I really like that and couldn’t imagine leaving that behind now.”

She may not have lived there for more than 30 years, but 62-year-old Annette Pickup holds very fond memories of the time she and her family spent living in the Sighthill tower blocks in the 1970s.

“We only left because we needed more space,” she says. “I loved living there – I really did. It was great, even when the lifts broke down and you would have to climb the stairs with your shopping and pram.”

Now settled in Broomhouse, Annette can still see the tower blocks from her home so in many ways believes she has never really left them behind – and certainly not her memories.

“We spent ten years on the 12th floor and it was great. We enjoyed fantastic views for a start. I used to joke to my younger brothers that I would invite the pilots in the passing planes in for a cup of tea. He always fell for it.

“My late husband Kenneth would have been sad to hear the flats are coming down, as am I.”

But come 11am on Sunday that is exactly what will happen, and long-standing residents William and Maureen will be there to push the plunger having been chosen by the city council because they lived in the tower blocks for 43 years.

“We’re honoured to have been asked,” says mother-of-three Maureen, who now lives in Stenhouse. “There were very few downsides to living there. OK, it wasn’t great when the lifts broke and the wind could be strange too. I remember one woman on the top floor said she would feel her flat rock in high winds so she would come out to stand in the stair.

“Although we like our new house, I will be very sad on Sunday. We have such happy memories of living in the tower blocks – it was for more than half of our lives.”

catherine.salmond@edinburghnews.com