Community calls for Wester Hailes and Currie to remain apart

ONE is a rundown area of largely social housing scattered along a bypass in one of the Capital's most deprived neighbourhoods.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 8:55 am
Updated Thursday, 24th May 2018, 9:01 am

The other is a leafy village-turned-suburb of semi-detached homes with panoramic views of the Forth.

But in the destiny of their high schools, the people of Wester Hailes and Currie are united – that their respective futures remain apart. On Tuesday, city chiefs deferred a decision until next month on the merger of Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) and Currie High. But locals fear it could still happen.

Aside from WHEC, which boasts a swimming pool and fitness centre among other community facilities, the next biggest landmark in Wester Hailes is the Westside Plaza.

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Pictured Western Hailes Education Centre.

This brutalist, concrete complex has an Iceland, a Greggs and pawnbrokers, among other outlets, and is a lunchtime hang-out for WHEC students and staff alike.

Pawnbroker Lauren Gordon, 23, said: “We get a lot of kids in everyday – not in the pawnbrokers because you have to be 18 – but in the cafes getting lunch so it’ll affect of businesses.

“People have been talking about it and we’ve had people come in the shop handing out flyers.

“Most people are against it. If it’s going to be more travel for people then that’ll be a nightmare for them.”

Currie High School

Unemployed teacher Felix Venyo, 41, said; “I’m against it, it’s not good. Good teachers and good teaching will improve this school better than merging the two.”

Mr Venyo, whose son used to attend WHEC, added: “A merger will give stress to people living around here because the proximity is OK to the school – it should be close by.”

Plaza News manager Aamir Arshad, 27, said: “I don’t think it will affect us greatly because generally we have a pretty good footfall here anyway.

“Obviously we still want the kids to remain here though – they do come in and give us a lunchtime rush.”

Currie resident Brian Lamb. Picture; Neil Hanna Photography

Over in Currie, retired teacher Rosie Woodburn, 72, was enjoying the afternoon sun with her cocker spaniel Swangler.

“I’m in favour of it [the merger] because of the social aspect of it,” she said. “It’s quite important, the integration of two different cultures.

“Also, I know that Wester Hailes is greatly underused and so it makes no sense to keep it open.

“I think people are speaking about it and you’ll see banners up everywhere.”

But mother-of-two Sheena Lamb, 60, whose grown-up children both went to Currie High, had concerns over the impact of a new super school on infrastructure.

“I’m not in favour,” she said, of any proposed merger. “There’ll be a build up in traffic in trying to get kids to school – it concerns me with rush-hour traffic.”

Ms Lamb also expressed concern over how children with special needs at Woodland School will continue to benefit from facilities at Currie if it moves.

“A lot of people say it’s about snobbery but it’s nothing to do with that,” said Ms Lamb. “The school is part of the community.

“They have a lot of classes for people who don’t attend school – night classes and charity facilities – it really is a concern.

“And what will they do with the grounds? They’ll probably build more houses which puts more stress on the medical centre, the dental surgery and the roads – how will they cope with it all?”

Retired railway worker Brian Lamb, 65, said: “I’m totally against it. It’s going to mean kids from here have to get the bus.

“There was talk about them closing Currie Primary but they’ve just done an extension. If that’s the case, it’s a total waste of money.”

Mr Lamb said a recent building survey of Currie High revealed some work was needed but the school could continue at its present site.

“Feelings are running high. Most people think the school should remain there. If they want to relocate Wester Hailes, by all means do that,” he added.

Lee Picken, a member of the Save our Schools campaign group set up to canvass opinion on merger plans and mum-of-two Juniper Green Primary pupils, said the stakes are high.

“This isn’t about snobbery, it’s not about social inclusion or social mixing or whatever you want to call it.

“Quite a few Wester Hailes kids go to Currie at the moment and there aren’t any issues. The issue is, if you take the school out of the community, what’s left?”

Ms Picken labelled the delay in making a decision a “mistake” and said city chiefs have had six months to gather everyone’s views.

“This is a stressful time for hundreds and hundreds of parents who are in limbo because of this delay.”

Ms Picken said decision making is being driven by “money” in trying to reach consensus with which to secure Scottish Government funding for new facilities.

She said the best option could be an amendment to option two that kept Lanark Road primary schools within Currie High’s catchment and building a new school for Wester Hailes.

“This is about trying to secure the best futures for our kids – nobody wants to take a risk with that,” she added.

Pentlands councillor Susan Webber, whose ward covers all three schools, said Tuesday’s education committee papers were “biased.” She said the views of Canal View and Clovenstone Primary – in favouring a new school at Curriemuirend – had been given over-prioritised.They are important views but they are a minority and been exaggerated,” added Cllr Webber.

She argued respect for both schools in their respective, yet different, communities can help change perceived “stigma” attached to them.

“WHEC is an education centre, it’s not even given the title of a secondary school or high school. Long-term we can create a great brand. There’s a lot of pride in that school, a lot of pride in Currie and a lot of pride in Balerno.

“They can all be given the opportunity to flourish when the communities really want to see them there.”