The Republic of Leith is cool and the Giles Street community is the coolest of the cool – Susan Morrison
We here in the Republic of Leith have long known how cool we are, although there might be some disagreement as to what ‘cool’ actually means.
Right now, Leith isn’t so much fashionably cool as Baltic freezing. The first snap of autumn has hit us. It's time to look out the semmits and scarves and climb into those clouts to remain uncast till May, folks.
Leith has always been up and coming, but some parts never actually got there. The Banana Flats have heroically resisted any attempt to make them ‘iconic’ or ‘groovy’. It remains a massive looming presence. Our very own breeze-block Castle Greyskull.
When it rains, the wall-to-wall concrete of the Kirkgate looks like a leftover set from Blade Runner. It’s a tough place. I’ve seen squirrels face-off Staffie bull terriers and watched the dogs back down.
You can’t really impose ‘cool’, not on Leith at any rate, even though it is on the telly now. I had to watch that first episode of ‘Guilt 2’ twice, because I spent most of the time shouting “I know where that is!” and I bet I wasn’t the only one.
How long will it be, I wonder, til the first Guilt walking tours start up around the locations? They could call it the Guilt Trip.
Yes, The Shore is pretty cool, but again, no-one made it cool. It just is. On a sunny day, it's fabulous to sit out with a glass of wine and watch the world go by.
This being Leith, there is always the chance of spontaneous improvised street theatre, or, as we like to call it, a pair a’ radgies havin’ a go.
There’s the whiff of a rough old sea port around the facade of virtually every funky new coffee shop and wine bar. Or might just be the ming of the doggy-doo pile at the door.
Cool isn’t the restaurants with the dark glass windows to stop peasants eyeballing hedge-fund managers wolfing down a taster menu that costs more than two weeks shopping for a family of four.
Cool is the tiny community-within-a-community on Giles Street. You probably don’t know exactly where it is, but it’s a little street behind the Kirkgate, in the shadow of Linksview House, another of those 60s experiments in high-rise living designed by people who wouldn’t have been caught dead living in them.
Until recently, Giles Street was a neglected wee corner. It was awash with litter, graffiti and cars that hadn’t moved for a while. And then the women, and it does seem to be mainly the women, decided that enough was enough. One day they sallied forth with bin bags and litter pickers. They cleaned up the street and they bought paint. They built mini-gardens, rockeries and planters.
On at least one occasion I saw them give a bloke from the council a right old ear-bashing and demanding repairs to things they couldn’t reach. Seriously, give these women ladders and those street lights would not only be fully functioning at all times, they’d have hanging baskets dangling off them.
During lockdown, the people of Giles Street worked together to make their little corner look loved, and it is loved. You can see there’s a pride in the place.
They built a real community. Now, that’s cool.