'There is no deprivation as I know and remember it' - People of Edinburgh's most deprived area speak about life near the Banana Flats

Cables Wynd House is the most deprived part of Edinburgh, and twelfth in the national rankings.

Cables Wynd House, also known as the Banana Flats, are the most deprived area of Edinburgh (Photo: TSPL)
Cables Wynd House, also known as the Banana Flats, are the most deprived area of Edinburgh (Photo: TSPL)

Forty years ago and the area around Great Junction Street in Leith was riddled with drugs, violence and crime.

Cables Wynd House, or more commonly known as the Banana Flats, was considered the epicentre of a wider struggle with addiction and deprivation in the area.

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Now, following the release of the most recent Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), the flats are the twelfth most deprived part of Scotland and by far the most deprived area of Edinburgh, plummeting down the overall rankings since 2012.

Eche Okwaje, who runs EasyEche on Great Junction Street (Photo: TSPL)

The surrounding area, while not affluent, has seen significant gentrification with new-build flats and office buildings popping up across Leith and close to Great Junction Street itself.

For those living and working in the area, the contrast is clear.

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'Should have spent tram money elsewhere'

Amy Marah has run the cafe Up The Junction on Great Junction Street for two years but the cafe has history going back decades.

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Amy Marah runs Up The Junction cafe (Photo: TSPL)

For the 54-year-old originally from Hampshire, said while she wasn’t surprised, she expected the larger estates and schemes on the outskirts of Edinburgh to have more deprivation.

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Ms Marah added that the trams, due to have their extension to Newhaven completed in 2023, much feted as another potential bonus to Leith, are viewed with suspicion to those just out of reach of their stops.

She said: “I would have thought the outskirts would be more deprived as this area is getting more new smart flats around here.

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“It is a shame that the trams stop short of Leith when there is so much to see and hopefully the will have a trickle-down effect.

“You can see why they are so controversial, and if it was my business having the street dug up I might feel more negatively about it all.

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“They’re such a big issue and then I often hear people say they should have spent the money on other stuff here.”

'People fought to get in the Banana Flats'

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One businessman, who wished to stay anonymous, said the area around the Banana Flats still struggles despite other parts of Leith such as the docks and The Shore experiencing gentrification.

He said: “In the old days this was a vastly thriving community, you couldn’t walk on the street there were so many people.

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“They knocked down the old Kirkgate and built this monstrosity which doesn’t seem to have had much work done to upgrade it, now you are running through it.

“I come in here for around 4.30am in the morning and park my car, look left and right and then hurry along here as fast as I can.

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“As I remember it as a boy, the old Kirkgate was terrible. After they redeveloped it and as people moved out, they used to come back to Leith but their grandchildren don’t want to know.

“It is hard to see what they can do now to improve this part of town.

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However, while the Banana Flats have a place in infamy, they were seen as a radical improvement on what used to be in the area.

The businessman added: “People fought to get in them, people were very proud to live there but modern society has changed completely.

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“There is no deprivation as I know and remember deprivation. All you need to do is Google the area before and then you will see unbelievable deprivation. A lady who used to work here used to share a one-bed flat with 16 of her family and they used to sleep in shifts.

“Compared to that, there is no deprivation. Some parts of Leith have improved but not this part.

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“It had crime and the people the flats attracted and drugs which is still around here, you still see it in the Kirkgate area.

“But that is everywhere, but obviously more around ”

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He added that he also did not see the trams as a positive, instead enabling locals to sail through Leith or into town rather than shopping or visiting the area itself.

Community disappearing, or just being replaced by something new?

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Even Leith’s historically lauded sense of community and belonging has diminished over the years.

He said: “There was a tremendous community feeling in Leith, and when those people moved out all that sort of dwindled. There is still one, but not like it used to be.”

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Others in the area are trying to instill this sense of community, but for a different group of people.

For those like Eche Okwaje, who runs EasyEche on Great Junction Street, the area provides him with an opportunity to provide people who have moved to Leith with a sense of belonging and familiarity.

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His shop, filled floor to ceiling with Afro-caribbean foodstuffs such as plantain, is the starting point of a “bigger” dream for the 44-year-old who moved to Edinburgh from Nigeria ten years ago to study a Masters in applied informatics.

The news the area close to his shop suffers from high levels of deprivation doesn’t surprise him.

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He said: “Scotland is a part of the UK that is growing and is very cosmopolitan so you need more room for people to move in. The level of deprivation doesn’t surprise me.

“The Afro-caribbean and continental people are a massive section of this population and that was part of my decision to open this business.

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“I wanted to give people that sense of belonging when they came to a place like this.

“They feel more at home and they feel wanted.”

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Mr Okwaje added that he has witnessed a change in the area around his business, which he has run for five years, including the Banana Flats in the relatively short period of time he has lived in the area.

He said: “It has changed with the amount of money. It is a bit slow but there is still a great improvement because there are more people now who are on better wages.

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“We have more people coming in but that might change with Brexit. I think it is up and coming, even my rents were raised recently with the trams coming in. Moving them will help to boost the economy and more people will want to live here.”