Real lives: Tireless Maggie never took ‘no’ for an answer

Margaret (Maggie) Wilson MBE, a pillar of the local community who was known to many as Mrs South-Side, has died, aged 75.

Maggie experienced difficult times growing up as part of a large Craigmillar family but went on to become a tireless community campaigner, despite dealing with ill health for much of her life.

Council officers, medical professionals, councillors, MPs and, more recently, MSPs and even local community workers were not allowed to answer Maggie with a “No” – Bob Cairns, when he was Southside councillor, remarked that if an inventory was done in Southside Community Centre it would have to record one chair with Maggie sitting on it, for the room where he held his surgeries.

Her achievements during 40 years of community work in the Southside were nothing short of remarkable.

It all started in the early 1970s, when she organised outings and competitions at the Gold Tankard pub, from where her husband, John, had to organise search parties for Maggie at teatime.

She then formed the East Crosscauseway/Howden Street Residents’ Association to campaign for the modernisation of homes, rather than allow them to be knocked down. She became involved with the Southside Association around 1976 to fight for the area’s survival as a residential area, when it was threatened with demolition for the expansion of the university and a new road system.

Maggie was also a major player in the fight for a community centre for the Southside. Long before it opened, she persuaded the university to grant the use of Hope Park Basement Halls for a range of youth activities. When the university wanted the halls back in 1983, she persuaded the council to make the James Clark School tower block available for community use until the community centre opened in 1986.

She did her work without reward, though after much persuasion agreed to become a part-time paid youth worker – she was paid for three or four hours a week, but did 30 or more hours.

Over the last 25 years she continued to work for the community centre, setting up the café and running groups for all ages.

She was chair of the Southside Association for many years and led a lengthy campaign for the return to community use of Nelson Hall and the fundraising of £1.2 million to build the Crags Sports Centre. In 1993, she received the council’s Lothian Award and, in 2003, was awarded an MBE on the Queen’s birthday honours list.

When she went to London to get her MBE she met Mick Jagger and the pair had a cigarette together at a back door. Typically, it was Maggie who supplied the fags.

The turnout for her funeral was amazing and showed the love, respect and gratitude the community had for her.