Signs and Portents for Leith


Posted by in July's Magazine

There has always been a dichotomy in Leith and there always will be but it’s how Leith responds that makes it unique. A good example of this is the Castle Community bank initiative, recently launched by the actor Michael Sheen and found on Great Junction Street, to stop the exploitation of pay day lenders and others charging rates of nearly up to 70% and preying on those vulnerable to the ubiquitous advertising that pretends that wellbeing can be bought by material goods. With 27% of all people in Leith ward in poverty, the 3rd highest in the city, this is a welcome and timely initiative.

Especially as banks that were bailed out by taxpayers money are bailing out of communities while keeping their bonus culture. The choice is there to keep money in the community rather than let it leach out to enrich others.

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Another sign is the success of the new housing at Fort. Having been involved in making this happen it’s a great example of how to refresh and renew. The big difference this time round was residents and architects sitting down as equals planning what would replace Fort House. Also working together were the Council and Port of Leith Housing Association in building 32 new council homes and 62 mid-market homes, which saw bids of over 5,500 to be new residents.

I would urge people to go and see this marvellous example of what is possible with collaborative work and available funding. Here we have the 21st century version of the colony type housing found in other parts of Leith which were a response by Industrial Provident societies, another form of cooperative, to slum housing in Leith.

Then there is the response to the proposed development around Leith Depot. This is not just about the built form it is also about the ‘social capital‘ built up here by small businesses over a period going back 40 years. The owners of the site seem bewildered by the response and at time of writing unable to compromise their aims. Keeping open and maintaining what is here would give the development a unique selling point making it different to the ubiquitous development style that can be found elsewhere including just up the road at Shrub Place.

Ambitions for a Leith equivalent of New York’s highline garden walkway are also forgotten as scale and squeezing every space for more people and therefore profit are prioritised over place. What is disappointing is that a University with a Human Geography course can ignore the lessons it teaches in favour of profit over place. Listen to Leith.

The growth and community commitment of the cooperative in retail, Scotmid, which came into being from an amalgamation of Leith Provident and St. Cuthbert’s is another example, a conscious strategy to downscale their stores to retain a presence in communities. This anticipated the trend for more local retail shopping, which is one of the reasons that Leith Walk is so lively with a range of small businesses. With the fourth most densely populated area in the UK found just off Leith Walk, which will become even larger if plans and ambitions for West of Leith Walk are realised, then shopping local will keep Leith vibrant. If you do a supermarket shop then make it the Co-op as they have remained in Leith despite the pressure from the big retailers. The point is, shop local and keep money in the community.

The commitment by Edinburgh International Festival to Leith Theatre is also welcome news. Matching that has seen cross party support in the Council providing funds of £500,000 this year and next to Leith Theatre trust to help their work in bringing this neglected gem back to life. Whilst it will not see Dr. Feelgood, Kraftwerk or AC/DC again it willsee a range of talent coming in August and bringing back to life a venue that is for all, not just the Edinburgh establishment.

Check out the Light on the Shoreprogramme, the Neu Reekie events are a must, but I think the real gem will be ‘Since Yesterday’ on 24thAugust, which aims to highlight the hidden history of women in Scottish Rock and Pop. Leith Theatre will be a real highlight of the fourthbiggest ticketed event in the World and you should get your tickets now before London comes here on holiday in August.

The key to all of this though is Leith itself. James Marshall, in his history of Leith, remarks that ‘Even for the resident of only a few years the sense of community is strong, so that walking the streets of Leith is walking among friends’. This observation still holds true and prospects for the future are promising. All the signs and portents are good for Leith’s potential and its many futures. The future is bright. The future is Leith.

Info:www.eif.co.uk/whats-on/lightontheshore, facebook.com/saveleithwalk

Pic cap: Leith Depot’s gig space

 

 

 

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