The Centre of the Universe?

Posted by in March's Magazine

Walking down Leith Walk I feel at one with the universe. What is it about our community that inspires such a feeling? Who are we? Why are we here? What does it really mean to be a Leither?


Existential questions indeed. I’ll start the conversation with why I’m personally here. After an unsettled upbringing in Australia, and feeling like I never really was a ‘proper’ Aussie (my favourite novel as a teenager was The Outsider by Albert Camus), I feel like I have found my spiritual home. It’s something to do with the warmth and humanness of the people I meet that makes me feel lucky to have gravitated to colder climes.

To live in Australia, you really need to drive a car. I’ve never had much luck in the driving department, despite numerous lessons. Living somewhere where you can walk or cycle everywhere solves this problem. The bonus of Leith being so compact (it’s the most densely populated area in the UK outside of one borough in London) is that one regularly bumps into neighbours and friends on the street. It adds to the old-fashioned community vibe. It really is unique.

Living the Dream

So my partner and I had been living in Leith for nearly a decade before procuring a disused shop on Balfour Street, perfect for an affordable Personal Training studio (previously I had been cycling to all of my fitness sessions). And that’s when I was first aware that we might be perceived as part of the gentrification problem. “A boutique fitness studio in Leith, it will never work.”

Accidental Hipsters

Getting Coco, a wee pug, could also be perceived as an act of gentrification. We chose a pug because she was perfect size for a one-bedroom flat, a Leith-sized dug. A pedigree dog from a Kennel Club breeder meant that we weren’t supporting the puppy farm trade, but on the other hand, a pug is now known to be a breed belonging to hipsters. 

Change is inevitable in any society and Leith is no stranger to it. From the shutting down of the Docks to the destruction of a once-thriving Kirkgate, there has always been change in Edinburgh’s port. I love reading local author Millie Grey’s stories of an older time. Gentrification is a dirty word, so what about thinking of some of the positive change that newcomers bring to Leith? Let’s consider an alternative universe, the Feminification of Leith? Some change is welcome, where LGBT folk can walk the Walk feeling comfortable and less threatened, less stabbings in general and hopefully better social resources. Some change is unwelcome, the ‘blandification’ of architecture and the unplanned changing population that goes with it.

Stop the Demolition

I’m typing this from Leith Depot, a place I love dearly. I love the fact that the owners resurrected a notorious watering hole prone to criminal investigation. I love the big windows that look onto the Walk of Leith. I love their survivalist ethos. I love jumping around to a live band upstairs safe in the knowledge that there won’t be any noise complaints or hassle from creepy blokes. Unlike many of my previous favourite venues that suffered a barrage of noise complaints due to cheap flats with inadequate noise insulation chucked up beside them. I love the #saveleithwalk campaign for their relentless energy and creative ways of spreading the message (projections on the University of Edinburgh anyone?). I love their grit. I love determination.

‘Artwashing’ is a convenient phrase for the unimaginative

It’s easy to feel that the world is against you, that political agendas divide us. But instead of focussing on the divide of us, the community, let’s remember the social glue that binds us. So I urge you, if you’re feeling alienated or divided by current political conflict, spend a moment to celebrate what makes us a truly amazing and unique community. Our glue. Our social glue. You and me. We make Leith. 

And if you feel determined to keep Leith amazing, join in one of our amazing community groups and make your presence known. It’s easier and much more fun than social media. Just be social.

Forget the haters, let’s all be Leith lovers. I ♠ Leith.

Leith Festival: enter the pageant, have a stall at Gala day or run an event. Or simply help out.

Leithers Don’t Litter: bond with your landscape by helping clean it up. Litterpicks take place monthly at various locations around the port.

Edinburgh Tool Library and Remade: become a ‘tooligan’ and build stuff or learn to upcycle and repair at Remade.

Friends of Pilrig Park / Friends of Montgomery Street Park/ Friends of Dalmeny Street Park: You’ll never guess what these groups do.

Or pop into the Volunteer Edinburgh office at 222 Leith Walk…

(All details of above organisations can be found online, plus many more).

Oh, and come to the LOVE LEITH FESTIVE GIG

Wednesday 19 December, 7.30pm Leith Depot

Entry by donation

Martina Cannonball, Little Love &
The Friendly Vibes and The Farting Suffragettes.

Twitter: @tracygriffen

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