As I write this, I’m occupying a small space in the canalside area of Edinburgh. The canalside is within the city centre, occupying a space within the neighbouring areas of Fountainbridge, Polwarth, Viewforth and Tollcross. The canal offers a space within the city that is quiet, green and community-driven.
I’ve been living in this area for a few years now and have seen radical changes in my surrounding landscape. Abandoned and derelict brewery buildings have been demolished to make way for shiny new student accommodation; a new school is in the early stage of being built; a community garden has been opened in a former wasteland. Community-led initiatives are in place to hopefully stop mass office space being built and left empty like in so many other areas of the city, and instead develop some projects which will be of social and cultural value for the area.
New heritage panels
While this area of Edinburgh has lots of individual neighbourhoods, the canal itself acts as a cohesive entity between them all. People from all the surrounding areas feel a sense of ownership over this place, contributing to community events and using as a fundamental part of their everyday lives. I really hope this continues as the area is further regenerated.
Shawl detail from illustration on the textile panel
It’s a pleasure to have been a resident here for the past few years, and while I’m largely living and working away from the area at the moment, I take great joy in when I am able to return for a visit. One such visit earlier this summer coincided with the annual canal festival: a day of music, local producer and business stalls, boat trips, raft races and many, many dogs.
I saw these interpretive panels for the first time at the festival having been told about them by my partner, and assured that I’d like them. He was right – I do. There have been semi-regular exhibits along this stretch of cladding for a while now, usually contributed by local school or community groups. The RCAHMS and Lost Edinburgh sites have good records of how the canal once looked (with this area near the basin looking particularly different now from how it did a generation ago) but there is scant information about the historic industry available along the canal itself. These panels are a great step, then, in making some of that rich history available to locals and visitors passing through.
The panels are nicely presented – clear, concise, beautifully illustrated and well-used subtle colour to differentiate pockets of information. They are exclusively visual, though. It’d be great to see more of this kind of work employed as the area continues to redevelop and grow, hopefully with some audio or hands-on elements to engage different audiences.
I’ve not long left in Edinburgh before flitting again, but it’s an exciting prospect to come back and see more changes next time I’m here. For some photos of just further along the canal, see the gorgeous blog at Reform Lane here.