100 volunteers team up to remove graffiti and replace it with murals

Artists Brian McFeely and Chris Young
Artists Brian McFeely and Chris Young
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IN ONE sense, nothing has changed in Broomhouse.

Residents living in the infamous housing scheme in the Capital’s south-west once dubbed Little Bosnia still can’t get a Pizza Hut delivery to their house after 9pm.

scraping graffiti off the walls

scraping graffiti off the walls

It was a blanket ban first instated by franchise bosses in 2004 at the height of persistent problems with teenage gangs, vandalism and anti-social behaviour that have dogged the area.

In other respects, everything has changed in Broomhouse.

There has been new housing, a new school and new recreational facilities, including a playground, basketball court and skate park, built as part of the scheme’s revival over the past 
decade and a half.

Once common scenes of boarded-up windows or graffiti-strewn houses can no longer be seen. It is a place where people now say they are not only happy, but proud, to live.

The transformation has not just been about ploughing millions of pounds into a neglected estate. Some of the biggest changes have been happening from within.

Just ask the 100 volunteers, largely Broomhouse residents ranging in age from eight to 70, who collectively have just spent more than 200 hours scraping graffiti off shutters and walls, and painting a mural under the supervision of two commissioned artists.

“I think it does a lot for self esteem empowering them to say we can do something to change it,” says Lucy Aitchison, project co-ordinator of Broomhouse Health Strategy Group.

“They helped to make that change and I think they’re very proud of what they’ve done. It’s not just the physical look and the fact that it’s brighter. It’s the mental lifting of spirits – that if we all team together, look at what can be achieved – and I think that’s reverberated through the community.”

The idea of painting an expansive sequence of murals was the brainchild of Ms Aitchison. The project was completed in a fortnight thanks to about £13,500 worth in grants and paint donated by decorating giant Dulux.

The result is that the Broomhouse Market – a mini village centre with a fruit and vegetable co-op, post office, bakery and general store – is now a riot of colour rather than the mass of grey brick and graffiti it once was.

Each of the murals, which cover more than 450 square metres of wall, was a replication of designs produced by youths enrolled with local welfare organisation The Broomhouse Centre.

“We would have people coming up while we were painting and saying ‘what’s the point in doing it?’,” says Lucy. “You’d just have to stay positive and think if everybody felt like that, nothing would get done to anything.”

Artist Chris Young said the 
volunteers had removed 10 years’ worth of graffiti. He said: “The shopping centre was an eyesore. It had been neglected for a good 20 years. It needed something to lift it and take that reputation away from the area.”

Only one piece of graffiti has been discovered – and removed – in the six weeks since the murals were finished.

Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald spent a day getting his hands dirty by scraping the vandalism off the shopping centre’s walls. He said: “The community has turned a corner over the last ten years. There’s new housing in the area, there’s new schools, and unfortunately the parade of shops in Broomhouse was bringing the area down a bit.

“It just shows you with a bit of seed corn – some small funding – the difference that communities can make”

The changes are not stopping at the market. A time bank – an initiative where people share their skills by exchanging hours of work or ‘credits’ – will be launched in Broomhouse on November 6 for the first time. Drop-in cooking classes funded by Comic Relief have also been expanded.

Like most city neighbourhoods, there are still isolated incidents of crime. However, Mr MacDonald said Broomhouse no longer deserved the infamous “Little Bosnia” reputation. He said: “Areas still have problems, but it’s nothing like it was 20 years ago and that’s down to people like Lucy.”

Pat Ironside, 66, moved from Aberdeen to Broomhouse four decades ago sums it up. “I’m not afraid to walk around here at all, at any time. I’ve been here for 39 years and I love this place – I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”