Now a £80,000 interactive arts project is providing a modern take on the ancient communication tool using cutting-edge technology to share memories of Wester Hailes.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the 15ft totem pole is the collective work of academics and local groups, to try to rebuild a sense of community in one of the Capital’s most deprived areas.
With a series of codes and a network of trails, the pole has quick response (QR) codes – common on bus shelters or in adverts – which walkers will be able to scan with mobile phones or tablets to find out more about the area’s social history.
Various plaques along the route will provide information, pictures, memories and maps for the walks which have been put together by local residents. Dr Chris Speed who led Edinburgh College of Art’s involvement in the project, described it as a piece of social architecture.
He said: “A lot of people living there have fond memories of how it used to be, especially people who grew up there. By uncovering these people’s memories, from people who are 40 to 50 now, you can use them to recover a community spirit.
“We had people talking about fun runs they used to do and as a result the first fun run for a long time happened this year.
“It shows if you can recover the memories then you can recover the sense of community. It’s about seeing how you can use social networks to rebuild social architecture.”
The pole was designed and carved by artist Robin Wood, working with children and adults from the community in workshops organised by community arts group Whale Arts.
Creative director Alison Reeves said the joint venture, which also involved South West Neighbourhood Partnership, Wester Hailes Library and Prospect Community Housing, was meant to bring people together and think about their environment.
“People are going to see it and wonder what it is and how it got there but there’s going to be a big plaque that explains everything. It’s different from other pieces of public art as this is a piece you can immediately interact with by scanning it and using the codes.”
The totem was yesterday installed by Morrisons Construction. It will be unveiled by the Lord Provost, Donald Wilson, at 10am on Monday. He said: “Whale Arts and the many partners and volunteers involved in this fantastic and quite unique project deserve a huge amount of credit.
“I’m sure the totem pole will soon become a well-known local landmark and attraction and a valuable source of community information and history, staying true to its historical purpose, but with a modern twist.”