Site Report: Cables Wynd House

“Nan grew up here, me, my mother-in-law, a lot of history” (photo exhibit response).

“It’s a treasure and they should keep looking after it and the residents”  (male, tenant of 5 years).

In January 2017, Cables Wynd House was ‘listed’, i.e. placed on the national list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. The Statement of Special Interest highlights its ‘New Brutalism’ style and link to the then-emerging theories of community planning, using communal spaces to foster ‘civic spirit’. While architectural styles have changed over the last 55 years, Cables Wynd House remains, as it was designed to be, a home and place of belonging. Containing over 200 flats, many hundreds of people have lived in the building since 1965, when the first tenants moved in. Alongside its primary function as housing, Cables Wynd House is also a hub for, and generative of, numerous social networks, relationships and interactions between tenants, local residents, staff and visitors. These relationships shape the social values associated with the House.

DSC_0122One of the three communal landings in Cables Wynd House [Photo credit: Colin McKenzie, reproduced with kind permission]

My research suggests Cables Wynd House is a place of significance for multiple communities, with respondents expressing a range of values and associations. Below is a summary of the social values that emerged from the research, for full details please refer to Annex I in the Site Report (link given below):

  • First and foremost, the House is valued as a place of home and safety.
  • Community connections and the sense of ‘community spirit’ is also important. This depends largely on personal experience, with tenants tending to characterise the House according to their specific location/communal landing or network of relationships.
  • Another relational aspect is family connections, with multiple generations having lived in or grown-up knowing the House.
  • These social connections support values of belonging, to community and place.
  • Many respondents also expressed a strong connection to, and knowledge of, the wider area of Leith and were positive about the House’s location.
  • There was a high-level of awareness of the House’s listed status and some appreciation for the building’s design and architectural significance, as well as concern regarding its maintenance.
  • There was an emphasis on aspects of care and attention. Comments were principally concerned with the physical appearance and cleanliness of the House but revealed feelings that were informed by lived experiences and social relations (past and present). This suggests perceptions of the building are influenced by how people are positioned with regard to the social structures and behaviours they associate with the House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe back of Cables Wynd House, showing private balconies and the building’s distinctive bend [reproduced with kind permission from photo group member]

The sense of ‘community spirit’ in the House depended largely on personal experiences and networks; some participants felt there was a greater sense of community in the past, while for others it was a positive aspect of their current experience or thought to be improving. However, many respondents also reflected on the isolation and exclusion experienced by some tenants and how this was a factor of both the social and physical environment. It follows that preserving the values of home and belonging (and the ‘civic spirit’, identified in the listing as one of the design ambitions of the building) depends on more than maintaining the structure – it requires an understanding of and support to the social processes associated with the building (see Malpass 2009 ‘Whose Housing Heritage?’). Improvements to the physical environment may not be experienced as ‘care and attention’ if lived experiences more broadly are of social disruption.

Sign croppedNotice in passageway outside the main entrance to Cables Wynd House [Photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]

That the House is of significance for some people does not imply that the communities identified had universally positive views about the physical, social and emotional environment. Both positive and negative experiences had shaped the values expressed. The diversity of associations is reflected in the Statement of Social Values and the wider Site Report, while also recognising that there were limitations in participation and scope that may be masking the full range of perspectives and values.

My sincere thanks go to everyone who participated in the research.

The full site report is available here: Site Report: Cables Wynd House (Author retains copyright. Proper attribution of authorship and correct citation details should be given).

Cover image: The main entrance to Cables Wynd House [reproduced with kind permission from photo group member]