WHALE Arts are a community-led arts charity and social enterprise, set up by local people in 1992. Their mission is to be the creative heart of a vibrant, thriving community across Wester Hailes. WHALE Arts acts as a conduit between the community and creative opportunities through the direct delivery of projects, programmes and events and by connecting the community with city and national cultural partners. Ongoing projects vary from tackling food poverty in South West Edinburgh through a Community Cafe, artist led multi-generational creative programmes and the care and maintenance of an outdoor community ‘Arts Garden’. Based in the purpose built WHALE Arts Centre - ‘The WHALE’ - a unique community asset that provides a range of high quality creative spaces including an Arts Workshop, Performance Space, Darkroom and Digital Media facilities for the community.
WHALE Arts has been working in Wester Hailes for 28 years and was originally established through a period of community-led action to advocate for improved access to quality housing, facilities and services for families across the area. Forming as a community action group, led primarily by local women and Mothers, the group worked out of a series sheds across the community before moving into a more formal, but temporary, community space on the Murrayburn Greenway as their audience and action grew. In the late 90’s the group formalised as a charity and a new permanent community centre - ‘The WHALE’ - was designed and built through national and local government capital development investment. WHALE Arts owns the community centre outright, but not the land which is owned by City of Edinburgh Council and leased to WHALE Arts with the original 25 year lease expiring in 2024. A process is underway to extend the lease as well as exploring options for Asset Transfer to bring the land into community ownership to allow the continued delivery of creative approaches to address physical, social and economic challenges locally.
Place-based working means a number of things to us at WHALE Arts in Wester Hailes. We have a base in the area which means we are visible to and trusted by locals. We talk regularly and work collaboratively with statutory, third sector and residents groups locally through the Living Well Wester Hailes network. And we have genuine and equal partnerships with other local organisations with whom we very often share outcomes – working across arts, health, greenspace, youth, equalities and housing. Genuine place-based working is hard work and can be uncomfortable as it requires everyone to compromise and properly collaborate, working towards a shared outcome. The amount of resident volunteer time, staff time and cash required to do this well should never be underestimated.
Leah Black, Chief Executive - WHALE Arts
Today the organisation is supported by the Big Lottery Fund, City of Edinburgh Council, Creative Scotland and The Robertson Trust among others. In addition, ‘The WHALE’ operates as a social enterprise allowing WHALE Arts to generate income that supports their charitable work. The social enterprises include the WHALE Pod creative business incubator, craft fairs, office, training and conference facilities providing a suite of spaces and services for hire used locally and citywide.
Header Image - Street Arts, weekly cross art-form creative sessions across Wester Hailes by WHALE Arts, this photo shows a parkour with Will Thorburn in The Calders, Photo by Craig Stewart