My neighbourhood of Edinburgh West End is rather unusual. For years it has been seen as a place to shop and work, rather than a place to live. There have always been residents, of course! However, many of the glorious Georgian terraced buildings are losing their commercial tenants (lawyers and finance firms mainly) who are going to modern office space. Developers snap up the building and convert it into apartments, so the number is residents is increasing – we estimate about 8000 at the moment which is at the top end for a neighbourhood community.
When we arrived here in 2017 we found a mixed picture. There is LOTS happening – super independent shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, art galleries, even a cathedral! But none of it was aimed at, or provided for, local residents. The pandemic caused chaos for the shops and hospitality venues (they were closed, and even when they reopened there were no workers and few shoppers). However, it did allow the residents to see each other clearly for the first time – there was nobody else around! That led to the formation of a West End Residents & Businesses Facebook group, which now has close to 2500 members.
Once there is that kind of communication and connection, it becomes possible to start to do things. We’ve had residents get-togethers, street clean-ups, art gallery visits, even a community Janes Walk in 2022. I had wondered from time to time about some kind of ‘West End Weekend’ to get the locals and businesses interacting. At the end of summer 2022 I was having a coffee with Michael Apter of Paper Tiger, one of our lovely businesses, and raised the subject. He could see the possibilities right away, and we quickly started to refine it. We could ask businesses to make a modest ‘special offer’ for residents, and we give the residents stickers to wear; they could access the offers and also talk to each other!
Michael suggested making it a week rather than a weekend. I drafted up a one-pager on the idea and he gathered a few keen businesses together to sound them out. Over two years of pandemic difficulties meant that they were keen to get something going and start to wave the West End flog again. Anna Lagerqvist Christopherson offered The Green Room bar as a meeting place, and my fellow Facebook group admin Paul Hancock joined in. Someone proposed calling it the West End Coorie (Coorie is a Scots word meaning ‘to snuggle or nestle’ – a bit like the Danish ‘hygge’ and a good thing to do as winter draws in!). We agreed the basis of the event and 21-27 November for the date, and I made efforts to contact as many businesses as possible with our proposal in early October 2022.
Another aspect was to re-launch and re-energise the existing (but dormant) Edinburgh West End website and social media. Michael identified some residual money from a previous initiative, and we decided to use this to get someone engaged on social media. Katie Llewellin joined the team and played a marvellous role in getting around the businesses, while I handled the admin (keeping all the details together) and website. We designed a simple logo and ordered window stickers for the businesses and coat stickers for the residents.
We also decided to take a pragmatic view on events. I play with Shunpike Social Club street band, and getting them along was an easy decision (we perform outdoors so little infrastructure required!). We also set up Meet The Neighbours events at two cafes on different days (thank you The Green Room and Flatbread Turkish Bakery!). There were quite a few events happening that week anyway, and we asked them if we could promote them as part of the Coorie – most were very happy.
So we had candlelight concerts in the cathedral, jazz, a pub quiz. a Beaujolais Nouveau tasting and more – just by connecting what was already going on. Some of our businesses decided to hold their own events – the RIAS Architects Bookshop had a Coorie Christmas evening with mulled wine, and Union Gallery held a competition to ‘Find Archie’. Rogue Flowers held a festive wreath making workshop (with afternoon tea from their neighbours Fox & Co) which quickly sold out.
In the end we had 54 businesses participating and 17 events under the Coorie banner. You can see all the details on the Coorie webpage. We gave out hundreds of stickers, and invited anyone to be an ‘honorary Westender’ for the week (opening it up to all). I am still gathering feedback. The overall view seems to be that it was good to get the businesses working together, giving the West End something to shout about. We could have more people participating, but those residents who did get involved enjoyed it. We had a massive increase in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram engagement, and featured all the businesses involved both to residents and workers/visitors.
It’s useful to look at what led us to this particular event.
- We used the assets we had – a lot of interesting and keen local businesses, the Facebook group to get the word out, events that were happening anyway.
- We invented a name (the ‘Coorie’), which has local Scottish connections and is a bit distinctive.
- We based everything on want to build connections locally (rather than simply building custom for the businesses),
- We did our best to include everyone who wanted in – all the participating businesses volunteered to join us.
- The whole thing is based around the ‘soft power’ of invitation and engagement.
- We used the Skills and talents available – I can drive a simple WordPress webpage and use mail merge on Gmail (to contact the businesses), Katie was a whizz with social media as well as having great local connections, Michael and Anna were at the forefront of business activity and Paul runs the Facebook group.
- And of course we were mostly connecting what was already there – the key thread in Cormac Russell and John McKnight’s new book The Connected Community (which also features Village In The City!).
Could it be better? Yes, certainly. We hope to do Coorie week again next year; now the idea is out there and with a longer run-up, it could certainly engage more people. We need to think about the balance of building connection between the locals and inviting in those who would enjoy what the West End has to offer. And more events would be a good way of building contact even more.
A final word to Emma, who emailed in in during the week. “Hi I’m participating in the Coorie week I think it’s a fantastic idea and just want to congratulate you guys on the overall organisation of such a fantastic community building event.”
Here’s a video of Shunpike Social Club dancing with our audience as the sun goes down on a cold Saturday afternoon. I wrote some new words to one of our songs, now called Coorie Calypso: Coorie, Coorie, now you’re in the West End. Coorie, Coorie, everyone here is your friend!