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December 19, 2012

Smart totems

Think of totem poles and the images invoked are more likely to be Wild West than Wester Hailes.  But take a wander along the canal path through this community on the west side of Edinburgh, you’ll see what is Scotland’s first digital totem pole. It looks like a traditional totem pole and if you want, you can just admire the traditional carving. Or you can whip out your smart phone and enter a whole new world


If you live or work locally you’ve probably noticed the most recent addition to Wester Hailes’ landscape.  At 4.5 metres high it’s hard to miss, Wester Hailes’ first totem pole located just across the road from the Plaza, on the Westside Waterfront down by the canal.  Officially launched on the 10th December by the Lord Provost, the totem pole is not only a first for Wester Hailes but also a first for Scotland as the first digital totem pole in the country, designed to encourage digital interaction with a variety of information sources including the social history of the area.
The pole was created and carved through a series of workshops organised by WHALE Arts Agency and was designed by local people who decided what images represented Wester Hailes and the community here.  As you can see from the photo, the pole also has a series of QR codes around it.  These codes can be scanned with smart phones and link to different sites including our From Here To There Facebook page and the Community Council site.  People scanning the codes can therefore read information past and present about the area and about local priorities, aspirations and issues.  But the pole is also designed to encourage people to contribute their own information.  One of the codes links to the Digital Sentinel, a site that is looking for local contribution to create content that they think would be of interest to other local residents.  The eventual shape and scope of this site will be determined by those contributing and responding to it.  Whilst some areas of the site will be available generally online, the Totem Pole Community Noticeboard is only accessible from scanning the code at the pole.
WHALE are now planning to organise some workshops and sessions to bring together local residents who might be interested in taking an active role in the development of the digital sentinel, learn more about digital media, assist in editing content etc.  With more and more important information and services moving to online access only, it is important that everyone has the skills and confidence to use online and social media sources.  Areas such as Wester Hailes can lag behind in terms of digital inclusion with people sometimes lacking the resources and training needed to take advantage of new technology.  This project will help to put Wester Hailes at the forefront of such advances and enable local residents to develop the skills they need to operate within the world of online information and media sharing.
The pole was funded through a grant from the South West Neighbourhood Partnership and funding from the Arts and Humanities Council which came as part of a much larger project looking at what creates a connected community and how the different ways people access information can affect their response to it and the area they are living in.  Through this the University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University have been working with local organisations and residents on a series of interlinked projects using local social history to encourage people to learn about their area, share memories and reflect on what could be achieved in the present.  As well as the pole, there are now also the Code Books produced by the Wester Hailes Health Agency.  These pocket sized books have a series of local history walks around the different neighbourhoods of Wester Hailes with QR codes to link to further information.  There are also plans to have a series of wall plaques again featuring QR codes that will enable people scanning them to see images past and present of the neighbourhood they are standing in.

To see photographs of the totem pole and a short video click here