The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Gulliver, Craigmillar

es, some of us like our concrete shell structures but this one really came as a surprise. It’s a 100ft hollow giant lying on the ground. The arms and legs are passages and the thing is a play structure of gigantic proportions. Gulliver in Craigmillar was a community project devised as a catalyst for social action and change.

What had started out as a planned housing estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh in the 1930s with all of the optimism of the era, had forty years later fallen into total disorder and “Craigmillar” had become a by-word for deprivation. The Craigmillar Festival Society was formed to change this dire situation and became one of the most significant community-led regeneration schemes of its time, even by international standards. At the centre of this movement was the idea to build an interactive piece of art that would also function as a place for the local children to explore and play. Jimmy Boyle, a gangster who was still sitting out his time in prison for a committing a murder, provided the design and the structure was built by young people and adults under the festival’s job creation scheme. When finished, Gulliver was unveiled by Billy Connolly.

While Jimmy Boyle has gone on to become an author and artist, the “gentle giant who shares and cares” is now itself at serious risk of falling prey to a further measure to redevelop this neighbourhood with new housing. Craigmillar lies in a slope between two watercourses and any additional development with its attendant drainage requirements will put the area at risk of flooding. As a preventative measure the Niddrie Burn will be rerouted and its course will run straight through Gulliver’s site. Relocation is not possible because the structure would simply crumble and collapse.

There has been strong community support for preserving Gulliver, but his future looks bleak. We supported the Craigmillar Communiverity’s listing application, but unfortunately Historic Scotland felt that the strict criteria for a structure under thirty years old were not met. Today it is definitely a difficult job to try and pin down giants.

Eva Branscome