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Women share their experiences of working in Leith in new book

Port of Leith Housing Association sheltered tenants share their stories. 

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A group of tenants from Port of Leith Housing Association’s (PoLHA) sheltered housing units have come together to create a new book sharing personal stories from their working lives.

Women at Work: Stories and Memories from the Women of Leith shares stories from 11 women, most of whom have worked and lived in Leith for most of their lives. Written in their own words, the book offers a powerful insight into the lives of working women and reflects Leith’s own transformation.

Women at Work has been created in partnership with Edinburgh Art Festival and Citadel Arts Group and designed by graphic designer Rumana Sayed. It was inspired by the women’s trip to Turner Prize-nominated artist Ciara Phillips’ Every Woman artwork for Dazzle Ship Scotland in Leith which was co-commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Commissions. The work pays tribute to the women who designed and painted these ships in WW1, and the women throughout history whose stories remain untold.

A series of workshops then followed where Citadel Arts Group’s living memory workers recorded the stories shared over the sessions before handing the book back to the women to edit.

The book’s launch event brought the project’s collaborators together at PoLHA’s Jameson Place sheltered housing unit and was also attended by pupils from the local Gaelic school Taobh na Pàirce who presented each woman with a piece of art work inspired by her story and performed a traditional puirt à beul song for the audience.

Norah McKenna, one of the women involved in the Women at Work project, said:

“It was a wonderful experience to be involved in the Living Memories project. The other ladies and I greatly enjoyed getting together to share our memories with one another. Looking back over the years, I was reminded of all the ways Leith has changed since I was young, and it is lovely to think that I and the other ladies were a part of it.”

Joyce Cuthbert, Housing Manager at PoLHA, said:

“It was great to welcome all the Women at Work collaborators back to Jameson Place to celebrate the launch of this collection of fascinating, first-hand, stories about the working lives of women in Leith.

“I’d like to thank all the residents and staff who have contributed to the creation of this book, which will serve as a fantastic celebration of Leith, its residents past and future and the wider community.”

Sorcha Carey, Director of Edinburgh Art Festival, said:

“We are delighted to have been able to work with so many project partners to bring Dazzle Ship Scotland to life. Working with local people of all ages has been key to the project and a critical part of Edinburgh Art Festival’s year-round learning and engagement programme.

“In calling her artwork for the Dazzle Ship, Every Woman, Ciara Phillips wanted to remind us of the unsung contributions of women to the First World War and throughout history – the stories of the women of Leith that are collected together in ‘Women at Work’ makes an incredibly fitting tribute and a wonderful addition to the legacy of the Dazzle Ship in Leith.”

Liz Hare, Artistic Director at Citadel Arts Group, said:

“We’ve been delighted to partner with Port of Leith Housing Association and Edinburgh Art Festival on this project, our fourth and biggest memory project in a PoLHA centre, with a group of local women in Leith who generously shared the stories of their working lives.”

Pictured: Women at Work group at Jameson Place.