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SACI and SRUC Placements and other bits and bobs

Cyd, Cal, Leeloo, Nicole, Grace and Keir by Andrew Waterhouse

Firstly, apologies for taking so long to write a new blog post. I’ve been incredibly busy, and ill with Covid, and I’ve changed roles at the university, and also I guess I’ve just been feeling somewhat exasperated by the failures of COP26 and trying to keep The Lions’ Gate going. But here I am, the sun is shining and my attempts to green the concrete of Merchiston campus and beyond continue, haphazardly perhaps, but spurred on by volunteers, staff and students. Actually, a big thanks has to go out to Alan Curits and Peter Pryde who are enabling some essential works over the next couple of months. However, access remains a thorny issue.

Envisioning The Lions’ Gate by Grace Newbigging

Since January I’ve been lucky to have Emily Hairstans working with me via a placement module from SRUC. Emily has been absolutely invaluable with her enthusiasm and passion for all things horticultural and I hope she can continue to pop by now the placement has come to an end. She’s the second student I’ve worked with via the SRUC placement scheme and I hope that the relationship with them continues into the future.

Logo designs by Lauren Stein

Also, since January I’ve been working with seven Creative Industries students in developing a number of interventions, (graphics of which are scattered throughout this post):

Cyrielle Dabere – a mosaic and the design of a green roof

Grace Newbigging – an outdoor classroom / pergola

Leeloo Moreau – lighting and signage

Lauren Stein – graphics, badges and a style guide

Keir Flint – a 3D model of the garden using Unreal Engine

Nicole Barrios – a pond with fountain and a wayfinder

Andrew Waterhouse – photography and animations

Badges by Lauren Stein

The work is ongoing, but it’s been a real delight to work with such creative souls, and Lindsay Morgan and Sophie Purchase in the SACI office have been a great help too, as have Cher and Jennifer in the Finance office.

Mosaic development by Cyrielle Dabere

Also, the Student Futures team are back helping out and it’s great to have them working on the development of our digital chamber area. They always bring cake too :).

Nicole’s Wayfinder ideation

A big thanks goes out to Niyamal from Edinburgh University who for the past six weeks has been a dedicated volunteer, but now moves on to his first proper job down in the big smoke as an Environmental Consultant. Good luck Niyamal, and ‘hello’ to Rachel our new volunteer!

Pond by Niyamal Ali

Finally, more details to follow but we’re running an open day in the garden on Saturday 27th August 1130-6pm. We have Tim Ingold giving a talk; music; food and cocktails from garden produce; student exhibits, and garden tours. Watch this space.

Testing Nicole’s fountain

If you and/or your students would like to get involved with The Lions’ Gate please just drop me a line:

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Hasten Slowly- an Interactive Memorial Storytelling Chair

Early on in the development of the Lions’ Gate Interactive Permaculture Garden, David Benyon and I hit upon the idea of an interactive chair as a place of congress for discussing ideas about sustainability. The chair would be augmented with appropriate technology that could record, comment on and publish talks. It would be an attempt at an ecological blended space.

Soon after, I contacted Neil Fyffe’s Workshop, one of Scotland’s finest examples of woodcraft, to enquire whether he’d be interested in crafting a storytelling chair augmented with digital technology, that would be put to work for the good of the planet.  Thankfully, he jumped at the idea, so we got down to design work.

With the sad passing of David in late 2018, Richard Thompson, whose PhD was being supervised by David when he fell ill, Andrew O’Dowd (School of Arts and Creative Industries), and I eagerly continued investigations into what would become a permaculture-inspired interactive storytelling throne and memorial to David.

Last summer (virtually due to Covid), we presented our second paper on The Lions’ Gate, and first specifically on the chair at LIMITS20. The previous year I’d presented a paper on The Lions’ Gate at LIMITS19 at LUT University in Lappeenranta, Finland – an institution fore-fronting sustainability and well-being in its strategy.

Well, to cut a long story short, we had our first speaker sat in the storytelling chair at our first (semi) public event in The Lions’ Gate on 26th August from 6-8pm. Inspirational, agent-of-change Graham Bell spoke eloquently of David’s favourite adage ‘Hasten Slowly‘ and shared his insights from over 30 years teaching permaculture. You can listen to the Hasten Slowly talk here.

And here’s a photographic journey of the storytelling chair:

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Lions’ Gate Talks on Soundcloud

Following last weeks first public event in The Lions’ Gate – Hasten Slowly, I’ve created a Soundcloud account to capture talks and make them available to all.

Graham Bell was the first to speak in our new interactive storytelling chair crafted by wood designer Neil Fyffe.

I’ll be writing a post on the event shortly but in the meantime here’s the talk and a photo of the chair:

The Lions’ Gate · Hasten Slowly – Graham Bell
Interactive Storytelling Chair
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Summertime in The Lions’ Gate

I’m sitting in The Lions’ Gate under the boughs of a rowan, in dappled sunlight and it’s most delightful. Birds are tweeting, bees are buzzing and nature’s bounty is putting on a bit of a show. Apple, medlar, plum and cherry trees are fruiting. Strawberries are ripening, herbs are flowering and our new lawn seems to have established itself as a soft and green shag-pile-like carpet ready for sun-worshippers to unwind upon.

As I finally relax after a busy day, supported by students from both Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier Universities, who tirelessly helped landscape areas of The Lions’ Gate in the glare of the sunshine, I thought I’d share a few updates on what’s been going on.

Photo of student volunteers in The Lions' Gate

Craiglockhart Orchard

Photo of Craiglockhart Orchard Team

Last Thursday an extraordinary Edinburgh Napier team made up of colleagues from the Development and Alumni Department (Clive Gee, Barbara Kidd, Geoff Day, Kirsty Connell-Skinner, Miia MacDougall, Avani Patel ,Mandy Duncan, Alan Bree, Ben Waite and Ashleigh Thow); Panagiotis Siokas, a Masters student in the School of Computing; and Ankit Dougal, former President of Edinburgh Napier Student Association, planted an orchard up in the delightful Craiglockhart campus grounds, betwixt the chapel and the wilderness area, which we hope to incorporate as part of a ‘thinking walk’, for the health & well-being of Edinburgh Napier communities.

Well, we got a great turnout. 14 willing, and more than able workers, planted 12 fruit trees from Appletreeman Andrew Lear (10 apples – Jupiter, Bloody Ploughman, James Grieve, Lord Derby, and Beauty of Bath), two Victoria plums, and a silver birch in a loosely mandala-like layout, in alignment with the cardinal points of the chapel. Each tree also has a companion plant or two from this list (purchased from Sarah Wilkington’s Plants with Purpose nursery up in Perthshire):

  • Mugwort Oriental limelight
  • Wild bergamot
  • Bronze bugle
  • Golden creeping Jenny
  • Evening primrose
  • Flax/Linseed
  • Fox and cubs
  • Goats beard
  • Hemp agrimony
  • Marsh woundwort
  • Mullein
  • Nottingham catchfly
  • Orpine
  • Scots lovage
  • Teasel
  • Valerian all heal
  • Water avens
  • Yarrow
  • Yellow loosestrife
  • Yellow toadflax

It should be a great spot. It gets sunshine all day, and though we’ll be looking to provide some seating – sitting on the grass, in the height of summer with nature blossoming all around, will provide much enjoyment, as well as fruit, jams, desserts, chutneys, juice, cider, vinegar etc, and opportunities for seasonal community events, at harvest-time especially.

After two and half hours of hard work and good cheer, this spirited group of fine folks, enjoyed delicious refreshments provided by our Development and Alumni friends, and there was a real sense of accomplishment and community. People coming together for the first time in a long while is something I’ve been experiencing quite a lot of, of late in The Lions’ Gate, and it’s uplifting to be around that positive energy. So, a huge thanks to everyone involved.

Colleagues also discussed how it would be a great idea to associate the orchard with The War Poets Collection and I’m hoping this is something we can take forward.

This work was made possible by a successful collaboration between ENSA, The Lions’ Gate and the Development Office, gaining funding via the Community Climate Asset Fund. There are more actions to carry out with regards this funding – raised beds at both Sighthill and Craiglockhart campuses, so please get in touch with the Sighthill Gardening Club or Miles Weaver from The Business School up at Craiglockhart, to get involved.

Student Futures team volunteering

Over the past month or so a wonderful team of volunteers from Student Futures have been helping out at The Lions’ Gate – clearing weeds, building soil, planting herbs, shrubs and flowers, moving trees, landscaping, and having lots of fun in the process. They’re even planning a few pallet projects. As can be seen below, the raised-beds around the staging area are now looking great, thanks to a donation of plants from the Secret Herb Garden, and the contribution made by the team. They’re booked-in to volunteer every month now, and we have a team from Marketing and External Comms helping out next week. If you’d like your team to volunteer then please just drop me an email:

Lions’ Gate Fringe Show – Hasten Slowly

On Thursday 26th of August we’re creating a little Fringe show in The Lions’ Gate. At present the plan is to open the gardens to around 30 participants in a relaxed atmosphere to learn about what we’re up to. There’ll be music, a talk by leading permaculturist Graham Bell, pizza and tea made from garden produce, a hands-on ‘how to plant a food forest’ activity, displays of our future plans (the digital bothy and the outdoor classroom), a wishing tree linked to COP26, an interactive audio tour, a plastics recycling game, and the unveiling of our interactive storytelling, memorial chair to the late, great Professor of HCI David Benyon. David was instrumental in getting The Lions’ Gate going, and one of his favourite idioms was ‘Festina Lente’ – Hasten Slowly, thus the name of the event.

If you’re interested in helping out with this ‘happening’, please get in touch:

Here are some development photos of the interactive, memorial storytelling chair – an interdisciplinary project between the School of Computing and the School of Arts & Creative Industries (Andrew O’Dowd and Richard Thompson); and a shot of the ready-to-be-installed trunk bench that’ll sit under the canopy of the 120 year old sycamore in The Lions’ Gate, both crafted by Neil Fyffe down in Selkirk.

Cheers for now.

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Views from the edge of Auld Reekie

On The Beach
For the past six weeks, having watched Seaspiracy, and been shocked into action, I’ve been picking up litter from a beach I pass on my morning cycle. It’s a potentially beautiful spot where the Dolphinton Burn meets the Firth of Forth, and swans, geese, ducks, oystercatchers, and gulls are just some of the birds you’ll see on any day by the water.

However, the Firth of Forth is, as a dog walker proclaimed this morning – ‘a dirty river’. Too true, I bought myself a litter picker and armed with it and a bag I’ve now an intimate relationship with human trash. Tyres, plastic bottles and tops, sanitary towels, a lot of sanitary towels, innumerable pieces of plastic of all sizes and types, shoes, lots of shoes, clothing, ropes, wipes, food packaging, fibrous and congealed human-made materials, just about anything you can think of that humans make and nature has to suffer. I always think of a whale or dolphin or any sea creature consuming this stuff, and the complete misery of that vision is sobering. I can clear that beach, just about, in a month, but then it all comes back again. How not to despair?

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Regenerating campus life

Plants and seeds bought via our Community Climate Action Fund success.

Plants from Plants with Purpose

It’s exciting to see our plans for edible/sensory/medicinal campuses come together. Over the last few weeks we’ve taken delivery of lots of herbs and seeds and soil and compost and water butts, and this week we take delivery of twenty fruit trees too!

You can see pictures from some of our deliveries from Scotia Seeds and Plants with Purpose above and below.

Picture of herbs from Plants with Purpose

So, all we need now is your enthusiasm and time to get all this greenery planted into the ground. With a bare minimum of effort we can contribute to our campuses transforming into regenerative spaces that nurture, soothe and inspire weary minds and invigorate bodies battered by the pandemic.

The Lions’ Gate is fundamentally a co-operative undertaking, so if you have any ideas please come along and share, and we will try to help you realise them.

Contact Cal: to get involved.

Most of our work is currently carried out on Thursday afternoons from 12-5pm.

Picture of Scotia Seed packets

Here’s a list of the plants/herbs:

Mugwort Oriental limelight, Wild bergamot, Bronze bugle, Golden creeping Jenny, Roman/Lawn chamomile, Evening primrose, Flax/Linseed, Fox and cubs, Goats beard, Hemp agrimony, Lemon balm , Marsh woundwort, Meadowsweet, Mullein, Nottingham catchfly, Orpine, Scots lovage, St John’s wort, Teasel, Valerian all heal, Water avens, White strawberry, Yarrow, Yellow loosestrife, Yellow toadflax.

We have one of each for both Craiglockhart and Sighthill.

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Seed-bombing the rockery below John Napier’s tower

#BeeDiverseI’ve just been sent a pack of 100 seed-balls as part of the Keep Scotland Beautiful #BeeDiverse campaign.

I’m sure we’d all agree that the rockery beneath John Napier’s tower would be a delightful sight covered in flowers and populated with bees and butterflies.

Bee populations are in dramatic decline due to habitat loss – a by-product of intensive human-centric productivity. Healthy eco-systems are dependent on bees, so it’s imperative that we show our respect for nature by designing bee-friendly spaces.

If this is something you’d like to be involved with, drop me an email:



University community, an orchard and a micro-forest

It’s been an inspirational experience working with colleagues from ENSA, The Business School and the Development Office, dreaming-up how, moderate funding, from the Community Climate Asset Fund could be put to use at Napier.


In the first place I was delighted to have been enthused by Clive Gee’s positive energy when he suggested, out of the blue, that The Lions’ Gate could go for CCAF funding, though the turnaround would have to be very quick, not much more than a week as I remember it.

Well, activities are destined to hit snags. And we soon realised that there was no real way for The Lions’ Gate to get funding as its status has yet to be defined. Previous attempts to use Napier’s charity status had been unsuccessful. Though ‘social enterprise‘ or ‘co-op‘ seem our most likely organisational structure, as time goes by. However, as Ankit Dougal (ENSA President) has continued to be another force of positive energy for the project, we settled on the idea of trying to get funding in collaboration with ENSA.


Ankit was happy to be a part of things as much as he’s lent a hand on numerous occasions, and we put together our proposal. Clive did all of the pulling together necessary, and we wouldn’t have got very far without him. Soon afterwards we heard that we’d been successful, though some of our plans failed to get funding, namely an outdoor classroom and seating and tables. With hindsight, this CCAF funding is really for purchasing items that directly involve planting and biodiversity.

So, for both Craiglockhart and Sighthill we’ve purchased raised beds, a water-harvesting kit, top-soil and compost. Each campus will also get around twenty plants that have culinary and medicinal benefits. Furthermore, Sighthill will get four local cultivar apple trees and two plums. We’d like (though it’s still to be agreed) to plant a small micro-forest up there, but there’s plenty of time to decide what can be done. Craiglockhart will take delivery of 10 fruit trees, mostly apples, so essentially will be getting a small orchard as a destination in the cross-university plan for a ‘thinking walk’ around the grounds.


Thanks have to go to Miles Weaver who has been instrumental in pushing the case for improving the grounds up at Craiglockhart in a sustainable sense, to Dee, Alisdair and Helen at ENSA who have all helped steer the ship, and Lisa MacMillan for input from the Sighthill Gardening Club. I’m sure Sustainability Manager Jamie Pearson must have been involved too, lockdown has done funny things to the memory…

We also purchased lots of seeds and bird-feeders. Seeds to rewild areas of the campuses with plants indigenous to the Edinburgh area, and lots of new herbs and vegetables too, and bird feeders and feed to attract our feathered friends, as crucial contributors to a healthy polyculture. The way we plant should attract bees and insects and birds and in time with small and thoughtful interventions we can tweak the spaces so that they provide abundance for all.

If you’d like to get involved with planting up any of these sustainability initiatives (it’ll be fun, satisfying and you’ll sleep well that night), then please get in touch.

St John's Wort

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Preliminary insights from our student attitudes to sustainability survey

I’ve been playing with data from our recent School of Computing survey into student attitudes to sustainability. The point of the survey was to gather evidence of how students feel about sustainability, as a precursor to organising focus groups that will investigate how we can embed sustainability methods and materials into computing modules, in the first instance, but scaling up across all university modules going forward. It’s heartening to discover that over 60% of respondents are willing to take part in the focus groups with over 80% of female respondents keen to be involved in our ongoing research.

I am always wary of statistics that are not backed-up with qualitative, individual responses, thoughts or images, so we deliberately kept many of the questions open, offering students the opportunity to share their belief’s, perceptions, assumptions etc, in their own words.

So, here’s a few illuminations:

Over a quarter of respondents said that their current studies didn’t deal with sustainability at all, and over 65% said sustainability formed only a small element of their taught programme.

Nearly 90% recorded that they felt climate change would affect their future, whilst none felt really positive about a sustainable future. Around 60% felt somewhat positive or positive about it. 30% felt negative about the future when thinking about sustainability.

The sustainability issues students felt most concerned with are detailed in this graph:

Graph detailing the sustainabilty issue School of Computing students felt were the greatest concern

We asked students to describe environmental sustainability in three words. This word cloud visualises the responses:

Word cloud detailing words that students would use to describe environmental sustainability

There’s still a lot of analysis to do but I’ll leave this post with a few quotes from respondents.

When asked about how the pandemic had affected their habits:

“Overall positive: I’ve got more time for me, my family, for relaxing. No more time wasting travelling to work and university and I’ve got a better way to organise myself. Eating more healthy home cooked food and more time for exercising outdoors. Downsides: can’t travel to visit my originate country to see my family and also miss my friends. There’s also a bit of depression and anxiety because of the uncertainty surrounding, and not very predictable future.”

When asked how Edinburgh Napier could become a more sustainable institution:

“By incorporating sustainability education into each course, specifically on how sustainability relates to the given field.”

And finally when asked what they could do personally to address climate change etc. This is a particularly permacultural response, highlighting the need for community action, and a fundamental benefit of self-empowerment:

Everyone must work together to help. I do what I can when I can. Far too many people don’t think it’s worth the while if others aren’t doing it. Lead by example, if others don’t follow at least you can feel good in yourself.

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Garden Cottage in September

A few years ago I made my way back to see Graham Bell at Garden Cottage (the oldest intentional food forest in the UK). I’d met Graham once before and made a film then too. You can view it here:

Back in the 90’s I’d read his book The Permaculture Garden and had always found it a source of inspiration for how I may one day live a good life with care of the planet central to my doing.

Anyways, we hit upon the idea of creating a film in the garden every month. So here’s September. A beautiful, bright and windy day. The garden lush and filled with birdsong.