Hello, apologies for the space between posts, 6 months this time – a new record, but hey there’s a whole world outside of the digital, and getting the balance right is important. Indeed, that’s a part of what The Lions’ Gate is about. Plugging into natural time. I’m old enough to remember stories of ‘burn-out’ in Silicon Valley, when Systems folks packed it all in and went and opened delicatessens or ran to the hills to homestead. Yes please, but try affording it now! These days the digital follows us everywhere, delighting and frustrating in equal measure – so, all the more reason to connect with things non-human, things other than our obsessive complexities, and perhaps, therein, open a space to realize – there really is only one eco-system – Mother Earth, and how she needs our help.
With The Lions’ Gate’s existence always hanging by a spiders thread, I thought it may help to provide a before and after photo diary, detailing the interventions made to a largely grey, angular, and biologically (bar humans), dead campus – an attempt to provide some medicine for a ravaged planet.
As Gorillaz, on my Spotify playlist sang this morning – ‘individual actions change the world’. We should make time for them. Long, time.
I’m thrilled that the hard work of many volunteers, students and staff over the past few years, and the collaborative application efforts of Rachel McCrea, Clive Gee, and myself, has resulted in The Lions’ Gate being shortlisted for the LUSH Spring Prize in the Permaculture Magazine category. A big thank you to everyone involved along the way, and fingers crossed for success, which would enable us to employ a horticulturist and volunteer co-ordinator – securing the project going forward.
The Lions’ Gate is an on-campus garden laboratory, venue, outdoor classroom, bio-diverse habitat, and play-pit for doing sustainable things, that seeks to address the climate crisis head-on, influence policy and learning, and fundamentally work with nature for planetary and human health.
We are a solutions-focused group employing Permaculture Design Principles and Ethics to realise a green university, where community, health & well-being, creativity and quality learning and research are core to all our thinking and doing.
It’s been a challenging year but we’ve had many successes – fantastic creative input from SACI and SCEBE Placement Students – involving, murals, a green roof, ponds, a wayfinder, photography, 3D animations, branding, pergola design, and a bespoke environmental sensor system; amazing volunteer input from Paul Ardin (3 bin composter, trunk benches, dome development), a wonderful community Open Day as part of the Climate Fringe; significant 4* recognition from REF 2021; association with Napier’s short-listing for the Times Higher Education University of the Year Award, and now a short-listing for the LUSH Spring Prize! Quite dizzying when I think about it.
Returning to the now, I’d just like to say a personal big thank you to current volunteer Tanya, a Ukrainian refugee, presently living with her family on a ship docked in Leith. Tanya is a trained horticulturist and has proved to be an extremely talented professional who has kept things going these past few months, regardless of arriving with virtually no English. Her circumstances have certainly put things into perspective for me.
Finally, none of our success would have been possible without you, so please get involved again in 2023, and in the meantime have a Mirthful Christmas and a Joyful New Year!
After much planning and impressive contributions from students, friends, colleagues, volunteers, performers, and over 100 participants, our Climate Fringe Festival, Great Big Green Week, and My Green Community Open Day enjoyed great success in the glorious September sunshine. The garden came to life through exhibits, performances and debate, not to mention massage therapy sessions in Merchiston library.
At 1pm our event gently came together as people drifted through the 16th century arch to the laid-back, uplifting dubby sounds of DJ Someone’s Dad (SACI’s Dr Tom Flint). With last-minute signage and guidance from students and volunteers, participants wandered the garden grounds and library finding little delights in every nook and cranny. At one end, through the Food Forest, where we’re developing an outdoor classroom the wonderful SACI Student Placements team were serving up delicious Mint Mojitos and donated beers from Stewart Brewing, under our recently completed Green Roof, whilst SACI students Cyd Holoran and Leeloo Moreau worked on Cyd’s mosaic.
Around 1.30pm, Heron Blue took the stage and lulled all with his gorgeous solo set, singing original songs and covers, backed by his sumptuous, spacey Fender Telecaster electric guitar work, seeping through the sweet tones of his effects board and amp. Heron Blue is actually Fraser McMillan who worked on the gardens as part of his SoC MSc last year. He was also instrumental in building the geodesic dome and helping me harvest Hazel wood for it from a wood-lined cycle-path to the west of the city.
Throughout the afternoon, visitors were able to engage with research and staff. Emily Hairstans provided tours of the garden spaces she had beautifully planted over the year. Brian Davison demonstrated the Grow Cube technology he’s developing as part of the Dandelion Festival. Through the library, on the rooftop allotment, SACI’s Professor Jaya Garrabost with the help of Cinematography lecturer David Byrne, and with great thanks to P&Fs Lee Murdoch for use of Merchiston’s kitchens, were serving up Aloo Subji and Chana Masala, alongside Sally Bennett’s not-one-crumb-left Homemade Lions’ Gate French Apple Cake and Tart, and Leeloo Moreau’s quickly-vanishing chocolate cookies.
In the library, 4th Year SACI students Andrew Waterhouse and Keir Flint exhibited their work on the gardens as placement students. Andrew displayed his elegant photographic close-ups and GIF animations, and Keir showed the humorous 3D ‘Garden Tour with Robots’ film he’d miraculously and accurately developed using Unreal Engine.
Visitors enjoyed the sublime holistic therapeutic talents of Edinburgh Napier Alumnus Emma Stout (Blue Butterfly Therapies). Emma provided 20 minute consultations, and was fully-booked throughout the day. Meanwhile, guests mooched, chatted, ate and drank, and lay in the sun on bean bags, with their friends and families and even their dogs.
Prior to our headline talk with Tim Ingold, Harry Docherty, SACI Music PhD student experimented with his ecological sound system, using environmental sensors as triggers for sounds, processed, synthesized and output through the PA as deep squelches and colourful washes, abrupt blips and mellow tones, complex and otherworldly in their scape.
At 3.30pm Tim Ingold took the stage, to an audience of around 60. Tim is Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Aberdeen University and has been immensely influential across various disciplines. His talk ‘Generation Now’ reflected on the demise of intergenerational knowledge in modern society. As ever, Tim’s insightful storytelling journey provided a wealth of generative metaphors; bell curves, lines, ropes, layers and queues, to describe the epistemological textures of indigenous and modern networks. Tim’s public conversation in the garden, provoked debate amongst audience members, with plenty of time for questions. A big thank you to Dr Kirstie Jamieson for chairing the talk. You can find a cinema-veritesque audio of the talk here – sadly our recording equipment was playing up and we didn’t manage to capture the final part of the Q&A. However, the richness of Tim’s narrative eclipses the bark of a dog, the wail of a baby and the rasping exhaust of a boy-racer – it has a direct/concrete feel to it, and I for one like that.
With some reflection on the future of modern universities, Tim did go on to discuss the alt-university project he was part of at Aberdeen, details of which including their manifesto and campaign are here.
Well, that’s quite a long blog post so I’m going to wrap it up here. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen, not already mentioned; Peter Pryde and Alan Curtis in Properties & Facilities for their continuing support with building structures. The School of Computing, particularly Professor Ben Paechter and the Procurement Team. ENSA for moral, social media, and physical support. The Student Futures team for their back-breaking work on office away-days, cargo bike mechanic and volunteer Paul Ardin for his great cheer, amazing skills with a Japanese saw and all the work he did on the compost system, securing the trunk benches and finishing off the geodesic dome. Nicole Barrios and Grace Newbigging for their work on the pond, wayfinder and pergola. Clive Gee and Rachael McCrea in the Development Office for their help with trying to find funding, and you, if you’ve helped out in any way!
Our sustainable blended spaces provided a unique and inspirational background for a great celebration of community, or as one visitor described a ‘joyous hack’, and that appeals to my open-source ethos as well as the need for critical debate and action on climate issues. Universities can and should be places that are outward-looking, community-focused, where local people can meet to engage in sustainable practices and research.
There’s lots more to discuss about where The Lions’ Gate goes from here – it’s forever a precarious notion, so please do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.
Headlining @ 3.30pm, we’re delighted to host influential, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology at Aberdeen University Tim Ingold, who’ll be presenting his latest work ‘Generation Now‘ from our Storytelling Chair.
Tim has made a huge impact on design philosophy, and was a favourite of Edinburgh Napier’s late, great Prof. David Benyon, whose own design work on Blended Spaces has fundamentally informed The Lions’ Gate, to the extent that our work contributed to a Blended Spaces Impact Case Study awarded 4* in 2021’s Research Excellence Framework, denoting research quality that is world-leading in originality, significance and rigour. What goes around…
Other wholesome and life-affirming activities of the day include:
As we experience environmental and economic collapse, failures in geo, national and local politics, human health & well-being under siege, and a general sense of hopelessness, the day will provide an opportunity to share, unwind, discuss, listen and delight in what is possible, in our imaginative, permaculture-inspired, urban, campus garden. The event is free but ticketed, soplease register here.
Look forward to seeing you on the 24th!
The planet does not need more successful people. The planet needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 :).
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!
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.
If you and/or your students would like to get involved with The Lions’ Gate please just drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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
Golden creeping Jenny
Fox and cubs
Valerian all heal
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: email@example.com.
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.
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.
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, andover 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:
We asked students to describe environmental sustainability in three words. This word cloud visualises the responses:
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.“