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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: callum.egan@napier.ac.uk

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Campus Sustainability Climate Action Education and culture Tools and technology

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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Campus Sustainability Climate Action Education and culture Tools and technology Volunteers

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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Building Campus Sustainability Climate Action Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being Land and nature stewardship Tools and technology Volunteers

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: callum.egan@napier.ac.uk.

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: callum.egan@napier.ac.uk.

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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Campus Sustainability Climate Action Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being

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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Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being Land and nature stewardship Volunteers

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M1uMqRUabw

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.

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Education and culture Health and spiritual well-being

A benefit of flexible working.

Sunrise over Edinburgh

One the most positive things to have come out of the lockdown situation has been the ability to work your weekly hours in a manner that supports your health and well-being. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a progressive employer, or a job at all.

I’ve been getting up early, often in time for the sunrise, and going for a cycle into the Estate that’s close by my home.

This morning I met only two people. I don’t think I’ve ever met more than three on these excursions. A man walking his chilled and scruffy dog, and a woman trotting on her pie-bald horse.

I cycled into the wood where the new wild garlic tempted me with it’s heady sweetness.

Eventually I made it the shore, the cockle-shell beach, the sun low in the East, scattering it’s warming glow over the rippling estuary.

Back on the bike, for the climb up the hill. On any day I may meet deer, sheep, pheasants, buzzards, hare’s, highland coo’s, all kinds of nature’s bounty.

An added bonus this morning was that when I approached the gates to leave, they opened electronically for me and so I didn’t have to wrestle with the kissing gate and a long bicycle.

Within little over an hour I was home, and once I’d washed and had breakfast I was ready to start work. Invigorated, inspired, unrushed.

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Campus Sustainability Education and culture

Student attitudes to sustainability

MBA students - Amy and BusayoProfessor Sally Smith (Head of Graduate Apprenticeships and Skills Development), MSc student Kris Plum, and I are currently involved in research about embedding sustainability in the university curriculum.

We’ve developed a survey – ‘student attitudes to sustainability’ based on the excellent work from SEED (Sustainability and Environmental Education)*, responses to which will be synthesised into themes for focus groups to discuss how the university can best address the environmental concerns of the age in terms of pedagogy.

To begin with we’re focusing on School of Computing students, but hope the results will feed into university-wide sustainability conversations, and more importantly, essential actions that universities can take.

Insights will be published on here come the Springtime.

*A big thanks to Environmental Sustainability Manger Jamie Pearson for directing us to SEED.