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.