Professor Sally Smith – Head of Graduate Apprenticeships and Skills Development

The vision for The Lions’ Gate Project is to provide a unique and valuable experimental space for staff and students at the Merchiston Campus.

Designing new technology-based interaction approaches to the world around us unlocks the potential for interconnectivity. Technology in cultivation is essential for the future of sustainable development including data related to soil structures and plant development.

The garden is a living, outdoor lab for computing students researching Internet-of-Things, Data Science, Software and Human-Computer Interaction. Our students have been involved in the design and implementation of sensor networks to monitor heat and light; future work is planned for individual and group project students to create experiments and co-create technology-based systems to overcome the challenges of sustainable agriculture.

Marie Dubaille – Volunteer

I first came to the Lions’ Gate because I was looking for a way to meet new people with whom I would share a common interest. I was missing gardening which I did as a kid/teenager in my village and it made sense to reconnect with that while aiming at helping in the creation of “something”. I was looking for the feeling of “being part of”, and I found it.

Cal was extremely welcoming and humble, letting me share my knowledge as much as I was learning from him. We enjoyed exploring ideas about what could be done, where things could go, with the freedom to try and fail and laugh about it and try again.

We teamed up to try to make that place what we were dreaming of: a shelter, a safe place to relax and be with nature, and learn from nature. A place to experiment with weirdest ideas and not be ashamed if it failed. A place made for gathering that tries to integrate as much as possible people’s needs.

I feel that in today’s society, with pressure to succeed, with the distance ever growing between humans and their environment, a simple and welcoming place is very much a necessity. A place to explore sensations that might have been lost for some of us, or never been known : getting your hands in the dirt, seeing what you’ve planted grow, harvest, nurture for the next season.

For me, it was a time and space to dream of a better, more soothing future, and experiment on how to make it happen.

It is a place where, whatever your skill, you will be able to find a way to express it and put it to a good use.

For my part, I was trained in Interior Design, and with Cal, we used my ability to envision space and the relation between different parts of the garden to move forward on what would/should the place look like. And we created images to show others, and It taught me how to transfer knowledge, to be more confident in my skills.

I was very much thankful for the existence of the Lions’ Gate, and still am even though I’m far away now. I do hope to come by soon and be swiped of my feet with what it has become !

Graham Bell – Author and Permaculturist

I have been working with Callum Egan for a number of years since he took the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) here at Garden Cottage (Britain’s longest standing intentional food forest garden in Coldstream in the Scottish Borders). Callum developed the idea of using space to the rear of the library at Merchiston Campus and adjacent to the student refectory as a forest garden space which could provide nourishment for both mind and heart as well as the stomachs of the student and professional staff of the University. There is some special resonance as this was actually part of John Napier’s original garden adjacent to his home, the Peel Tower. A couple of years back some members of the Senior staff planted a Jargonelle pear tree we provided adjacent to the tower. This is a variety that was current in John Napier’s day, and was known to have been enjoyed by Mary Queen of Scots when incarcerated at Jedburgh.

The project was started with a commission for my team to design and build a portable forest garden to be shown at Scotland’s Garden Show at Ingleston Showground. This was achieved using a base of pallets and woven rush baskets with organic compost displaying a model forest garden which could afterwards be uplifted and replanted at the Merchiston Campus. During the show which was staffed by Callum and volunteers from both the University and companions on the PDC as well as my team We were positioned next to the commercial flower/plant sellers. It was noticeable that their plants were entirely devoid of insects owing to the chemicals used in their production. By 11am on the first morning of the show our sixteen square metre display showed up four species of bee and dragonflies on profusion. The stand was also equipped with experimental digital media for plant recognition and interpretation. During the course of the exhibition we spoke with many thousands of people about what forest gardens are about and the Universities interest and intent in this regard.

After the show the garden was shipped back to Merchiston Campus and piece by piece installed in it’s present situation. Firstly however the site had to be prepared. Various work parties and particular days have been set aside for this process. The grounds staff provided great support in constructing pathways, creating external water supply and clearing the ground to be fit for purpose. The creation of a bog garden and a stage area for performance work have added to the attractions of the project.

The name ‘Lions’ Gate’ was chosen because of the attractive old gateway (locked at most times but openable when there are events on and staff are able to secure the area) . This is particularly important as from the outset it was conceived that an additional function of the garden was to connect with the local community, offering a teaching space for the principles involved, a meeting area and a demonstration of how it is possible too grow healthy food in an attractive way in an urban location, whilst also providing a haven for wildlife.

Necessarily access has been restricted by Covid 19, but as soon as circumstances allow it will be restored in a managed way.

So in bullet point form I perceive the following benefits for the University from the connection with the public from The Lions’ Gate Forest Garden project to be:

– Managed access to allow the general public to connect with beneficial activity by students and staff on campus

– A showcase for Edinburgh’ Napier University to demonstrate its strategic commitment to sound environmental policies

– A talking point and demonstration of how small actions at a personal level can combat climate change and species extinction

– A teaching tool for any aspects of the natural environment and how we manage it

– A welcoming performance space

– As an adjunct to the library and refectory an area of calm and peaceful outdoor space for meditation, relaxation and conversation

– The latter will primarily benefit the on campus community but would also be available to the visitor community

– An opportunity to effect connections with the immediate neighbourhood to demonstrate, well…. neighbourliness

– Lastly a tangible demonstration of the value of outdoor teaching / learning space

Kate Murray Procurement Manager

I was fascinated to see and hear about the plans for the development of The Lions’ Gate such as the plans to create a student performance space and a digital bothy – both of which would offer great spaces for students and staff to work and relax. In my role supporting sustainable procurement in the University, I was particularly excited to learn more about the community growing space – in partnership with the campus canteen, fruit and veg would be grown in the allotment to be used in canteen meals. This innovation is part and parcel of sustainable food procurement – a hot topic in University procurement at the moment. One indicator of this is that I was asked to give a presentation on The Lions’ Gate at a recent sustainable procurement forum organised by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. There was a lot of interest in the project from participants across the Scottish HE and FE sector.

Nick Basagni – MSc Student

In 2018 I had the privilege of undertaking my MSc project “Symbiosis of Digital and Environmental Artefacts in Blended Spaces Using Permaculture Design as a Framework” in the Lions Gate after being inspired by previous work on Blended Spaces in my postgraduate course, particularly the novel concept of combining tech and nature. Through my work, I developed an understanding of how important it is for interaction designers to know how to implement interactive systems across ecologies of artefacts, and multiple types of spaces. Access to Lions Gate was pivotal in allowing me to explore my chosen project problem space, and additionally afforded mental wellbeing by being able to work with and amongst nature.

As a result of my MSc project I was able to secure employment at a tech consultancy, AND Digital, in London as a UX Designer. I have no doubt the knowledge and tools I garnered from my work on Blended Space in the Lions Gate helped me stand out in the application process; the ability to look beyond the paradigm of the screen to interact with technology, to think creatively and innovatively, with sustainability as part of the design process. It’s a mindset and innovatory way of thinking I fully intend to carry forward and advocate for with the client companies I collaborate with in the future.

Clement Luciani, Robin Mackenzie Partnership

I think it is an amazing opportunity to bring together people from different disciplines within and out-with the university. It promotes sustainability in line with the university objectives through applied research in a field which seems to me very pertinent with the current ecological crisis.

I really appreciate that the university has been supportive of the project, which I think could be far reaching as it develops, giving a more progressive feel to the university for current and prospective students.

Callum has been very welcoming when I said I wanted to get involved as a volunteer and I look forward to the project expanding so there are more opportunities for me to get involved.

Tam Collier, Grounds Maintenance Supervisor

The Merchiston campus is not one of the universities most colourful campus’, apart from the beautiful tower where John Napier lived.

The Lions’ Gate project aims to change that with edible plants, laying a winding path and seating. This could be a place for students and staff to relax and look at something other than concrete.

To quote our principal, this would enhance “the student experience”.

Richard Thompson (SACI/SoC PhD student)

This is a fantastic project that can only benefit both staff and students at the Merchiston campus. In addition I hope it can provide a blue print for how outdoor spaces are utilised across the university as a whole.

Callum’s project offered me the opportunity to deliver design work to a large audience at Gardening Scotland 2017. It offered invaluable real world experience and I was actually paid for my work! In the current job market this can be an all too rare occurrence and one which is particularly prevalent in the creative industries. This project also allowed me to become published as a co-author as part of the team that submitted to HCI 2017. Working with Callum and David was a fantastic learning experience.

Callum’s commitment to this project, and the opportunity to work with him and Professor Benyon have been hugely inspirational on a personal and professional level.

Dawn Smith, Public Engagement Officer

I am delighted to see that things are progressing with The Lions’ Gate, a testimony to all the hard work put in by Callum and his volunteers. I am very pleased to support The Lions’ Gate project which has a number of possibilities for the university, and specifically for public engagement projects. It is unique in its location in the midst of a university campus in Edinburgh, the potential for its use to bring together different communities both within and beyond higher education and to make a real difference to the lives of those who participate in it. I look forward to working with Callum to develop some exciting new projects with community partners and to have The Lions’ Gate as a central part of the university’s public engagement offering.

Andrew O’Dowd MDES FHEA (Subject Specialist, MA Interaction Design, Lecture in Tangible Interactions Design – SACI)

The Lion’s Gate project stands alone in its progressive intention as well as consideration for the otherwise neglected spaces on Merchiston Campus. The topic of permaculture and technology are extremely current and developing across both computing and the creative industries. With The Lion’s Gate project, the University is in a position to develop a leading research group on this topic in both the UK and internationally.

As seen in this year’s Design Degree Show, the field of Design is only developing connections to the natural world around us and how our practices should be more informed through permaculture theory.

Dr Kirstin James (Programme Lead MSc Occupational Therapy – SHSC)

In support of The Lions’ Gate project I would like to offer a few words.

Having visited the garden and met with Callum on two occasions, I anticipate the garden to be an invaluable resource to the Allied Health Profession-Social Work programme that is currently developing at Edinburgh Napier. Having a physical space to participate in, and gain a true understanding of, the role gardening and community gardens in support of health and well being is a unique feature of the University and a valuable selling point to students. I anticipate it to be very meaningful to positive student experience. The occupational therapy students in particular will be able to make use of the garden as part of their curriculum as they are required to gain knowledge and skill into therapeutic activities.

This is in addition to future opportunities to potentially offer the site as a student led therapeutic activity which would make links with the community and encourage enterprise and positive engagement outside of Edinburgh Napier.

Alistair Lawson, Associate Professor, School of Computing

The Lion’s Gate Gardens project is a fantastic opportunity to develop a novel lab research environment and workplace for environmental and health and wellbeing related research, enterprise and teaching. It has the potential to contribute to many of the Schools/ University Strategy objectives and to the Research Environment.

Personally, as an academic in School of Computing, I am currently using The Lion’s Gate Gardens as a test bed for low cost environmental sensors and data processing. This has facilitated:

• Supporting cross-school collaboration and university-wide research, e.g. exploring collaboration with School of Engineering & the Built Environment on sensor data filtering – which lead to discussion of other potential collaborations and the submission of a joint proposal for PhD funding to The Data Lab related to environmental monitoring.

• The initiation of a research collaboration with University of Glasgow – around using Pi sensors and Pi server stacks for environmental monitoring – with the potential for future publications and joint grant applications with University of Glasgow and their national and international research partners.

• Development of case study material for MSc Data Science (Module SET11121 Data Wrangling) on programming in Python for integration and processing of real world, live sensor data (Supporting Research-Teaching Linkages)

• Development Honours and MSc Dissertation Project Dissertation Topics around low cost environmental sensors, and data integration, processing, machine learning, visualisation etc. (supporting research-teaching linkages)

The following passage was written by Catherine Dignan from the University of the Third Age (U3A) who visited us in autumn 2018:

The Healing Power of Nature: Life today is undoubtedly easier but in some ways it’s not better, just faster. Part of the problem may be a disconnect from nature. Urbanisation and so called ‘digital creep’ means many of us spend a large part of the day indoors staring at a screen which raises our risk of metabolic syndrome, vitamin D deficiency, obesity, depression, loneliness and anxiety, as well as the ill effects of continuous EMF exposure. The risk to health of prolonged sitting has been well documented by research after space travel and is not offset by spending a couple of hours in the gym.

Health boost: The power of nature as a restorative therapy has been applied in many contexts throughout the world: UK post-war city slum clearances to make way for houses with more daylight and gardens; Japanese “forest bathing” and metsänpeitto in Finland have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and support immune function. Hospital gardens or landscapes with trees, flowers and colourful shrubs have been proven to speed recovery from illness.

Grounding: The human body is an electrical entity and is designed to be in direct contact with the earth. A garden could provide a little space for direct, barefoot contact with earth, grass or sand. Before urbanisation and rubber soled shoes, the human body had access to the earth’s negative charge, providing an endless supply of electrons to balance the activity of free radicals and to reduce chronic inflammation, which is the root of many modern diseases with added benefits of better sleep, reduced stress, pain and blood viscosity.

Plant power: Organically or bio-dynamically grown fruits, vegetables and herbs give direct access to fresher, more nutrient dense foods grown in nourishing soil and without the usual helping of toxic elements from pesticides and spraying. Aromatic plants such as lavender, bergamot or mint both for culinary and garden use open up another whole field of health benefits both for the gardener and the consumer.