The RSE is pleased to announce 12 recipients of its new community-led research awards.

Generously backed by the Williamson Trust, a total of £59,518 will be awarded to 12 community research projects located across Scotland.

‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People’: Community-led awards are designed to enable new and existing community-led research projects in any discipline that promote the health of individuals by fostering healthy communities, healthy environments, and healthy food.

This is the first year these awards have been given out, and initially, only ten were planned. However, the strength of the applications was such that a further two projects will now be supported.

Professor David E Salt FRSE, Chair and Trustee of the Williamson Trust, said,

Professor Professor David E Salt FRSE,
Chair and Trustee of the Williamson Trust

I speak for all the trustees at the Williamson Trust when I say we were incredibly excited to see the very strong response we got from communities across Scotland. From the 40+ applications received, we are proud to be able to fund 12 projects, supporting activities from island and highland communities in the north, urban communities in the central belt, and rural communities in the south.

We are encouraging an amazing array of projects spanning food, nature, and climate, all with the potential to deliver real solutions for Scottish communities. The level of creativity and ingenuity embedded in the projects is staggering. From food waste, the right to food and cooperative local growing, to rebuilding biodiversity and land rights, community street play, urban forests, and climate conversations as street theatre.

The Trust hopes this seed funding will deliver real change and lead to larger impacts going into the future. We are very excited to be working with these communities across Scotland to help them make a new and better future.”

RSE Vice President, Research, Professor Anne Anderson OBE FRSE commented,

This is the first time that the RSE has supported this type of research, as the Society broadens its range of research awards, and I feel that it is vital that we do so.

The health of the individual and the health of the environment are inextricably linked, and it is my hope that these awards will now provide a boost to these exciting research groups which will lead to improvements in both.

I very much look forward to following their progress and achievements over the next 12 months.”

A woman standing in front of a building
Professor Anne Anderson OBE FRSE,
RSE Vice President, Research

2024 Healthy Planet, Healthy People: Community-led award recipients:

Community: Art Walk Projects
Project: Thrift: Climate Conversations
Location: Edinburgh

A pink flower is in a body of water

Art Walk Projects aim to develop a series of public conversations with artists, scientists, farmers, landscape architects, and climatologists that establish a strategy for achieving net zero for coastal communities, specifically relating to food, farming, and local coastal ecologies for North East Edinburgh (Portobello and Craigentinny). Their project is about gaining input from local people that can guide ways forward for projects that impact change for the coastal community at Edinburgh’s coast. In a region that is affected by climate change, such as the rise of sea level, the project will ascertain the place of food and discuss its future within the community to help frame ways to reach the city’s target of net zero by 2050.

Comprising four days of outdoor activity on Portobello Beach as part of the 2024 ‘UnderCurrent’ Art Walk Porty Festival, the funded project: ‘Thrift: Climate Conversations’ will engage local communities through participatory multidisciplinary arts/science engagement.

We are so very delighted to receive the support from the RSE and the Williamson Trust; it will enable us to develop our new project ‘Thrift: Climate Conversations’ involving local coastal communities in conversations around issues of food production, farming, and coastal ecologies of North East Edinburgh. It will support a rich multidisciplinary approach, engaging the local public around possible future food environments.”

Rosy Naylor, Founder and Artistic Director, Art Walk Projects

Community: South Kintyre Development Trust
Project: Rebuilding Biodiversity in Campbeltown
Location: Kintyre

South Kintyre Development Trust

A troubling biodiversity loss within Campbeltown has been identified by the South Kintyre Development Trust. Once a rainforest and wetland with great diversity, the Campbeltown community now seeks to investigate how they can best restore a diverse ecosystem. Local discussion events have highlighted various possible actions, such as creating bee corridors, mapping existing biodiversity within the town, and researching which plants will thrive and are best for increasing biodiversity.

Through the funded ‘Rebuilding Biodiversity in Campbeltown’ project, the South Kintyre Development Trust aim to develop a practical, long-term plan addressing the loss of biodiversity within their town.

We are delighted to receive an award from the RSE supported by the Williamson Trust to help us maintain and rebuild the biodiversity of our rural town. The funding will enable us to develop a practical, long-term plan to address biodiversity loss within our local area. We will grow and develop a Biodiversity Plan which will include wildlife and woodland corridors, urban greening (including more personal allotments and community gardens) and habitat restoration (restoring natural areas like seashores, meadows, and woodlands providing vital sanctuaries for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife). We would not achieve any of this without this award.”

Eric Spence, Trust Manager, South Kintyre Development Trust

Community: Propagate (Scotland) CIC
Project: Porridge Power
Location: Dumfries and Galloway, and East Renfrewshire

The ‘Porridge Power’ project will take a youth-led, place-based approach to help secondary school students understand and harness the power of the humble porridge oat, joining the dots between healthy soils, growing nutrient-dense and healthy food, food processing, cooking skills, healthier eating, food enterprise and local supply chains.

The project will involve young people from local secondary schools through their Home Economics departments, working with local organic farmers. The participants will have opportunities to get out on farms and learn about healthy soils and how this relates to growing more nutritious crops. They will be involved in the growing and harvesting the oats through hands-on activities.

Harvested oats will be donated to the schools, which will then organise the milling of the oats. They will use the finished product in cooking skills workshops and will be supported to market and retail their products.

We’re really excited to have been supported by the RSE and Williamson Trust to kickstart this project. We’ll be working with young people and farmers to celebrate the power of porridge!

Oat production used to be widespread in Scotland but has been replaced by primarily livestock and dairy production. We want to explore and celebrate mixed and diverse farming systems and involve young people in not just the production of oats but also innovative and new products that can be made and marketed locally. This system’s approach ticks every box – ecological food production involving people and communities, healthy food, and local supply chains.”

Abi Mordin, Strategic Lead for Propagate

Community: Bat’s Wood, Growing Space & Bike Track
Project: Willow Worlds
Location: Fife

A group of people standing in a field

Tree planting has never been more important than now, but in Scotland, we face the problem of overgrazing by deer. To date, we have used over 200 million plastic tree guards to protect newly planted trees. We know we must protect young trees against deer, but can we protect them in a more natural way?

Bat’s Wood are growing defences for small tree plantations with simple barriers of living wood. The group uses willow (salix viminalis) branches to create strong fence-hedges, known as ‘fedges’. These tree structures are simple, easy to plant, visually appealing and organic. Alive and vigorously growing, they allow small plantations to co-exist with deer who graze around but do not get into the planted areas as they go.

The funded ‘Willow Worlds’ project explores and tests this nature-based way of planting and protecting trees.

Willow Worlds is our most environmentally friendly project yet and we are grateful to the RSE and the Williamson Trust for their support. We are delighted to get the chance to scale up our idea of how to use willow as an alternative to traditional tree guards. There are 200 million plastic tree guards in our ecosystem today; we are among the many who feel the need for change. Our ambition is to create successful tree-planting experiences without tree guards, wooden stakes or canes. We are exploring the experiences and the effects of planting protective willow fedge as part of community tree planting projects.”

Duncan Zuill, Chair of Bat’s Wood

Community: University of Strathclyde, Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop and Crown Connects SCIO
Project: Understanding the potential of a resident-led street closure programme – Play Streets in Inverness
Location: Inverness

Excessive motor vehicle use is an established problem affecting Scotland’s ability to meet its climate-change targets. Furthermore, neighbourhood vehicle traffic prevents residents from connecting and playing in their own streets, impacting the physical, mental, and social health of Scotland’s traffic-dense neighbourhoods.

“Play Streets” have been proposed in England as temporary interventions to make streets traffic-free. Residents lead short-term road closures, creating a safe space to play and connect outside their homes. Play Streets have not yet been widely implemented in Scotland.

Through their award, this collective plan a local evaluation of Play Streets in Inverness to gather evidence needed to support community organisations in building a case for Play Streets in Scotland. Follow-on funding could then be sought to evaluate the fully implemented Play Streets across Scotland.

I am pleased to accept this award on behalf of our collective. This project idea was truly community-initiated and driven. I have already learned a lot from our partners in Inverness, who are committed to gathering evidence on Play Streets. Their knowledge of Play Streets is a valuable resource for this project, and we hope to be a good example of academic research that supports local community-driven action in Scotland.”

Deirdre Harrington, Strathclyde Active Mobility Hub Lead

Community: Urras Coimhearsnachd Bhràdhagair agus Àrnoil
Project: Dualchas: Dynamic connections between community and the land
Location: Isle of Lewis

The community, together with the cultural hub Grinneabhat, propose to investigate innovations that will enable the continuation and expansion of their existing food system, with the intended outcome of increasing food security within the community. They aim to create a more local, resilient, and equitable food environment, with greater security of access to healthy food, starting in the community and expanding outwards.

As the last remaining community on Lewis working the coastal machair for food production, the group plans to combine the high knowledge base within the community with ideas for innovation. They aim to ensure the sustainability of locally grown food and making the produce accessible to those unable to grow it themselves.

We are honoured to receive the Healthy Planet, Healthy People award from the RSE and Williamson Trust. The award is a really exciting opportunity for us as a community to explore ideas for combining the traditional with the modern, with the aim of making existing local crofting practices even more resilient, and healthy food more accessible. We will draw on our community’s unique assets, including our community-owned land and our commons, which is a great space for food production and a biodiverse and culturally important landscape.”

Frances Simmons, Lead Researcher, Urras Coimhearsnachd Bhràdhagair agus Àrnoil

Community: Centre for Human Ecology
Project: Renfrewshire Land Connections
Location: Renfrewshire

The Centre for Human Ecology proposes to assess and strengthen capabilities for regenerative land use to strengthen adaptation to climate change in Renfrewshire. Initially, they will map and survey local stakeholders such as food producers, forestry workers, and conservationists. They will then select three to five projects and conduct interviews to build case studies which will outline the capabilities and barriers to regenerative land use.

A report will summarise their findings, including existing competences, gaps, and suggestions for improvements. In the project’s final phase, the group will bring together stakeholders and local residents to discuss how to strengthen regenerative land use in response to climate change and plan the next steps.

We at the Centre for Human Ecology are grateful to the RSE and the Williamson Trust for funding ‘Renfrewshire Land Connections’. The project involves community-led research dedicated to building capacity for climate adaptation and democratic participation around regenerative land use in Renfrewshire. Congratulations to all successful applicants!”

Dr Svenja Meyerricks, Researcher at the Centre for Human Ecology

Community: Community Renewal Trust (on behalf of R2)
Project: Sustainable food procurement for north Edinburgh
Location: Edinburgh

The Community Renewal Trust in Edinburgh is part of the R2 network of organisations that collaborate to achieve better outcomes in local communities, such as working towards a more sustainable local food environment in north Edinburgh, an area of multiple deprivation.

Through this funded project, the group plans to explore the feasibility of establishing a food buying group for local organisations that would achieve economies of scale, improve the quality and quantity of food available in the area, reduce food waste and reduce the time, energy, and food miles that local organisations are spending in procuring food to support residents to overcome food insecurity.

We are delighted to receive this award. Local people and organisations have been at the forefront of finding dignified solutions to food insecurity in the area. This funding will help us work towards our vision of sustainable food being affordable and available in the area. As a network of organisations, we know we can achieve more if we work together, but finding time to collaborate can be hard, so this helping hand will go a long way and have a wide impact in the long term.”

Anita Aggarwal, R2 Co-ordinator

Community: Taybank Growers Cooperative
Project: The Mycorrhizal Market Garden: what can we learn from fungal networks?
Location: Perth

A group of people standing in the grass

What are the structures, communication strategies, relationships, resources, and supports required to build a cooperative of independent growers that is sustainable, effective, and nourishing for those involved? These are the big questions which the Perthshire-based community growing project, the Taybank Growers Cooperative, is grappling with as they transition towards a more distributed cooperative model. This project seeks to pilot and research the growth of an intentional ‘mycorrhizal network’ for their members.

Drawing on learning from the symbiotic relationships between mycorrhizal networks and plants, this research project will work to illuminate the informal and invisible ways “mycorrhizal” symbiotic support is already happening within the cooperative and community. It will also explore how we can build these networks with increased intention, resources, and creativity through an appreciative inquiry approach.

The group believe this research will generate essential knowledge for their community and the food movement more widely whilst also building capacity within the cooperative.

We’re delighted to be recipients of the RSE’s Healthy Planet, Healthy People awards supported by the Williamson Trust, and are excited to get started on this project. The growing season is already in full swing at Taybank Growers Cooperative, and we know there’s a lot of hard work ahead. This funding will provide us with additional resources to maintain meaningful conversations and space for learning throughout the season about supporting each other and nurturing our capacity as growers and as a cooperative to get good food to our community and keep ourselves well through the season.”

Taybank Growers Cooperative

Community: Nourish Scotland
Project: Our Right to Food Project
Location: Edinburgh

The ‘Our Right to Food’ project is developing ways to measure the progress towards the right to good quality, affordable food in Scotland. With this funding, Nourish Scotland will extend its existing model to learn from South Asian households. The group will create a ‘persona household’ and then agree on how that household would facilitate food – when, what, and where would different members of this imaginary but believable household eat? The emphasis will be on delivering food is healthy, enjoyable, and a good fit with people’s lifestyles and cultures.

From this set of meals, the group will compile a weekly basket of foods they can cost and use to measure whether a ‘good enough’ diet is accessible for these households. They will also assess the carbon footprint of this shopping basket.

We are delighted to have been granted a ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People’: Community-led award. The ‘Our Right to Food’ project aims to learn what people in Scotland would choose as a healthy and enjoyable way to eat so that rights holders and decision-makers can better identify how to make this accessible for all.

This award will support the project’s next phase, which will focus on a typical Pakistani household in Scotland and explore whether a ‘good enough’ diet is more or less affordable for different groups within Scotland. The project also hopes to contribute to measuring progress toward achieving the right to food in Scotland.”

Irina Martin, Senior Project Officer, Nourish Scotland

Community: Glasgow Seed Library at the Centre for Contemporary Arts
Project: Cataloguing commons
Location: Glasgow

What are the challenges involved in organising a seed commons and making seeds accessible? Established in 2019, The Glasgow Seed Library, based at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, is a new seed commons, offering the residents of Glasgow free access to organic, open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.

The project this award supports will investigate how innovative cataloguing processes could improve accessibility and engagement with the seed library. Through participatory research with community seed savers, the group will explore better ways to collect and collate the type of data people accessing the library would find helpful and see how reorganising the library with this new information would increase participation.

The project will then present the research findings through a pilot ‘seed catalogue’. Follow on funding could then be sought to implement further changes in the library and how it catalogues seeds.

We’re so excited to work with researcher Joss Allen to creatively reimagine a seed catalogue for Glasgow Seed Library, supported by the RSE and Williamson Trust funding. Working closely with local seed savers, we hope to learn more about the plants being grown in the city, the people who grow them, and how to support and sustain a flourishing seed commons.”

Rowan Lear, Seed Librarian, The Glasgow Seed Library

Community: Eday Partnership
Project: Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Food Waste in Island Communities
Location: Eday, Orkney

Eday, an island in the Orkney archipelago, has a small community of around 130 people. The community proposes to research and evaluate options to identify a sustainable – and possibly commercial – solution for reducing food waste in an island community.

Recognising that island communities have fewer opportunities for recycling due to the limitations of economies of scale and limited human and financial resources, this project will explore different forms of food waste composting. Alongside this, the community aim to identify how the processes might yield social and economic benefits and whether any solutions might benefit from collaboration with neighbouring isles. The hope is that the research findings will be replicable across other isles and within other remote and rural communities.

Recently, the Eday Growing Group appointed Alun Jones as the Growing Manager to oversee the implementation and management of a polycrub. He said:

“The community is really focussed on the transition to net zero, and with no waste recycling on the island, this grant funding is going to be pivotal for the community, not only in terms of supporting the community growing project but also in terms of dealing with waste in an island setting. We are absolutely delighted to receive this award and cannot wait to explore options for a composting solution that is going to benefit the whole community. We aim to develop something that can be rolled out in similar community environments – all visitors to Eday are welcome to visit our growing area.”

Alun Jones, Growing Manager, Eday Partnership