The ‘Leith Covid Memorial Tiles’ Project

A Binks Hub beginning

How does a new university-based research hub begin to collaborate with community organisations? How does participation begin? These questions have been at the forefront of our minds in these first months since the Binks Hub formed in January 2022, and the answer seems to us to be ‘slowly and carefully’.

Our team certainly came to the Binks Hub with experience, networks and ideas around co-production, but we were mindful from the outset that if the Binks Hub is to work as collaboratively as possible, and with co-research being as ‘co-‘ as we can possibly make it, then we had to avoid the temptation to begin with plans which were too fully formed. To proceed with the assumption that we knew the answers.

Instead, we determined to return to first principles and ensure that we found and nurtured co-production relationships which are as horizontal and comradely as they can be.

So how did the relationship with Leith Community Pottery emerge? Delightfully unexpectedly!

In December, we hosted a forum at the Craigentinny Community Centre in the east of Edinburgh, our first attempt to create new links in the city. It was a cold weekday night and the Omicron variant was surging, and we weren’t surprised that few people were able to join us. We were, however, delighted that those who did come were engaged and interested in our plans (and we are certainly primed from the research methods we use to value quality over quantity).

One of those who came and engaged enthusiastically with us was George Fyvie, a local councillor whose passion and commitment about the local community struck us all. He told us about a ceramic artist named Andy Lang, known better as the Potter of Leith, and driving force behind the Leith Community Pottery.

George told us that Andy was attempting to realise a community arts project to memorialise the impacts of and losses to Covid, and suggested we might find his work interesting. He was right, and in January 2022 we went to visit Andy in his studio to learn more about his plans.

There is something about meeting in an artistic space that just can’t be replicated in an office or meeting room. Surrounded by art and the tools with which the creative imagination is materialised, Andy told us of his plan to work with community members in Leith to produce individualised ceramic tiles to memorialise Covid-19 losses/bereavement.

It was, he stressed, crucial that this be community-led, and that it be a way for people to express their thoughts and feelings in their own way, with guidance and support from his team. We immediately offered our support, in whichever form would be desirable and add value, and without diverting control and ownership from the Leith Community Pottery.

Andy was keen for us to work with him, and we decided that we would support him in submitting a bid to the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Edinburgh Local Community Grants Scheme’, in which we committed to collaborate with Andy on developing community engagement and communications strategies and practices. These are things that we have experience in, and in working alongside him on these we were able to free him to develop a budget which could focus more on the creative side of the project, and ensure his time is spent more with fingers in clay than tapping at a keyboard.

The team at Edinburgh Local saw the same value in the project that we had, and in late April 2022 informed Andy that his bid was successful.

So this, our first project developed from scratch since the Binks Hub came into being, if not actually our project, but Andy’s.

It wasn’t our idea, but his. It isn’t a research project, and it sees us direct money away from the University, rather than bringing it in.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way, because this is our start, our first new relationship, a slow and modest building block on which to construct something lasting.

Dr Jimmy Turner, Binks Hub Research Fellow

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The Binks Hub will work with communities to co-produce a programme of research and knowledge exchange that promotes social justice, relational research methods and human flourishing.

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