Blog Archive // University of St Andrews

600 Days of Transition

Like many community organisations we are very aware that we work for you, our local area. As consequence, at Transition

Plenty of Ideas Generated

Plenty of Ideas Generated

we are keen to constantly receive feedback about what you want to change in our town. This week saw us launch our 600 Days of Transition Campaign where we are asking people what would you like to change to make St Andrews a better place to live. We want to know what things you think we should be putting our energies toward for the next 600 days. In our opinion this is more than enough time to make a significant difference.

In the past 600 days, Transition has (amongst other things) helped create another community garden at Albany Park; planted 600 fruit trees; engaged with over 50 attendees at Carbon Conversations; collected a treasure trove of goodies through StAndReUse; started St Andrews’ local economic trading scheme (Saint Exchange); made significant energy savings with the Interhall Energy Competition, helped start-up a bike-pool; and hosted dozens of community events. It’s been a busy time.

On Sunday we had the pleasure of attending the University’s 600th Anniversary Science Fair ‘Across the Universe’. We joined a number of academic departments including neuroscience who were demonstrating walking without a brain; psychology who were testing our memories; and physics who had attendees programming their own crocodile robots. There was also an amazing inflatable planetarium from the Astronomy department. Loads of cool things to keep the young and young at heart entertained.

Our stand was a little less high-tech but we did have bubbles, juggling and lots of creative sparks flying. We asked visitors to tell us what they would like to change in St Andrews and, as usual, we were pleasantly delighted with all the great ideas that were shared. We had requests for saunas, skate parks, fruit sharing, picnic benches and a whole host of other things. One lady requested more owls (but that’s probably because she had an unfortunate incident with a seagull earlier in the day…). There were 2 standout champion ideas that lots and lots of people suggested: better cycling infrastructure and more science fairs.

We recognised that St Andrews is a super place to ride a bike (pleasantly flat and conveniently compact) and whilst lots of people do make the most of our natural location, it was thought by many that more could be done to make cycling accessible and safer. One of our more well-known contributors (the Principal Professor Louise Richardson) was also behind this idea.

The Principal got involved too.

The Principal got involved too.

At the moment Transition is working very closely with the Bike Pool to try to keep existing bikes in top condition. The Bike Pool are also renovating a number of bikes for reuse next term. If you would like to get involved they are always looking for donated bikes and volunteers and you can find details of how to contact them on their facebook page. We will have to get our thinking caps on about how to encourage more biking infrastructure in St Andrews.

The second idea that received a lot of support was very much linked to the ‘Across the Universe’ event itself. Visitors obviously enjoyed themselves because there was resounding support for similar events in the near future. At Transition we would like to host a Green Research Fair so if you are involved in research on the environment, we would love to hear from you.

We plan on using the ideas generated from our 600 Days Campaign to come up with a strategy of action at the first Open Forum of next semester. We want to hear from as many people as possible so if you would like to get involved look out for us at local events, join us on facebook or send us an email.


The Future of Food at St Andrews University

Fife is now recognised as a leading light in the UK’s local food revolution as demand soars for seasonal, fresh food, made and sold on our doorstep. For large organisations like the University of St Andrews, reconnecting with local food networks poses benefits as well as challenges.

To better understand this phenomenon, the St Andrews Sustainability Institute (SASI) is hosting a lunchtime seminar on Wednesday 20th February at the Gateway Building (LR 3) addressing the ‘Future of Food’ at the University of St Andrews.

While individuals are making positive food choices, larger organisations can find it difficult to make the switch; this seminar aims to explore the benefits of local food and how it might come to play a much larger role in feeding the University of St Andrews. Featuring two excellent and experienced “local food” experts, Mike Small and Robin Gourlay, attendees will be able to hear first-hand how changing our diet can lead to benefits for our local economy, the environment, health and culture.

  • Mike Small is an activist, writer and publisher originally from Aberdeen. He has led on the Fife Diet local eating experiment, which aims to re-localise food production and distribution on a regional basis as a response to globalisation and climate change.
  • Robin Gourlay is responsible for driving forward the Scottish Government’s National Food and Drinks Policy, for the public sector and was instrumental in making School in East Ayrshire buy more local food. Robin has wide experience in catering and facilities management in both public and private sectors through a career which spans, hotels, Universities, Further Education, Colleges and Local Government.

Our chair will be Dr Shona Russell, Lecturer in Knowledge and Practice within St Andrews University School of Management

With a welcome and introduction from Professor Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice Chancellor the university, this seminar really will pose food for thought on an issue that is close to our hearts – and mouths!

This free seminar is open to all and especially those who have a professional interest in local food.

Wednesday 20th February from  1pm to 2pm (Coffee from 12.30pm)

Lecture Room 3.

The Gateway Building, North Haugh, St Andrews University, St Andrews


This event is sponsored by the St Andrews Sustainability Institute  -  a group of people at the University of St Andrews who are working towards a sustainable future for everyone.
Poster with full details here.

4 Seasons in One Day

Hopefully you noticed that last weekend the clocks went back, which may have meant an extra hour in bed, but also sadly marks the start of proper winter. Some of our international students might be forgiven for thinking that winter started months ago; the summer of 2012 was remarkably brief, even for Scotland.

Back in June, I had higher expectations for sunny weather and invited visitors to the Food for Thought 600th Anniversary Fair to enter our ‘Tallest Sunflower Competition’. I cannot say that we were inundated with entries.  My own attempt to grow a giant bloom was thwarted by some haphazard builders who, ironically, were installing solar panels on the roof of my building. I can laugh about its now… just.

I had almost given up hope of seeing any Transition sunflowers when a fortnight ago, Barbara from the Management School sent me the most spectacular pictures of her sunflower bathed in glorious Fife sunshine (yes, it does exist!). Not only does Barbara appear to have some of the greenest fingers in Fife, she also takes a stonking photo, some of which can be seen below.

Spectacular Sunflower (Photo B. Lessels)


Barbara's Beautiful Sunflower and friends

I was so pleased with Barbara’s triumph because it appeared her sunflower was the sole survivor of the Scottish summer. However, later that week, I went to visit my parents and my Dad called me out into the garden where, hidden behind the blackcurrants in a wee patch of mud, was the second (undoubtedly less glamorous) Transition sunflower (as exhibited in the undoubtedly less professional photo below).

He's a bit surly but he's got a good head of hair.

This got me pondering how on earth two sunflowers had survived October in Scotland: surely they thrived in sunny summer temperatures? Of course, I immediately turned to Google.  It turns out that sunflowers require only daylight, fertile soil and water; 3 ingredients we have in abundance in Scotland. They are remarkably hardy plants and can survive baking heat and chillier climates (although apparently not solar panel engineers).

Next year I have decided I am going to participate in some Guerrilla Sunflowering and plant lots. Not only will they provide a visual feast in October 2013 but they will also help fill my larder for a winter of tasty (and nutritious) snacks.  According to the internet, sunflower seeds have a low GI, are a good form of magnesium, protein and b-vitamins and have cholesterol lowering properties.

At the Food for Thought Fair I provided Homemade Energy Bars and Spicy Sunflower-seed Snacks, the recipes for which can be found in our usual spot (or by clicking here). If you were successful enough to grow your own sunflower, you can dry the head and retrieve home-grown seeds for your Spicy Sunflower Snacks.  Alternatively, as this week was Hallowe’en, why not adapt the recipe to use pumpkin seeds, providing a seasonal and tasty way to reduce food waste (more recipes on how to use your Hallowe’en lantern can be found here).


Speaking of waste, my other top tip from the summer is the realisation that spring onions grow fantastically when placed in a glass of water on a windowsill. Ok, I’ll confess this ‘tip’ is a blatant attempt to shoehorn the final season into this blog-posting, but it does work, as the picture of our ‘Nutella-jar-spring-onion-farm’ attest. Just because its November and freezing outside, doesn’t mean you have to stop growing your own food.

Happy Hallowe’en!






Contemplating carbon: a step on the Transition journey

It’s been 3months since I stumbled into the Transition Office, 65 North Street to pick up the Carbon Conversations handbook, the tome of knowledge to use to ‘go forth and save carbon’[1]. Since then I’ve reduced energy use, replaced light bulbs, swapped the car for the bus, and started growing my own food. These are tentative steps on a journey of transition sparked by Carbon Conversations.

In early February 14 others and myself began our respective, and collective, journey in a wee room tucked away in the Bute Building. Over the course of 5 sessions we, with the help of great facilitators, explored issues of low carbon futures, energy, transport, food, and consumption. Games, activities, YouTube clips, readings and personal experience ignited many conversations that intertwined issues of climate change, emissions reductions and sustainability. A rich tapestry of understandings and possible actions emerged as each of us shared personal experiences and facts.

Carbon Conversations is a space and process to connect with students of different years and between staff and students to consider how to engage with a complex problem. While carbon conversations is about how to reduce emissions, it’s just one part of the wider Transition Project spanning

  • how to grow, buy and cook food (veg bags from Bellfield and joining the community garden);
  • how to reduce energy use (Inter-Hall Energy Competitions)
  • how to reduce emissions through transport choices (goCar Share and second-hand bike sale),
  • how to learn new skills, and
  • how to make communities and networks

And so now as one round of funding winds up and another starts anew, the Transition Project embarks on a new phase with the award of 3-years of funding from the Climate Change Fund. New projects are being created (Local Exchange Trading Scheme and more community gardens) and others continue (Carbon Conversations). Aligned to the goal to reduce emissions are to learn new skills, connect with others, and continue enquiries into how to engage in complex problems bringing together theory and practice contributing to knowledge within the academy, the town and gown community and beyond.

As we found in the little room in the Bute Building, there are many ways to take action whether that’s in gardens and kitchens and on buses and bikes. These actions might occur in St Andrews and elsewhere as we each connecting past experiences with future possibilities – to reduce emissions and grow the Transition St Andrews community. In doing so, we might find issues and problems but remember that ‘it might be hard but there’s sunshine on the other side’[2].

[1] Thanks to Carol-Ann Cunningham for permission to use this quote.

[2] Thanks to Victoria Olayiwola for permission to use this quote.