Listening with Your Eyes Interactive Drama Workshop

Being playful and experiencing joy are part of being human, but often not what comes to mind when living with dementia. ‘Listening with Your Eyes’, a workshop delivered by Nik Howden from Vamos Theatre Company, which ran as part of the Festival of Creative Learning 2019, challenged this mindset.

Festival of Creative Learning Flyers

© Mihaela Bodlovic 2019 Festival of Creative Learning

Through a series of exercises, carried out in a reflective and whimsical way, we learnt to pay attention to the way that communication and connection with another person depends on so much more than words, and to think about how that feels: the sense of loneliness and boredom that comes when another person avoids eye contact; how the touch of only a fingertip can build a relationship of trust as we are being guided along an unfamiliar path; how so much meaning is held in the tone of our voice.

As a group we were invited to let down our guard and open ourselves up to one another, as without this we cannot be playful. We tuned into each other’s movements and danced with strangers. This touched something in us which, in the busyness of life, can remain dormant: the silent dancing provoked spontaneous applause. It was simple and yet it was profound because each of us knows that we have a fundamental human need to connect with others and to be held in relationship.

For people with dementia this can be so difficult in our hypercognitive culture which puts such as high value on words.  But we are so much more than our words. This workshop helped us to slow down, to notice, and to be present. In the UK there are 850,000 people living with dementia, 39% of whom live in care homes, places that many people fear they will spend their final years. The artist Camille Pissarro said ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’. Care homes are humble places yet beauty can be found there if we care to look.

One workshop participant said that the thing she was going to do after the workshop was go and see her grandmother – she felt more able to do this. One of the best things about the workshop was the range of people it attracted. There were people from care homes, student nurses, medical students – all of whom already work with people with dementia. What was especially encouraging were those who came along who don’t work with people living with dementia but know them in their communities and their families and recognise the value of holding them in relationship, living well together.

In the absence of a cure for dementia, or indeed old age, it is compassionate communities which foster hope. (Re) discovering the precious art of ‘listening with your eyes’ is a step towards establishing compassionate communities and seeing beauty in humble places.

Dr Julie Watson

Edinburgh Centre for Research on the Experience of Dementia/Nursing Studies

Should we stay or should we go? A Tale of Five Referendums

Dr Coree Brown Swan 

Teaching Fellow, Centre for Open Learning 

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre on Constitutional Change 

The past four decades of UK and Scottish politics can be analysed with reference to five referendums – two determining the UK’s place in Europe, with three more determining Scotland’s (and in 1979 and 1997 Wales’) place within the United Kingdom. With further referendums, whether on EU membership or on Scottish independence considered likely, it seems appropriate to consider these referendums, placing them in historical context and considering common threads and arguments. We do so with reference to materials from the Scottish Political Archive, a wonderful online resource. 

In this Festival of Creative Learning session, we examined materials from each of these referendums, analysing them for common themes and arguments, and looking at how the campaign strategies and messages have changed over time. These observations contributed to a broader debate and discussion of political campaigning and strategy, and the role of referendums in making big constitutional decisions. 

Referendum One: EEC Membership 

In 1975, voters were asked ‘Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’, which the UK joined only 2 years earlier. The campaigns focused on economic issues, including food prices, trade relationships, and jobs, parliamentary sovereignty, and national identity.


A brochure from the campaign to remain within the EEC argued that ‘Membership of the Common Market also imposes new rights and duties on Britain, but does not deprive us of our national identity. To say that membership could force Britain to eat Euro-bread or drink Euro-beer is nonsense’.


Those who campaigned against the EEC challenged these claims, asking ‘Is Great Britain to be a Great Nation, or merely a province of the EEC?’ They warned of the loss of sovereignty and barriers to trade with Commonwealth partners. Participants pointed out that many of the arguments would be familiar to keen observers of the 2016 Brexit debate, which points to the ongoing relevance of the European question in UK politics. 

Referendum Two: Devolution 

Just four years later, voters in Scotland and Wales were faced with another choice – on the introduction of devolved assemblies. The Scottish Assembly would have competences over education, environment, health, home affairs, legal matters, and social services, many policy areas that fell under the domain of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Proponents of devolution argued an assembly would improve Scottish representation and improve policy as well as see off the threat posed by the SNP.


In contrast, opponents warned of the dangers of a Scottish Assembly – of conflict, indecision, taxation, loss of power at Westminster, and the potential break-up of Britain.

The parties themselves were divided – with the SNP debating whether the assembly would serve as an obstacle or a stepping stone to their goal of independence. A majority voted in favour of devolution but the result fell short of the additional threshold introduced. 

Referendum Three: Devolution 

Although the 1979 referendum was unsuccessful, the 1980s saw civil society mobilization around issues of devolution. This included the Claim of Right and Campaign for a Scottish Assembly. In 1997, with the return of Labour to power at Westminster, referendums were held in Scotland and Wales on devolution. In Scotland, the campaign mobilised around Scotland Forward, bringing together Labour, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats, with only the Conservatives opposing.


Opponents warned of increased taxation and the risk to the Union, by encouraging conflict between Edinburgh and London. Workshop participants noted the similarity in the arguments in the two devolution debates and in the independence referendum. 

Referendum Four: Scottish Independence 

In 2014, voters in Scotland were asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The campaigns coalesced around Yes Scotland and Better Together. The debate was characterised by competing knowledge claims – currency, the economics of an independent Scotland, and EU membership. The campaign in favour of remaining within the UK focused its arguments on the benefits of union and the uncertainty of independence.

Yes Scotland emphasised a message of hope, for the present day and for future generations.

We also went beyond print media to analyse the Better Together video targeted at women who were undecided. In 2014, a majority of voters in Scotland opted to remain within the UK but Scottish independence remains a live issue. 

Referendum Five: EU Membership 

The Brexit referendum debate featured a plurality of voices and messages and competing knowledge claims about budgetary contributions, jobs, migration, and policy choices.


Participants engaged with the printed materials but also discussed reports of micro-targeting of campaigns and what impact this may have had on perceptions. They also contrasted the efficacy of the Better Together campaign in 2014 with that of the remain campaign in 2016, concluding that the 2014 messaging was more effective. 

Referendum Mania? 

Ultimately, participants seemed to identify the challenges of referendums, which reduce very complex issues to a binary choice, but concluded that they were necessary in certain areas. Participants raised the prospect of further referendums – a second referendum on independence, brought about by the ‘material change of circumstances’ outlined in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto or a People’s Vote, a vote on the final Brexit deal and brainstormed what messages and arguments they would employ if they were leading these campaigns. 

Dr Coree Brown Swan is a teaching fellow at the Centre for Open Learning and a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre on Constitutional Change. She tweets about all things politics at @Coree_Brown.

The Legal History of Medieval Fife

Book tickets for this event here.

This event will take you back in time to Medieval Fife, where we will be visiting several locations of historical legal interest. Central to this visit to Fife will be the case of the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v. Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore), which took place sometime between 1124 and 1130.

It was last year that the idea for this excursion came into existence. While taking the course “Lords and Vassals in Medieval Scotland,” some of the reading material involved land grants made by the Scottish King in Fife. While looking at maps and photos, one could not help but notice that Fife is quite close to Edinburgh. It was thus that the plan came into being to organize a trip to have a look at some of the locations that had been read about in manuscripts. Sadly, this planned excursion never took place due to insufficient time for the necessary organisation. Therefore, we are very happy to have the excursion take place during this year’s Festival of Creative Learning.

Fife may very well have been the first earldom to have been held feudally by the kings of Scots after the accession of David I in 1124. Anglo-French knights who followed David to Scotland settled in Fife, and Sir Robert de Beaune was probably one of these. The grants of land David made to these knights were paid for by their providing mounted and armoured service to the king. This came to be the essence of feudalism in Scotland, and the basis for Scottish land law as it developed in the subsequent centuries.

Photo of Ruined Castle

The case central to our visit – the Culdees of St Serf’s Inch, Loch Leven v.Sir Robert de Beaune (Lochore) (1124×1130) – concerns land held by monks, or “culdees” (keledei, servants of God), who had their monastery on an island in Loch Leven. Besides the island, the monks also held some land on the lochside, including Kirkness, granted to them by the Scots king and queen Macbeth and Gruoch in the mid-eleventh century. To the south of Kirnkess is Loch Ore. On the isolated mound near the loch’s north-east one can still see standing a ruinous castle (above). This was probably the caput(head place) of the knight’s fee of Lochore that King David had granted to Sir Robert de Beaune. The dispute with the culdees concerned a fourth, or a quarter, of the lands of Kirkness.  Now Sir Robert was laying claim to some of it, to the culdees’ great indignation; but we can only speculate as to why Sir Robert thought he was entitled to act in this way. Looking at the site may give us some clues.

Other interesting historical locations and artefacts that we shall be having a look at are the Cross Macduff, where something of a sanctuary was offered to killers related to the Earl of Fife, and Markinch, the ancient capital of the Earls.

Photo of Cross Macduff
Cross Macduff

‘Hand-Made Archives’ at School of Scottish Studies Archives

Monday 18 February 09:45-16:00

Our event focuses on the traditional hand-craft of making “cleekit gloves”. 

Photo of cleekit gloves

You may be asking, what on earth are cleekit gloves? That was the very question I asked when I found a collection of letters at The School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA), last year. 

The collection consists of 15 letters (ref. Subject box DII: Costume) and are from members of the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute (SWRI) to the editor of Scottish Home and Country Magazine. They are in response to an article, from January 1959, seeking information on this craft. 

Scottish Home and Country was the official magazine for the SWRI and as well as connecting members and events, it used to focus on crafts, patterns, recipes and local areas of Scotland. 

We were unsure as to why our archives had come to have the letters, but to my own craft-loving eyes they were a treasure indeed. 

Along with the letters was a copy of the original article which described the craft and had a call to action for more information. It appears that cleekit gloves was acraft predominately practiced by male farm workers in 19th century Scotland, made by way of a hand-made flat hook with a tiny head, which created the dense, but elastic fabric. This craft was seen as distinct from knitting or crochet. In the letters the respondents, from all over Scotland, talked of the craft being handed on by male members of the family. 

Despite a small resurgence in interest in cleeking, thanks to the response to that article, it is something that has now been relegated to the mists of crafts past. We aim to rectify that a little this Creative Learning Week!  

At the ‘Hand-Made Archives’ event I will be delivering a talk on this collection of letters; you will be able to explore the archives yourself to find evidence of craft in our sound, photographic, video and manuscript collections; and in the afternoon we will have a cleeking workshop, led by Dr Alison Mayne. You do not have to have any craft experience to take part, this is all about having a go.

Oral transmission and handing on was such an important part of passing on the cleeking tradition and by taking part in this special day at SSSA, you will be able to give this collection of paper material three dimensions and be able to engage with our archive collections in a very tangible way indeed.

Our event is free, but booking is essential. The event will be available to book through the Festival of Creative Learning Eventbrite page from Monday 21 January. This event is currently fully booked, but please add your name to the waiting list on the Eventbrite page via the waiting list button. If a place becomes available we will contact you, but this will also help us gauge interest in running the event again. 

All craft materials, refreshments and lunch will be provided. 

If you have any questions please contact, Louise Scollay on 0131 650 4163 or email

Louise Scollay, Archives and Library Assistant

The Art of Secret Messages – Practical, Analogue Information Security

Parchment with Festival of Creative Learning Logo in top right corner. Series of cipher glyphs in centre. Parchment text reads: The Art of Secret Messages. An Analogue workshop exploring the creation of and decoding of secret messages. Wednesday 20th and Friday 22 February. 13:00-15:00. Chrystal MacMillan Building. Meeting Room 2.

Book now for The Art of Secret Messages.

Return of Information Security

            Information Security is back at the Festival of Creative Learning! After last year’s well received, if sparsely attended sessions on the parallels between Security and Medieval Siege warfare, I have pulled together something a little bit different and a lot more interactive.

            Self-congratulation aside, your first year at an event like FCL is always going to be a learning experience and mine was no different. Pushing yourself to try new concepts and ideas within your field, those side lines that often don’t get the attention they deserve, is a great opportunity. 

Breaking free from habit is always tricky. I always want to deliver a lecture. It’s what I know and I get pretty good feedback on my delivery and how I structure my content. That’s why the Festival is a great opportunity for me to push myself into doing something far more collaborative and a bit fun.

The Development Process 

            As part of Information Security Awareness week last year I ran a lecture on the history of encryption. What it is and how we got to the standards and types of encryption we have today. Feedback for it was pretty decent and it managed to get solid turnouts throughout the week, so it seemed an obvious starting point. I could even re-use a number of the ciphers and codes that I had explored during my research. 

            The History of Encryption allowed me to use a prop in the form of a scytal, an ancient means of jumbling letters in a message so the enemy could not read it. Props seemed to go down well. Something people could touch. So I started looking at other physical props that I could include and was coming up short until one evening at home when my wife was laughing at a post in Frock Flicks. In the picture, all of the ladies were holding fans….

            Some research later I found a breakdown of an entire secret language, communicated by how ladies held, flapped, opened and closed their fans: Fanology.

            So now I had a handful of ciphers, code cylinders and fans. All I needed was a challenge to set my participants.

The Challenge

            What better challenge could there be but for groups to design their own secret message process, using what they had seen at the session? It was simple, or so I thought.

            How would I determine success? Should there be a prize for the winners? Will people be up for the challenge?

For those answers, you’ll just have to catch up with me after the Festival. 

The Art of Secret Messages is running on Wednesday 20thand Friday 22ndof February from 13:00 in the Chrystal MacMillan Building, Meeting Room 2. Book your tickets here.

David Creighton-Offord is a Senior Information Security Consultant at the University of Edinburgh who spends his off time delving into history, writing poetry and playing table top board and role play games.