Kick Start projects

We developed the Kick Start programme in 2011 to stimulate innovative projects between researchers in our two partner institutions. We made seedcorn funding of around 2k available to projects involving both Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt researchers, with a focus on early career or emerging talents. Some of these projects are listed here.


  • The role of green space to residential perception and wellbeing
    Wenjie Wu (EGIS) and Francisca Lima (ESALA)


  • The Art of Involvement in Planning: Opportunities to incorporate creative arts practice into participatory planning processes
    Team: Katherine Brookfield (ESALA) and Douglas Pritchard (EGIS)

Background:Land use planning is hugely important to communities but participation in planning decisions tends to be low, selective and marred by conflict. A growing body of evidence suggests that arts methods have the potential to generate greater cultural understanding and social cohesion, open up untapped knowledge, invite and validate people’s personal narratives and enable individuals to feel more confident and empowered to take part in collective decision-making. Against this background, and responding to an understudied area, our intention was to investigate if a wider variety of people might choose to participate in local planning decisions if the methods of engagement were altogether more fun, creative and artistic and if these methods could facilitate a less antagonistic and more empowering decision-making environment.

Our project comprised a series of activities – meetings, brainstorming sessions, a public workshop, telephone, skype and in-person conversations, and a review of relevant research and policy contexts – that were designed to scope out the parameters, and identify the focus, of a large scale funding application.

Activities:We planned and held a public workshop where three artists from different fields – street theatre, legislative theatre and illustration – explained to an invited audience how they used creative, arts-based methods in their interactions with communities. The audience was encouraged to ask questions to learn more about the demonstrated techniques. Invitations to the workshop were sent to interest groups, local government officers, community organisations and other interested parties. 14 people attended on the day. Individuals provided representation from the fields of local government, design, planning, property, business and the voluntary and community sectors. We planned two but ultimately held three team meetings where the applicants, colleagues from disparate disciplines from the Universities of Manchester, Glasgow and South Wales, an artist and a prospective community partner planned for the public workshop, reflected on the findings and began to scope out the large scale funding application. In between these meetings, discussion continued amongst these individuals. Following these various activities, a small underspend enabled Brookfield to attend the UK-Ireland International Planning Conference to raise the profile of the project and learn more about recent findings in participatory planning and the role of the arts in planning.

Current position:Over the course of the public workshop and team meetings, as a result of discussion and reflection, the project focus shifted. It moved from a concern with the role of arts-based methods in general, to the role of walking in particular. A focused interest in Jane’s Walks, and the role such walks could play in local land use decisions, emerged. Jane’s Walks began in 2007 when the then mayor of Toronto, David Miller, proclaimed Friday May 4th 2007 ‘Jane Jacobs Day’. To celebrate the event and reflect on Jacobs’ legacy, various walks were held around the city. These walks, known as Jane’s Walks, have since evolved as a global, annual event. A charitable foundation, Jane’s Walks, has been established to promote and support these citizen-led walks. The walks are presented as a way of developing urban literacy amongst people and communities.

  • The opportunities and barriers in outdoor environments, for psychological restoration and improved wellbeing for parents with PND
    Team: Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira (ESALA) and Sarah R Payne (EGIS)

Post Natal Depression (PND) has a massive impact on individual women, their children and family, as well as a huge financial cost to society. Most maternal mental health studies are conducted in a clinical context. In contrast, this project takes an interdisciplinary approach (environmental psychology, health studies, and urban design) looking at the role of the environment on the mental health of women with PND. Natural environments in particular can positively influence wellbeing, however its role in helping women with PND has not been explored. Therefore, this study aimed to explore the opportunities for psychological restoration and improved wellbeing for women with PND in outdoor environments. This involved examining their experiences of outdoor environments including the barriers that may prevent them from accessing and using certain environments.

With the support of CrossReach (Glasgow) and Juno (Edinburgh) we conducted three focus groups which involved 10 participants (parents older than 16 years) who suffered or are suffering from PND. The focus groups took place in Glasgow, Edinburgh & virtually (via Skype & over the phone). The preliminary findings show:

    • When severely depressed, women tended not to go outdoors.
    • Getting out of the house is a major task
    • Blue and green spaces are among the favourite places for this group to engage with outdoors
    • Outdoor spaces seem to have the potential to help improve their mood.
    • Outdoor environments offer an opportunity to relax and feel calmer
    • Socialising in outdoor environments was not considered beneficial
  • ‘Blethering on a Bus’: A novel engagement method to enhance/encourage community involvement in the planning process
    Team: Sara Tilley (ESALA), Ryan Woolrych (EGIS) and Chris McWilliams (EGIS)

The population of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport’s (SPT) area is 2.14 million. The proportion of black and ethnic minority (BME) people in the area is 2.4%, which equates to 52% of Scotland’s ethnic minority population. This project arose as during SPT’s engagement process in developing their Equality Outcomes framework a higher proportion of ethnic minority passengers declined to participate.

Two workshops carried out on a double decker bus were designed to engage with BME groups more effectively. This project aimed to find out the travel behaviours of people belonging to BME groups and to evaluate the effectiveness of the bus consultation method in engaging with these communities in Glasgow. Ethical approval was obtained from ECA.

The first bus workshop was held on 10th June 2015 outside a local community centre used predominantly by BME groups. A range of methods were used to explore the travel behaviours and experiences of ethnic minority groups which included community mapping and a post-it exercise to gather comments. A total number of 20 participants attended the workshop.

The second workshop was held on 17th June on a public street (Great Western Road, close to Kelvinbridge subway station) and members of the public were invited on to find out their travel behaviours and experiences. This workshop was held in a public place to further understanding about which groups engaged with the research. A total number of 26 participants attended the workshop.

At both workshops, feedback forms were completed by some participants. Of the feedback received all participants said they enjoyed the workshop including the activities. People also commented that having the opportunity to give their opinion was what they liked best about the workshop.

Each workshop was also evaluated by the researchers. We concluded that in order to reach BME communities effectively, bus workshops held at a community location as this was a ‘captive audience’ and children were attracted to the bus, bringing their parents on board. When the bus workshop was held on a public road, people only stopped to speak briefly outside of the bus.


Project team: Dr Lynette Robertson (ESALA), Dr Gillian Menzies & Professor Phil Banfill (SBE)

The project aimed to develop research on the sustainable design of green roofs, with a focus on (i) energy performance and (ii) life cycle energy, carbon, and monetary analysis. Its principal aim was to explore the viability of securing industry funding (£25k over 3 years) to facilitate an application to the Scottish Energy Technology Partnership (ETP) PhD studentship fund. The proposed studentship would be based at the School of Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University and would make use of the University’s green roof test rig. It would be jointly supervised by Phil Banfill (Principal Supervisor) and Gillian Menzies and/or Lynette Robertson as second or co/assistant supervisors.

The seedcorn funding was used to research, write and develop a full ETP Studentship application to final draft stage and to communicate extensively with potential sponsors, including via attendance at green roof and construction conferences, with the help of Andy Liken and Natasha Madeira (Business Development Officers at Heriot-Watt). To date, it has not been possible to secure a firm studentship sponsorship, given the economic climate. The remaining ETP criteria have been met: good science, two supervisors from different universities, and 33% funding from the host university. In addition to the PhD proposal, MSc projects were also envisaged as an outcome and the research and knowledge developed may also form the basis of a larger grant proposal (e.g. EPSRC), possibly in collaboration with other researchers within ESALA and SBE.

Project team: Dr Jenny Roe (SBE), Prof Richard Coyne (ESALA)

The project studied the influence of ambient environment on mood and cognition. Using Emotiv EPOC, a low-cost mobile EEG recorder, 12 participants took a 25 minute walk through three different areas of Edinburgh. The areas (of approximately equal length) were labelled Zone 1 (urban shopping street), Zone 2 (path through green space) and Zone 3 (street in busy commercial district). The equipment provided continuous recordings from five channels: excitement; frustration; engagement; Long Term (LT) excitement; and meditation.

A new form of high-dimensional correlated component logistic regression analysis showed evidence of lower engagement and arousal, and higher meditation, when moving into the greenspace zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it. Systematic differences in EEG recordings were found between three urban areas in line with restoration theory. This has implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment for walking or for other forms of physical or intellectual activity. The outputs from the project included…

The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG
Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R. & Roe, J. 2013 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine

Engaging the brain: Implications of mobile EEG for spatial representation
Mavros, P., Coyne, R., Roe, J. & Aspinall, P. 2012 in Digital Physicality | Physical Digitality: Proceedings of the 30th eCAADe Conference. Prague, Czech Republic: Molab, pp. 657-665

… and, as a pilot study, the project fed directly into Mood, Mobility and Place (MMP) which was awarded £1.6m from the cross-RCUK programme, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, in March 2013. The relevant work package, Environment and affect, with Coyne, Roe and Aspinall is £318k at FEC and is now underway.

Project team: Dr Ibrahim Motawa (SBE), Dr Kate Carter (ESALA)

The national regulation on energy performance and ‘carbon’ accounting has asked for a greater consistency of construction information to achieve the CO2 emission target. Building Information Modelling (BIM) can play a key role in this respect. For the purpose of this study, the Scottish Government Construction clients are capable of significant step changes in helping the market to respond to such requirement. A structured and consistent approach can drive a mass improvement in BIM taking-up to improve the performance of the government estate in terms of its cost, value and carbon performance. The general aim is to transform the current procurement strategy into a new BIM-driven approach to deliver an environment whereby the Government client would have an estate that is smart enough to face a low carbon economy where reductions in operational costs and carbon emissions are targeted.
The objectives of this collaborative work were to:
1. Identify the key variables of operational and carbon performance affect on the decision process, especially within the Scottish Government as a client, that should be embedded in BIM applications.
2. Identify the information at key stages to ensure consistency of clarity to the supply chain for a new BIM-driven procurement approach.

The main output from this project was the paper:
Sustainable BIM-based evaluation of buildings
Motawa, I. & Carter, K. 29 Mar 2013 in Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 74,
pp. 116-125

Project team: Dr Alan Forster (SBE), Dr Kate Carter (ESALA)

This project comprised a student-led exploration of earth sculpture and form focusing on finish, texture and colour. In a workshop environment, participants stabilised earth with hydraulic lime and shaped it using unusual forming material and processes, including woven textiles, corrugated iron and recycled materials, testing the bounds of the material characteristics. A joint paper is currently being drafted and further collaborative work is planned. This will consider the use of earth as a finish to Brettstapel solid timber construction.

Image from le Festival Grains d’Isère

Project team: Lisa Moffit (ESALA), Dr Fan Wang (SBE)

This project comprised a collaborative submission to a design competition for the largest landfill site in the world, Fresh Kills on Staten Island, New York. The competition brief called for the design of a renewable energy landscape. In addition to developing a renewable strategy for the site, the team focused on developing a series of design responses that acknowledge and amplify discreet microclimate conditions. These are a direct function of operating on the altered topography of the landfill site.

The design team, led by Lisa Moffitt in collaboration with students Maria Estaban, Nathan Ozga and Sayan Skandarajah, developed a conceptual framework for the project, titled “An Exothermic Landscape”, and executed design development. The engineering team, led by Dr Fan Wang in collaboration with student Alastair Patterson, developed methods for quantifying perceived thermal conditions on the site using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) steady state modelling and thermal comfort calculations derived from data generated by the CFD model.

The competition was submitted electronically and selected for inclusion on the competition website.  The project also led to a successful University of Edinburgh Innovative Initiative Grant application by Lisa Moffitt and Liam Ross to start ESALA Projects; an initiative supporting ‘real world’ consultancy by collaborating staff and students and provides an outward-facing platform for multidisciplinary working by designers at all career stages.