All posts by UHI

UHI corporate communications blog with guest contributions from staff and students.

The Significance of Role-Modelling: creating an LGBT+ safe environment

To celebrate LGBT History Month, we asked UHI students and staff to share their thoughts, reflections and stories. Social Sciences lecturer Carol Shepherd discusses the importance of creating a supportive environment for LGBT+ students and staff.

In terms of supporting our LGBT+ students, I believe role-modelling is key. With regard to supporting LGBT+ members of staff, I believe it is imperative that some of us are open about our sexuality to create a supportive environment for colleagues who may be struggling to be themselves in the workplace, or who may be dealing with incidences of stigmatisation in their personal or working lives.

I grew up in South Wales during the Thatcher years. Section 28 came into force in 1988 when I was 17 years old and attending a local FE college in a socially conservative area. At that time, I was struggling to understand my confusing dual attraction to both men and women, as well as reconciling that with my new Christian faith. How I would have appreciated being able to talk to someone about this complex identity crisis I was facing. No priests were going to entertain the idea of bisexuality as a positive, God-given facet of my being and it was illegal for any teacher to discuss such issues with me, under the new regulations in place. In her now infamous address to the Conservative Party Conference in 1987, Thatcher informed delegates and a watching TV audience of millions, that “children are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of these children are being cheated of a sound start in life.”

How times have changed, thankfully. The UK Government under Labour finally repealed Section 28 law in 2003, in part due to the campaigning work of the Stonewall LGBT Rights pressure group, and now many LGBT children are receiving the sound start in life so cruelly denied young people of my generation. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable way to go, before we can say there is an equal playing field for young people of all sexual orientations and gender IDs. The Stonewall Schools Report of 2017 revealed that nearly half (45%) of LGBT pupils are bullied in UK schools for being themselves, whereas a report by Stonewall and BritainThinks found that one in five LGBT NEETS (not in education, employment or training) have struggled to find a job owing to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

a young girl looks out the window, sad.

How does that impact on my role as a lecturer at UHI? As a teacher of Sociology and Politics, sexuality is a subject that frequently makes an appearance in teaching resources and classroom discussion. Being willing to use myself as an example in topic exploration, sends out a message that LGBT students are not only welcome in my class, but understood. It also communicates that even a queer woman from a non-liberal background can succeed in professional life. This is vital, when so many young people face micro-aggressions and sometimes outright hostility linked to their orientation or gender ID on a daily basis. As an out bisexual woman of faith, I have an intersectional identity (a personal identity consisting of two or more stigmatised aspects) which not only speaks to the complexity of existing within mainstream heteronormative society, but which also enables and challenges students enjoying heterosexual privilege, or indeed any other form of hegemonic identity such as white or male, to gain new insights into how different life can feel viewed through a minority lens.

Confident woman explaining to coworker during business meeting, leadership, manager, role model

Teaching the Social Sciences, as well as performative subjects such as Drama and Theatre Production, provide a platform to facilitate conversations on LGBT issues that other curriculum areas do not so easily lend themselves to. Whilst there is no obligation for any queer teacher to out themselves, and certainly no need to rub one’s sexual orientation or gender ID in people’s faces, the casual dropping of ‘my wife and I’ into the conversation about plans for the weekend, normalises same sex relationships and can be done no matter what the subject taught. There is no requirement to engage in unsubtle or unnecessary self-revelation to make it clear to students that it’s absolutely ok to be LGBT or simply ‘different.’

Such conversations apply to the staffroom and online meetings as well. This is my second year of teaching here, and I have to say, I am not aware of any LGBT staff groups, though I am a member of the EIS LGBT staff caucus. Whilst I feel secure in my sexual orientation and gender ID, there may be NQTs or younger members of staff who have not been privileged to receive the support I have from my line managers and colleagues at UHI and within the affirming church I attend in Edinburgh.

For that reason, I believe it is vital, where a lecturer feels able, to serve as a role model to students and colleagues alike.

Support for LGBT students and staff is available here.

Growing up bi: films, TV shows and ‘otherness’

To celebrate LGBT History Month, we asked UHI students and staff to share their thoughts, reflections and stories. BA (Hons) Scottish History and Archaeology student Nicola Thompson reflects on her experiences growing up bisexual, and what LGBT History Month means to her.

I’m 13 and standing in the women’s underwear department of Marks and Spencer’s, my face is flushed red, and I can’t look up at the display models staring down at me. What if someone knew what was going on in my head, could see what I was thinking as I studied my scuffed school shoes with artificial interest. There is something writhing in my stomach, low and nauseating. It feels like shame.

A teenage girl looks in the window of a lingerie shop.

I haven’t done anything wrong. But nice girls like me from families like mine don’t have thoughts like that. It’s okay for some ‘types’ of people my mother would whisper. Actors and musicians, those sorts of people who were happy to break the mould and live in the colourful fringes of society. But under the warm light of the sensibly designed kitchen, there is little room for a daughter with those sorts of ideas.

Maybe had I been a lesbian, settled firmly in one direction they would have had an easier time understanding. But this strange, blurred area of bisexuality confused them. A word synonymous with promiscuity. Of colourful club girls who played loose and fast. Or equally synonymous with confused.  Like a rudderless ship blundering through life unable to commit to anyone or even commit to their attraction.

Every depiction of bisexuality on tv and in films was portrayed under those two categories. Darting from relationship to relationship, too wild and free to ever do something as mundane as falling in love.

And then the TV show The 100 came out. Gritty and post-apocalyptic, an unusual stage for a teenage girl to find a healthy depiction of love. But there it was in the shape of Clarke Griffin. A steadfast and committed woman who loved sincerely and with passion. Whose bisexuality was never treated as a joke. Who was not painted as confused or indecisive. She just was. And as a teenager desperately trying to carve out some sense of identity this was a game changer.

Then they went and killed off her lesbian lover in a classic example of bury your gays.  For those unfamiliar, it is a common trope in TV in which LGBT+ characters tend to be the first to die or are killed off just as their scandalous gay romances come to fruition. The 100 may have written some strong LGBT+ characters but they are no less guilty of burying them as many other TV shows are.

Buffy the vampire slayer gave us years of fast-paced and entertaining television. But also gave us the equally common bisexual love triangle. In which any bisexual character, or bi-questioning character must be embroiled in some angsty and drawn-out love triangle with a man and a woman. These are just two examples; the list goes on and on.

A 3x3 grid filled with 9 pieces of text with 'Bisexual TV' written above it. The boxes contain the following:
- Bi character dies just after getting into same-sex relationship
- Bisexual person is evil and depraved
- Bisexual love triangle
- Bi character cheats on partner with same sex partner
- Is portrayed as confused
- Stated to be bisexual but only seen with opposite sex partner
- 'I experimented in college'
- Only bisexual when drunk
- Bi Character is promiscuous

Watch carefully the next time you put the TV on. Once you start spotting it, you never stop. Play a game of bisexual-bingo! Tv and film have come a long way, but even now the word bisexual is often relegated to the fringes of romance. A fun little plot device to add some angst or steamy sex scenes into a show.

Growing up bisexual in a rural area there was little in the way of community. There was always this slight feeling of ‘otherness’ like you were carved out slightly wrong. Like someone had made a mistake when putting together your brain.

Two men holding hands. They both wear rainbow-coloured wristbands.

But once a year, just for a few weeks, I felt seen. Every June there was this confirmation that I wasn’t alone. There were others. Colourful pins stuck into polyester blazers.  A peek of rainbow socks poking out of the regulation black school shoes. Hints and flashes of pride shining through. And every year I felt less and less like a scared little girl peeking out of her closet.

Now I’m completely okay with who I am. I’m proud of how far I’ve come from that nervous teenage girl hiding away and desperately trying to find people like her on the screen.

LGBT History Month on the screen and away from it is a time to share love and pride, to educate others and most importantly feel seen. Feel heard. Feel like you’re not alone.

And a final thank you to Clarke Griffin and her dead lesbian lover on The 100 for showing a very confused teenage me that she wasn’t alone.

Support for LGBT students and staff is available here.

Celebrating the Gaelic tree alphabet | A’ comharrachadh Aibidil Crann na Gàidhlig

To mark World Gaelic Week, Dr Mandy Haggith, a lecturer in creative writing and literature at UHI Inverness, shares insights into the Gaelic tree alphabet and a project which brings together forestry and literature students.

The Gaelic tree alphabet is an ancient link between the letters of the Gaelic alphabet and native woodland species. We don’t know how long ago it began but there are records from the 4th century AD and perhaps it is even older. Each of the 18 letters of the alphabet is associated with a tree or shrub.

A-B-Craobh (A-B-Tree) celebrates this link through tree poetry. The project began in 2011, International Year of Forests, with walks and writing workshops in woods and gardens throughout Scotland. It continued in 2013 when I was poet in residence in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. The project has been supported by Scottish Forestry, the Scottish Poetry Library and a rich mixture of woodland organisations including the Woodland Trust, Reforesting Scotland, Trees for Life, Community Woodlands Association and many community woodland groups.

In 2018 the project came to UHI. Since then I have worked with hundreds of students exploring the interdisciplinary borderland between forestry and literature. Forestry students have been learning about tree folklore and writing poetry. Literature and creative writing students have been learning about trees.

My research uses various methods, but mostly poetry, to explore how to help students to escape out of their disciplinary box and learn using a blend of arts and science. I believe that this holistic way of learning is more true to Gaelic culture than being limited to one academic subject. We don’t see silos on the crofts where I live. Why do we have them in universities?

The project has established how important trees are to people and how deep our cultural connections are with trees in our landscape. Students of forestry love to discover Gaelic placenames that can give them clues about where trees and woods have grown in the past and where they can grow in future.

The students are hungry for more interdisciplinary learning. To solve the environmental problems we face we need to use both scientific thinking and cultural wisdom, both our brains and our hearts. Poetry is the perfect vehicle for this, being both intellectual and emotional.

Here is a poem from the project, combining words from many student poems.

Tree Wonder

they say pine trees bring gold

            soft blue haze

            strange circles below

            green between

a blanket bared for the growth race

            as the cycle of life goes round

            so many mysteries

            reach into the earth’s core

hush of the woods

            contagious calm



willows and their witches

            in wonderland

            waiting to welcome

            the tempted traveller

on the edge, the cusp

            you shine dark emerald

            veins of green

            feeding life into the world

a connection of ground to sky

            a meeting place

            for the earthbound

            and creatures who fly

older than our wars

            you watched us make peace again

            our lives are just a

            glimpse, fade while you linger

Guardian, why do you keep a vow of silence?

            I walk the land

            holding fast the branches

            sunset in my hand

(With thanks to Michaela Fioretti, Imogen Davidson-Smith, Marcas O’Brian, Rachel Orchard, Dougald Allan, Victoria Potts, Rebecca Loebbert, Sarah Tungett, Alicen Geddes, Rebekah Mackinnon, Leah Bliss and other students who chose to remain anonymous).

To find out more about the A-B-Craobh (A-B-Tree) project, visit: Yearning for Learning: how forestry and arts students feel about interdisciplinarity and  Mandy Haggith | A-B-TREE


A’ comharrachadh Aibidil Crann na Gàidhlig

Gus Seachdain Ghàidhlig na Cruinne a chomharrachadh, tha an Dr Mandy Haggith, òraidiche ann an sgrìobhadh cruthachail agus litreachas na Gàidhlig aig UHI Inbhir Nis, air beagan in-sheallaidh a thoirt seachad air aibidil crann na Gàidhlig agus pròiseact a tha a’ toirt oileanaich coilltearachd agus litreachas còmhla.

S e seann cheangal eadar litrichean na h-aibidil Ghàidhlig agus gnèithean coille dùthchasach a th’ann an aibidil na craobhan Gàidhlig. Chan eil fios againn cuin a thoisich seo, ach tha clàraidhean ann o’ chionn ~400AD. ‘S dòcha gu bheil nas sine. Tha gach litir, 18 dhiubh, ceangailte le craobh no preas.

Tha seo a comharrachadh a ceangal eadar bàrdachd agus craobhan  ‘A-B-Craobh (A-B-Tree)’. Thòisich am pròiseact ann an 2011, Bliadhna Eadar-nàiseanta nan Coilltean, le coiseachd agus sgrìobhadh ann an coilltean agus gàrraidhean air feadh na h-Alba.  Chum a’ dol e ann an 2013 nuair a bha mi nam bhàrd air mhuinntireas ann a’ Gàrradh na Lusan an Dùn Èideann. Tha Coilltearachd na h-Alba, Leabharlann Bàrdachd na h-Alba agus measgachadh do bhuidhnean beartach coilltearachd a leithid Urras Fearainn Coillteach, Reforesting Scotland, Trees for Life, Comann Fearainn Coillteach  agus mòran de  bhuidhnean coimhearsnachd fearainn coilltean.

Ann an 2018, thàinig a phròiseact gu UHI. O sin a mach, tha mi air obair còmhla ri na ceudan oileanaich anns a’ rùrachadh  eadar-dhiosaplaineach eadar Coilltearachd agus Litreachas. Tha na h-oileanaich Coilltearachd air a bhith ag ionnsachadh mu dheidhinn beul-aithris agus a sgrìobhadh bàrdachd. Tha na h-oileanaich litreachas agus sgrìobhadh cruthachail air a bhith ag ionnsachadh mu dheidhinn craobhan.

Tha an rannsachadh agam  a cleachdadh iomadach dhòighean, ach sa mhòr chuid bàrdachd, a faighinn a-mach ciamar a chuidicheas mi oileanaich a’ teicheadh a bocas dhiosaplaineach agus a ’dh’ionnsaicheas a cleachdadh measgachadh saidheans agus na h-ealain. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gu bheil an dòigh iomlanach seo nas fhaisge air cultar na Gàidhlig agus nach eil ceangailte le aon chuspair acadaimigeach. Chan fhaic sinn saidhlos air na croitean far a bheil mi a’ fuireach. Carson a tha iad againn ann an oilthighean?

Tha am pròiseact A-B-Craobh air a dhearbhadh gu bheil na craobhan cho chudromach do dhaoine agus gu bheil ceanglaichean domhainn ann le na craobhan anns ar cruth-tìre. Chòrd e ri na h-oileanaich coilltèarachd ag ionnsachadh na h-ainmean àite gàidhlig a tha toirt dhaibh tuigse mu dheidhinn far an robh craobhan agus coilltean a fàs anns an ùine a dh’fhalbh agus càite am fàs iad san àm ri teachd.

Tha na h-oileanaich acrach airson barrachd  ionnsachadh eadar—dhiosaplaineach.  Airson na duilgheadasan àrainneachail duilich a tha againn a chàradh – feumaidh sinn eòlas saidheansail agus gliocas cultarail a chleachdadh , ar eanchainn agus ar cridhean. Tha bàrdachd na inneal-giùlain forfichte, ann an dhòigh, innleachdail agus faireachail.

Seo dàn bhon phròiseact, a’ cothlamadh fhaclan bho iomadh dàn le oileanaich.

Tree Wonder

they say pine trees bring gold

            soft blue haze

            strange circles below

            green between

a blanket bared for the growth race

            as the cycle of life goes round

            so many mysteries

            reach into the earth’s core

hush of the woods

            contagious calm



willows and their witches

            in wonderland

            waiting to welcome

            the tempted traveller

on the edge, the cusp

            you shine dark emerald

            veins of green

            feeding life into the world

a connection of ground to sky

            a meeting place

            for the earthbound

            and creatures who fly

older than our wars

            you watched us make peace again

            our lives are just a

            glimpse, fade while you linger

Guardian, why do you keep a vow of silence?

            I walk the land

            holding fast the branches

            sunset in my hand

(Le taing dha Michaela Fioretti, Imogen Davidson-Smith, Albecca Louett, Marcas O’Brian, Rachel Orchard, Dougald Allan, Victoria Potts, Rebecca Loebbert, Sarah Tungett, Alicen Geddes, Rebekah Mackinnon, Leah Bliss agus oileanaich eile a roghnaich fuireach gun urra).

Gus tuilleadh fhaighinn a-mach mun phròiseact A-B-Craobh, tadhailibh air: Yearning for Learning: how forestry and arts students feel about interdisciplinarity agus  Mandy Haggith | A-B-TREE

Honouring our roots: a personal reflection on Up Helly Aa

With the Up Helly Aa season in full swing across Shetland, Selina May Miller from UHI Shetland provides an insight the festivals and what they mean to Shetland communities.

Selina with a member of the Jarl Squad in 2020

As a Shetlander, Up Helly Aa is a huge part of our social calendar. The dark nights brought in by winter are brightened by the lighting of fiery torches, symbolising to many of us the end of winter, the return of lighter evenings and the sun.

Growing up in Lerwick, Lerwick Up Helly Aa was a magical time of year for me. I grew up running around the town on the day of the festival trying to catch a glimpse of the Vikings and then, in the evening, going to the burning site of the galley and watching the replica Viking Longship burn in awe. The festival brings together local Shetland traditions from the Victorian era carried through to the present day.

What is Up Helly Aa?

From January until March, Shetland communities around the isles are alive with Up Helly Aa celebrations. The largest of the celebrations is Lerwick Up Helly Aa which takes place at the start of each year, on the last Tuesday in January. The festival lasts for over 24 hours and attracts thousands of visitors every year. On the Tuesday evening a torchlit procession runs through the streets of Lerwick, led by the Guizer Jarl (head Viking).

Steven Moar, UHI Shetland engineering lecturer

The procession is made up of over 1,000 men and (as of 2023) women, who take part. Those in the procession of flamed torches are named “Guizers” referring to the disguises worn by those taking part. Once the procession has concluded, the guizers throw their burning torches into a replica Viking longship and sing The Norseman’s Home, a local traditional song.

There are many different roles that can be had for someone wishing to take part. I have been lucky to be more involved in Up Helly Aa than most as a hostess at a local hall. Around a dozen local venues open their doors for the evening, allowing for guizers to perform acts, entertaining locals not taking part in the festival and visitors alike.

The evening part of Up Helly Aa is unique. As a hostess, I helped organise a local venue so that squads of guizers could come into our hall and entertain our guests with acts including dancing and singing. Even Wagner from X-Factor was in attendance one year!

Credit: David Gifford

What Up Helly Aa means to us

As someone who has grown up surrounded by Up Helly Aa, it is interesting to try to describe the festival to those who have never experienced it before. However, I will say this. To us Shetlanders, Up Helly Aa is much more than a fire festival with eclectic costumes and Vikings. It honours the roots of where we come from and is a massive part of our culture. Up Helly Aa is instilled in Shetlanders from a young age and we still celebrate decades thereafter.

Up Helly Aa is an experience like no other. I would say to as many folk as possible to come and see it for yourself.

Three cheers!

Green Week: Connecting with nature

As Green Weeks gets underway across UHI, Sandra Macrae, an MA health and wellbeing student, has shared a list of 10 ideas to support green health, highlighting the positive impact that nature can have on our health and wellbeing.   

Walking outdoors

The value of outdoor walks in green and natural spaces is recognised as supporting wellbeing in multiple ways that improve physical and mental health. Green walks can be organised for different mobility levels and are less about distance or number of steps and more about the simple benefits of people just walking outdoors together in natural spaces. Green walking is a sustainable, low carbon activity which not only promotes wellbeing by helping reduce stress, anxiety and depression, but also strengthens social connections and benefits the environment by developing our connection with nature.  


Bushcraft involves skills and knowledge that can be used for surviving outdoors in the natural environment. Wilderness survival starts with learning how to thrive outside in the elements. Bushcraft training courses teach the basics of navigation, building shelters, campfire safety, foraging for food and collecting water. It’s a green health activity in the truest sense of interpreting remote, wild places and their natural resources in order to use the environment in appropriately responsible, low-impact and non-exploitative ways. ‘Leave no trace’ is a good rule of thumb for respecting wilderness and sustainability is fundamental to bushcraft. Being in close relationship with nature allows us to see clearly what resources we’re using and whether we’re creating waste that can’t be absorbed or causing damage to the environment. Its ecologically responsible approach has made bushcraft a popular outdoor activity and it is recognised for helping people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for nature, as well as protecting remote, wild places for the benefit of all.


Simply being outdoors in green spaces can improve wellbeing. If, however, we combine time spent in nature with meditative activities, the health benefits multiply because being mindful by bringing our attention to the moment helps us feel more connected to the environment around us. By slowing our mind, being fully present and focusing on what’s around us when we observe the natural world – the sights, sounds and smells – we can discover opportunities for experiencing a more meaningful connection with life. So, in moments of peace and quiet in green spaces, just pause to appreciate your surroundings, consciously increase self-awareness about what you’re feeling in that setting, breathe the outdoor air with purpose and connect more deeply with the essence of nature by recognising your whole self in it. 

Make a hedgehog café

What has happened to our hedgehogs and why are they now classed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ in the UK? The simple answer is that there’s less room for hedgehog habitat because of urbanisation and intensive agriculture, and they’re also feeling the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, this combination of challenges in the modern world means that hedgehogs cannot safely roam, nest, feed, breed and hibernate the way they used to so there’s been a 50 per cent decline in their numbers in the last two decades. But there are simple actions that will support the hedgehog population while encouraging us to get active outdoors and be more aware of and connected to local green spaces. Making a hedgehog cafe in a quiet, sheltered outdoor space offers hedgehogs a safe habitat for nesting and provides much-needed sustenance. Even just nurturing a small patch of chemical-free garden and encouraging it to grow wild can have a positive impact on the environmental challenges facing hedgehogs.

Community gardening

Meet new people and learn about healthier living through volunteer work at a community gardening project. It’s a great way to get fresh air, physical exercise and to collaborate with people from different backgrounds while working on garden tasks such as sowing seeds, taking care of plants, watering and weeding, preparing the ground for growing plants, vegetables, and trees, as well as transplanting seedlings. Getting active in outdoor green spaces brings people together to promote social cohesion and combat loneliness, but above all it improves knowledge about horticulture, growing your own food to address cost-of-living challenges, sustainable living, wildlife conservation and how to take positive local action to address global environmental challenges.

Grow your own food

Food growing is a positive green health action that you can do in whatever space you have, from a garden to a community allotment, a window box or even just plant pots on a windowsill. You don’t need much space or equipment to start growing your own healthy and tasty fresh produce. Planting, nurturing and harvesting your own produce connects you with nature and encourages a healthier diet. For growing indoors, you’ll really only need to invest in a few pots, recycled containers or hanging baskets, seeds and some good quality compost. Strawberries, tomatoes, chillies and peppers will also grow well indoors in pots or a window box. Deep rooted vegetables like potatoes and carrots can be planted outdoors in garden space, a grow bag, an old bin or even a recycled supermarket bag for life! Growing your own food reduces the impact of global food processing, packaging and transportation, so you’ll be living more sustainably and helping the environment whilst doing yourself some good with a physically and mentally healthier lifestyle.


What could be a greener health activity than walking barefoot on the earth? It’s simple, easy to do and free. But there’s more to it than just taking your shoes off and feeling the ground underfoot. In the right circumstances, walking or standing barefoot in a natural environment can be a great stress reliever. We are, after all, part of nature, so the potential benefit of grounding ourselves to the earth makes sense. The healing effects of grounding are explored in lots of different YouTube documentaries including ‘Why I Almost Never Wear Shoes – The many benefits of walking barefoot’ by the American environmental activist Rob Greenfield. Some of the recognised health benefits believed to be associated with grounding include improving mood, reducing fatigue and restoring a sense of wholeness and balance in the body. At the very least it can feel good to be more connected to nature by increasing body to earth contact through walking, lying or sitting on grass or sand.


As an inclusive, low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and all different levels of fitness, cycling is one of the easiest and most accessible green health activities. It’s fun, healthy, cheap and can be sociable. Regular cycling improves joint mobility, increases muscle strength and flexibility, enhances cardiovascular health, strengthens bones, improves posture and decreases body fat. Being outdoors means you are also getting more fresh air – especially if you join a community cycle project to connect with like-minded people who enjoy participating in an organised programme of non-competitive group cycle rides in local green spaces or on designated greenway routes around towns and cities. Plus, it’s a great green activity because it’s environmentally healthy for the planet with a low carbon footprint, too.


What is ‘plogging‘ and why has it become such a popular green health activity with more than 20,000 people doing it each day in over 100 different countries? The word ‘ploggingoriginates from the Swedish ‘plocka upp’ (pick up) and the English word ‘jogging’. It combines the worldwide passion for running with the pro-environmental activity of picking up the litter that spoils so much of our towns, cities and natural spaces. The idea of this sustainable initiative was the brainchild of Erik Ahlström in 2016 when he started taking rubbish bags with him to clean up the streets around Stockholm where he jogged. Thanks to social media, the idea quickly became a global phenomenon and all around the world people are now combining their love of outdoor exercise with caring for the environment. A sense of sustainable community action, solidarity and commitment to the environment amongst groups of ploggers who get together regularly, take photos of their sessions and share them on social media using the hashtag #plogging, is the main reason for the activity becoming internationally popular – especially with students.

Natural art collages

Making a nature collage is a green health activity for anyone interested in connecting with the environment in creative ways. It can be as simple as using what you find in a garden, local green space, woodland or wilderness area, or a beach, to create a collage of what you’ve collected while out walking. It’s all about looking at your finds, connecting thoughtfully and creatively with them, being observant of any interesting themes such as the seasons or the wildlife that might be associated with the objects and then exploring the different shapes, colours and textures in whatever way you feel inspired as a mindful maker of natural art. When we use what we have in our local environment to help us connect with nature and create art, it’s an opportunity to positively deepen our understanding and respect for the whole planet.

To find out more about UHI Green Week, visit

UK Disability History Month – Reflections from UHI’s disability support coordinator

As UK Disability History Month draws to a close, Mark Ross shares some reflections on his role as UHI’s disability support coordinator.

The theme of this year’s UK Disability History Month is ‘disability, health and wellbeing’.

The Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education is taking the opportunity to highlight the experiences of disabled staff working in student services.

Lived experience helps

Sir Ranulph Feinnes is considered to have written a definitive biography of Captain Scott, due in part to his personal experience in Antarctica. As Feinnes explains:  

“No previous Scott biographer has manhauled a heavy sledgeload through the great crevasse fields of the Beardmore Glacier, explored icefields never seen by man or walked a thousand miles on poisoned feet.”

At the same time, every individual knows their own situation best and it is only by working with the student that student services staff can determine the impact of the student’s needs on their learning. The needs assessment process is underpinned by informed professional judgement and I would like to think that my lived experience as a disabled person gives me a head start in terms of cultivating empathy and understanding with the students and staff I work with. In a complex organisation like UHI, building relationships is key, after all.

Student equivalence

As a UHI graduate, I understand the practical realities of studying with a disability. I received an excellent standard of support as a student and my main motivation since taking up my current post in 2010 has been to use that experience to benefit others. As disability support coordinator, my role involves supporting our partnership to deliver consistent processes with student equivalence in mind.

At UHI, students can disclose formally and informally and at any time during their student journey. Student services staff at your UHI partner would be happy to speak with you if you would like to know more about the support available to you.

Flexibility is important

I believe passionately in UHI and work with a tremendously supportive group of colleagues. We all have extremely busy and varied workloads and, like many, I work flexibly. This flexibility is important because it allows me to manage the varying impact of my own needs on a day-to-day basis. It also enables to shape my role and, to some extent, make it my own, so I am proud of the role I play in ensuring disability support is an institutional strength at UHI.

All about the students

When our dean of student experience suggested I write something to mark UK Disability History Month, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute at first. As I see it, I am simply doing my job – it is a job I have grown into over the past thirteen years and one in which my lived experience is a definite benefit. For example, one of my former students feels that:

“Having a disability adviser with personal experience of disability…provides a kind of reassurance or confidence which is rare. This has been a really valuable thing for me during my time at UHI.”

The British sociologist Michael Oliver, who pioneered the academic discipline of disability studies, rightly described disability as “an essential part of the self.” Still, one of the many wonderful things about UHI is the recognition that, whilst my disability is a significant part of my life, it certainly doesn’t define me or change what is expected of me. I much prefer to let my character, work ethic and abilities speak for themselves – which frees me up to be as full a member of our student services team as anyone else, and hopefully to inspire one or two people along the way. As our team motto says: “It’s all about the students.”

Quote from Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Student Experience

Mark is highly professional, hard-working, conscientious, respected across our complex partnership and externally, a charming and enthusiastic ambassador for UHI and an unending source of puns and jokes that are annoyingly better than my own. He is also a disabled person. He is certainly not defined by this and, as one of my longest lasting colleagues, is a core member of my team purely because of his many personal strengths and the expertise he brings to his role.

The extent to which his own health conditions inform his work is a matter for Mark and I would not presume to fully understand the challenges he faces. What I see are the benefits in the empathy, understanding and insight he applies through his work to the benefit of our students. I can think of no issue or situation through the 13 years of working closely together that have caused problems in ensuring that Mark played his full part in the life of the team and UHI. It is his ability that has shone brightly.

I am delighted that, through his blog and the focus on student services colleagues with disabilities as part of UK Disability History Month 2022, we can celebrate Mark’s work and underline how we can create supportive and encouraging environments for all our colleagues to thrive.

Not dark yet: A reflection on the need for compassion in difficult times  

Dr Innes Visagie, a senior lecturer in philosophy and theology at HTC in Dingwall, offers a personal reflection on the war in Ukraine and the importance of compassion.

It is late November 2022. The days are much darker. Still, a few days to the December solstice. The darker days bring to mind Bob Dylan’s song Not Dark Yet from his album Time Out of Mind (1997). The full refrain reads: ‘It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there’. Dylan is reflecting on existential darkness. The winter solstice, however, connects to dark days in the Northern hemisphere when the earth’s pole reaches the maximum tilt away from the sun.

Another contributor to increasingly darker days is Vladimir Putin with the invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the inconceivable suffering this causes the Ukrainian people, there is also the broader consequence of the energy crisis. Darker and colder homes are increasingly part of our everyday experience. Maybe there is more to the invasion of Ukraine than physical darkness and coldness. Perhaps, as in Dylan’s case, it connects to an existential darkness. Many political commentators opined that Putin is isolated with only a handful of advisors. Such a strategy leaves little room to take onboard the views of others. His constructed lens is reduced to a dark, narrow tunnel vision. There is little room to add some perspectival light.

Not a political advisor, but someone who has a huge appreciation for Russian culture, I would suggest that Putin revisit the rich heritage of Russian literature. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment might be a good starting point for him. The protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, is an ex-law student who finds himself in Saint Petersburg, living in poverty, not being able to pay his rent. He struggles to relate to other people. The garretwhere he stays in a block of flats is dark, basic and, from his room, he looks down on people. Yet, he believes he is someone extraordinary, comparing himself to Napoleon, therefore, he concludes that it is justified to commit a murder to steal money to change his life. He murdered a pawnbroker and her sister. Following the actual crime, the self-justified belief soon crumbled. He experienced intense guilt. Supported by his sister, as she reads to him from the bible, he confessed his act to the police and was deported to Siberia for as his punishment.

Dostoevsky used Christian themes and symbols to explain why people suffer in this world. Symbols like the cross and the story of Lazarus from the Christian scriptures are repeated themes in this novel. In many of the characters’ lives, Christian symbols are present, but it often fails to connect to the deeper meaning of love, suffering and redemption. The lack of faith, pride and the inability to love or connect to people are Dostoevsky’s explanation of why people suffer in this world. Raskolnikov, after the confession of his crime to the police and during his time in Siberia, experienced a transformation. Prior to this, he was alienated from society, experienced loneliness, was unable to love and connect with other people. Raskolnikov’s problem was that he perceived other people as instruments to be used for his own benefit. While in Siberia, he is transformed into a person who realises that crime is not in the first place the murder of a person itself, but it is ultimately the denial of love towards others which then results in crimes like murder.

Putin’s crime in Ukraine is his denial to offer love to the people of Ukraine in pursuit of his ideology of an extended Russia, resulting in the death of both Ukrainians and Russians. Raskolnikov initially rejected traditional Christian morality. He believed he was beyond the law and justified in murdering two people to change his situation. Putting his theory into action propelled him into a conscious struggle which eventually is resolved through his suffering.

Will such realisation ever dawn upon Putin? He, like many of Dostoevsky’s characters, is superficially connected to Christian symbols. Putin has done a lot for the Russian Orthodox Church, attending the Church Conference in Moscow and often refers to the Church in his speeches. Like some characters in Crime and Punishment, such superficial connections to religion do not necessarily connect with the core values of the Christian ethos, namely, compassionate love, righteousness, the grace of forgiveness, and faithfulness.

As we enter the darker days of winter in Scotland let us remind ourselves of the brokenness of the world we live in and endeavour to reach out to others with compassionate love in all righteousness, willingness to forgive and with faithful commitment.   

To find out more about courses available at HTC, visit

16 days of action – raising awareness of gender-based violence

As the 16 days of action campaign gets underway, Erica Clark, a Mental Health Coordinator at UHI Outer Hebrides, shares information on gender-based violence and how to access support.

Here to help

Student life can demanding as you try to balance home and study life, meet deadlines and find time to relax. Coping with these new challenges can have an impact on your mental health.

Your wellbeing is a priority for student services and, before we go any further, we want to remind you that you don’t have to cope with these issues alone. Our student services teams can offer advice and support on a range of issues.

16 days of action campaign

UHI is participating in the global 16 days of action campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence, from Friday 25 November to Friday 9 December. During the 16 days, we will be sharing videos and stories on our social media and displays on campus. We know that this topic can be triggering. If you want to access any support during this time, we have provided a range of support services below.

What is gender-based violence?

The United Nations describes gender-based violence as ‘harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender’. Gender-based violence is a term that covers a range of abuse and can include domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment and intimidation.

Gender-based violence is never the fault of the victim/ survivor and the UHI is committed to supporting any student who is a victim/ survivor of gender-based violence, regardless of their gender, sex, or sexual orientation.

Gender-based violence can affect anyone at any point during their lives. It affects people in different ways, but it can often lead to victim/ survivors feeling alone, isolated, angry and worried. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, flashbacks, sleep problems, problems with eating and being unable to concentrate.

Getting support

Whether you’ve experienced gender-based violence recently or in the past, UHI is here to support you to take whichever steps you want to take next. We understand that these experiences can be extremely isolating, frightening and upsetting. We are committed to ensuring that our campuses are a safe place and that we support students to achieve their full potential.

You can find out more about the support available on our gender based and sexual violence webpages.

You can also access support through the TogetherAll and Spectrum Life (call 0800 031 8227 or WhatsApp / SMS: 00353 87 369 0010) services.

Introducing: Stephanie Kirkham, new Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

“We are a progressive and unique university, proud to be inclusive, offering flexible and supportive learning from access to PhD level.”

Stephanie Kirkham, newly appointed Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, aims to cultivate a more inclusive learning environment, enriching experiences and collaborating with staff and students to support, promote and celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion:

Our staff, students, and the communities we serve are central to our future planning and vision of becoming a connected and diverse organisation. Enhancing equality and inclusion will ensure all staff and students can be the best version of themselves, regardless of their socio-economic background or protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership status, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation).

Our ‘Daring to be different’ strategic plan is built around our core values: Collaboration, Openness, Respect and Excellence. Each value reflects the essence of equality and diversity, where we aspire for everyone to feel a sense of belonging. 

During Black History Month we are highlighting some online and in-person events taking place across Scotland.

Students and staff can also sign up to Santander Scholarships ‘Union Black: Britain’s Black cultures and steps to anti-racism’ online short course which explores Black British history, cultures and steps to anti-racism.

Further key dates coming up:
  • Monday 10 October: World Mental Health Day.
  • Monday 24 October: Diwali (Hindu, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists- Festival of lights).
  • Saturday 19 November: International Men’s Day
  • Sunday 20 November: Transgender Day of Remembrance
  • Friday 25 November: Elimination of Violence Against Women Day
  • Friday 25 November to Friday 9 December: 16 Days of Action raising awareness of Gender Based Violence
  • Saturday 3 December: International Day of People with Disabilities
  • Saturday 10 December: Human Rights Day
  • Sunday 25 December: Christmas Day
  • Sunday 18 to Monday 26 December: Hannuka (Chanuka)

Celebrating our volunteers and their powerful contributions in our communities

To mark this year’s annual Volunteers’ Week, UHI careers and employability officer Helen Anton and student development officer Aimee Harvey share why volunteering is important and highlight some of our students and graduates working in their communities to make a difference and improve lives.     

Good for you and good for others

There are many reasons why people volunteer. It’s a chance to give something back, make a difference, develop new skills, gain confidence, improve self-esteem and make new friends, not to mention the impact it can have on your CV and personal career management: the benefits to individuals, their communities and wider society can be enormous.

In recognition of this, Volunteers Week takes place from 1 to 7 June every year, providing a chance to remember the fantastic contribution volunteers make to our communities as well as saying a big thank you to them.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing.  We all know how good it feels to help someone out or to feel like you’re making a difference in your community.

During 2020 and 2021 an amazing 16.3m people volunteered through a group, club or organisation with almost one in five people (17%) reporting that they volunteered at least once a month, that’s about 9.2m people. Amongst these volunteers are some fantastic UHI students and graduates, working tirelessly in their communities to make a difference and improve lives.

Corinne Ferguson, is studying Sustainable Development (Hons) at UHI Outer Hebrides

I have volunteered since I was a teenager (I’m now 61!)) and I’ve always been interested in our environment and consuming less. I realised a few years ago that single-use plastic was becoming a real issue and it’s something that is understood by the general public who are increasingly trying to do their best to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’. 

Logo - Plastic free communities, surfers against sewage
Logo – Plastic free communities, surfers against sewage

I am the lead volunteer in Nairn for Plastic Free Coastlines (Surfers Against Sewage) which involves working towards Nairn becoming accredited as a ‘Plastic-Free Town’. There are five objectives: to get the local council to pass a resolution saying they support plastic reduction, recruit community allies, raise business awareness, organise a steering group and hold two community events per year. This involves me working with different groups such as the Scouts, Brownies, local businesses, local environmental charities and local MPs.  I’ve been doing this role for four years and we have done lots of beach cleans and awareness-raising events which have been well supported locally. 

The benefits to me of volunteering are that I get to work creatively with amazing people (often children and young people who have got so many ideas about how to do things differently) and I also get to network with lots of interesting organisations. 

I have gained so many transferrable skills, such as communication – for example, listening, negotiating and presenting. Networking with other organisations in my local community helps me realise what’s going on locally. I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile. 

Volunteering is often more challenging than working. I think you gain more skills and there are opportunities for leadership and to be dynamic and creative in a way that you might not get when working in a paid job.  You also often work in places where there are generally no hierarchies like you might get at work, and this requires real skill in negotiation and building up your charisma!

Holly Gray is studying Geography at UHI Inverness and is based in Forres

My volunteering involved undertaking monthly surveys on invasive giant hogweed plants. I would record some details about the plot including hogweed coverage. I would then remove the giant hogweed seedlings from the plot in a method to replicate a sheep removing it from the ground. The primary purpose was to ‘mimic’ sheep grazing patterns and record giant hogweed regrowth after the seedlings had been grazed, to see if introducing sheep onto land that has high hogweed coverage is a successful way of managing it. 

Holly spraying plants in a field
Holly Gray carrying out fieldwork

As I began my degree in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, fieldwork became unmanageable for the most part. As I study geography, this was a big concern, so when I heard about this opportunity, I thought it was a fantastic way of bringing myself up to speed with fieldwork whilst volunteering for a great cause, especially as I am interested in a career in conservation. My volunteering gave me an insight into some of the roles in this industry.

Giant hogweed plants are non-native invasive species.  They have highly toxic sap and if it touches someone’s skin when combined with UV exposure, can cause intense damage through blistering. Removal of the plant isimportant as it reduces the danger to health, whilst allowing natural Scottish flora and fauna to thrive without being drowned out by these giant plants.

I felt happy to be a part of the removal effort, and I also got to experience conservation for the first time. It is a very rewarding non-strenuous or time-consuming activity. The work I did was for the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, and I got to build my network because of this which led me to gain a placement with the project later in the year as part of my degree. Here I got to learn a broader spectrum of conservation activities including knapsack spraying Japanese Knotweed and American mink management.

My volunteering was easy to learn and I had the freedom to choose when I did my recordings and research. It was a great way of gaining volunteering and conservation experience which didn’t dominate important study time. It also forced me out of the house to take breaks, spending time in nature, even if some of the plots were slightly off grid!

Inne Withouck, is a fourth-year PhD student based at UHI Shetland

I’m the organiser of the UHI Shetland Green Team. I was inspired to volunteer as a way to meet like-minded people and to organise a lot of beach cleans, providing an opportunity for people to connect, and to learn about our natural heritage.

I gained great friends, and I’ve also learnt a lot from beach finds which help to understand how our seas are being used by people. It also motivated me to read the book Climate-Smart Food by David Reay, which I used to help make an exhibition about food for the Briggistanes canteen in our Lerwick Campus.

I would definitely recommend other students to consider setting up similar initiatives as it provides a platform to bring people together on the issues they want to do something about. Volunteering also allows you to connect with like-minded people and make positive changes to your campus and to your local community. 

Here is a video made by the group which gives top tips on how to set up your own Green Team at your campus.

Brian Whitters, is a second-year BA (Hons) Gaelic Scotland student based at the Isle of Barra campus of UHI Outer Hebrides.

I am a volunteer speaker for the Charity Prostate Cancer UK and I deliver awareness-raising talks throughout Scotland, both in person and virtually.  I was inspired to volunteer as I had prostate cancer myself and wanted to highlight to people in Scotland the dangers associated with it.

The benefits of volunteering to me are innumerable. Mainly I walk away with a feeling of goodwill and accomplishment when I deliver my talks. The benefits to my community are mainly that men and women are more aware of the dangers of prostate cancer. They are informed of the early signs of the cancer and they are also informed of their rights.  What I gain from my volunteering is a feeling that I actually did something to hopefully stop other men from walking in my shoes.

Sam Smallwood, is a first-year Psychology student based at UHI Inverness

I volunteer on my local school’s Parent Support Group (PSG). I was inspired to volunteer as it is important to me to be able to help support the local school which my children attend.

By volunteering with the school’s PSG, I help to raise funds and support the school community to provide more educational experiences for all the pupils. We are currently working on fundraising to improve our outdoor spaces, which the whole community can also enjoy.

I feel good when I see the extra equipment, resources and trips the children get to enjoy as a result of the PSG’s work. I also enjoy attending different events for the social aspect, both with other parents, our local community and having fun with the children at sporting events too.

It is easy to get involved.  Most smaller schools will be looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help with fundraising to be able to provide even more opportunities for their pupils and extend their resources to cover more extra-curricular activities.

Kaleigh McKechnie is studying for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health CPD award on the MA Health and Wellbeing through UHI Outer Hebrides

I am a volunteer football coach for U7’s and U13’s, in two different teams, two times a week. I was inspired to volunteer because of the lack of female coaches on the island. My twin boys attend football training regularly and there is a lack of coaching staff overall on the island, so it was a case that someone had to do it so that the children could attend the sessions. 

The fact that I thoroughly enjoy football makes a massive difference to the young people too. They pick up on the passion you have for the game, and this allows them to feel comfortable and build relationships with you as a coach and with the other young people that attend the sessions who they may not have known otherwise. I love the way a ‘game’ can bring a group of different people together.

There are so many benefits to volunteering. For example, building positive relationships with children who might otherwise go under the radar; it also allows you to influence their game and hone their skillset. Through positive reinforcement they will remember that forever, and the relationships built help create a stronger sense of belonging and community.  As a result of my volunteering, I have gained qualifications, experience and confidence.It can act as a support, not only for the people you work with, but also for yourself, it’s another reason to get up and go. Yes, it can be pressure, but if you are supporting people doing something you love, then just go for it.

Amira Murray and Megan McMillian currently study Personal and Vocational Studies and Hair and Beauty through UHI Outer Hebrides

Amira and Megan both deliver hairdressing and beauty taster sessions to P7 children from a local afterschool club.  Amira was inspired to get involved because she really wanted to help the girls to learn to do hair and nails to help with their own presentation and confidence.  She really enjoys helping people to learn and uses her skills to help support them. 

She gains lots from volunteering and loves to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they learn how to do something. She also thinks volunteering is great fun as well as letting her help others and give something to the young people in her community.

Megan also loves the idea of helping younger children who are interested in learning how to do hair and beauty and recognises the importance of getting children to enjoy something that they are interested in. She gets the enjoyment of teaching the children while boosting their confidence and making them smile.  Megan recommends volunteering as it gives her a great sense of achievement knowing that she is sharing the skills she has learnt through teaching and supporting the children.

Amira (left) and Megan (right) are currently working towards their Saltire Awards which celebrate youth volunteering in Scotland.

Looking to volunteer?

The university’s Careers and Employability Centre can help you prepare, get involved and find opportunities. Check out the Job Shop or book an appointment to chat with us, simply log into our Future Me service using your normal student username and password or if you are about to complete your studies, register for our Graduate for Life service.

Volunteer Week 2022 takes place from Wednesday 1 to Tuesday 7 June. The week encourages and celebrates volunteering across Scotland. For more information on student volunteering, more inspiring volunteer stories and how to find an opportunity that’s right for you, visit Get involved – Volunteering (