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Who: The project was initiatied by lecturer David Graham at Edinburgh Napier University

What: Setting up creative course for adults  

Why: To increase awareness of the opportunties for local residents to participate in higher education

Where: Craigmillar area of Edinburgh

When: Ongoing 

Project description

people at exhibitionThe NUstART project was started in the Craigmillar area of Edinburgh by lecturer David Graham. The overall objective was to raise awareness within communities of the extensive possibilities available to them at Edinburgh Napier University and in Higher and Further Education generally. The route to this was setting up creative courses in areas where university attendance is not the norm. The experience of learning with NUstART aims to heighten self esteem and confidence in students through encouragement and a unique teaching process.

Eight years after it started, it is still going strong. Courses are available in drawing, media studies, design and public art and are run at four centres; three in Edinburgh and one in Livingston, West Lothian. There are plans to extend the number of venues. 


How NUstART started

Initially the project was started by David Graham who worked for the Lifelong Learning Department at the university under Director Prof Sam Allwinkle, but the project now comes under Academic Development.

The project has had considerable practical and spiritual support from Christians in Craigmillar as well as moral support from other secular groups, but people from all walks of life, cultures and nationalities are welcome. We have helped people with drug related and other health problems and have tried to make the project accessible to all.


Small grants originally came from the Cre8te Business Incubator Project in Craigmillar and the Craigmillar partnership, but funding for David's salary comes from Edinburgh Napier University as well as small amounts from time to time for other costs. Participants pay a small charge for the courses, which goes towards materials, paper and paints and NUstART itself tries to self finance materials, exhibitions and external visits through raffling paintings and taking a small commission from picture sales at exhibitions.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

Although we don't have significant resources, NUstART has continued to flourish. We have also been able to help others, for example by providing picture framing for a local school and individuals in other communities who wanted to exhibit their work. David is particularly pleased by the fact that a highly successful project such as NUstART can achieve distinction and national recognition with a minimum of expenditure.

Things that have been achieved: Improved health, progression to Higher Education, accredited modules and art exhibitions and The Times Higher Award.

Money has been raised by NUstART to support other projects such as Amos Trust in South Africa.

Considerable recognition must be given to the students who have given their time and effort to mount exhibitions and support the work by attending classes. The original Craigmillar Group (now Brunstane) have developed their NUstART Group which they now manage themselves. The WHALE NUstART group are following a similar pattern. Livingston and Craigmillar NUstART Groups are the most recent additions to the project and between them have around fifty students. 

What didn't work well

The initial problem in establishing NUstART was convincing some colleagues and associates that this type of project was viable. Once the project progressed, it began to demonstrate just how successful it could be. Funding has always been a problem and although David would have liked to extend the range of courses on offer and bring in other tutors for short courses to provide different approaches and styles of delivery for the students, this was not always possible. This is however gradually beginning to happen. The initial cost of studio space was a concern as it took so much of the funding from the SHEFC. Once this funding had been withdrawn, we had to find alternative accommodation with little or no rent. Brunstane Primary School provided the solution so thankfully this has now been resolved, but additional funding would be appreciated!

Lessons learnt

Having someone to help and advise on fundraising would have been a huge asset. The rent charged by the Business Centre in Craigmillar was excessive for a community project and finding cheaper venues helps make a project viable. 

Resources created

The resources which have developed have been through Art Exhibitions and the publicity gained from winning the Times Higher Award in 2007.

Gilmerton NUstART now has a permanent Art Gallery named after Jean Mack (a highly regarded member of the community who recently passed away).

Generous provision of studio space from Brunstane Primary School, Gilmerton Community Centre, and Dedridge Baptist Church in Livingston has enabled NUstART to expand and grow. There is a NUstART group operating out of the WHALE centre in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh.


As there has never been a budget for any form of marketing, the 'word of mouth' factor has been extremely important, and a great deal of the recruitment is done in this way. In addition, small photocopied flyers were distributed to libraries, supermarkets, bookstores and GP surgeries in the community. Local newspapers were also helpful in publicising the project through various articles. Other community groups such as Worktrack and Adult Learning in Craigmillar have also directed students to NUstART. Another way to let people know what you're doing is to get to know local people. This can be done by visiting schools and other groups in the community and developing a dialogue with them. We helped with community lunches and other events and this was instrumental in informing the wider community about NUstART. 

Top tips

The organisers offer the following tips for anyone contemplating putting on or becoming involved with similar activity

1. Surround yourself with supportive friends and colleagues. The people you work with are important. Value them and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.

2. Seek out those who want to help - and avoid anyone who doesn't.

3. When your project starts to show signs of success, try to avoid anyone who attempts to 'jump on the bandwagon' for their own personal gain. This happened a number of times to NUstART. These people can be real stumbling blocks to development and growth.

4. Find helpers who aren't afraid to 'get their hands dirty'

5. Be prepared to take on everything, even the most menial of tasks.

6. Take encouragement from projects like NUstART and visit other similar projects. The CAN project at Bromley by Bow in London is a wonderful example of how a small project can grow into something really significant in a community. 

7. Always be open to new ideas.

8. Minimise bureaucracy wherever possible.

9. Take a hands on approach and develop a personal touch. This has worked wonders in the development of NUstART.

10. Avoid negativity at all costs.

11. And finally, believe that miracles can and do happen!


Name: David Graham

Name of organisation: Academic Development, Edinburgh Napier University c/o Gilmerton Community Centre,

4 Drum Street, Gilmerton Edinburgh EH17 8QG


Telephone: Gilmerton Community Centre: 01341 664 2335