Universities Scotland Reception

Published: 9 March 2020

School of Psychology at the Scottish Parliament

Professor Niamh Stack, Deputy Head of the School of Psychology, represented the University of Glasgow at Universities Scotland’s annual reception at the Scottish Parliament last week.DFM at Universities Scotland reception with Niamh Stack

The reception provided an opportunity for all of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions to share examples of how they are making a positive impact on local communities. Through the School of Psychology, Professor Stack has been working with the Children’s Wood and G20 Youth projects in the Maryhill area of the city. The Children’s Wood is situated in the last wild space in the west of the city and is designed to connect children to nature, raise aspirations and bring people together. A particular success of The Children’s Wood initiative has been the establishment of a Forest School, developed through interaction with the School of Psychology. Academics and students have conducted several studies into the benefits of outdoor learning on the mental health of young people in the area including:

  • Benefits of nature for children with autism
  • Building mental health
  • Ecotherapy

The G20 Youth project is based on Swedish initiative called Mitt 127. This youth-led, postcode-based festival had amazing results in engaging young people, tackling crime, getting young people into work and integrating minority groups in an economically-deprived area of Sweden. After hearing from the Mitt 127 project, and following the success of The Children’s Wood, the community in Maryhill in Glasgow wanted to do something similar. There was an urgent need to work with young people in the area due to a rise in antisocial behaviour in the G20 postcode and the community believed in a need for positive youth engagement and an outlet for young people to take positive risks (something the outdoors provides). This eventually led to the creation of the G20 Youth project which meets three times a week: cooking and eating food over an open fire together outdoors in the Children’s Wood in the summer months and doing arts and crafts work and playing sports in the G20 project’s indoor unit in Maryhill.

Many of the young people using the Children’s Wood and participating in the G20 Youth Project have been excluded from school and academics at the University are working with the local community to establish why these youngsters have ended up in the position they are in.

Professor Stack has been working alongside colleagues and students from the School of Psychology to ensure young people are getting the mental health support they need via these projects and has been researching the impact these community projects have on the general health and wellbeing of children and young people in Maryhill. The research conducted is collaborative and youth led with young people telling our academics about their lived experiences.

During the Universities Scotland event, MSPs from all political parties in Scotland stopped by to chat to Professor Stack, who was joined by Emily Cutts, leader of the Children’s Wood, as well as a young person who participates in the G20 Youth Project. MSPs and the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, were excited to hear about the University’s impact on the local community.

Professor Andrea Nolan, Universities Scotland Convener, said: “Universities are here for everyone and not just those who study with us. As universities we will keep working hard to make ourselves accessible and reach all parts of the communities in our regions to remove barriers, real or perceived, between our universities and our communities.

"According to recent polling by the UPP Foundation, 44% of Scots think universities are doing a good job improving their local area. While that is not as high as we want it to be, that rating puts public opinion of universities right up there amongst the most impactful organisations in their local area.”

First published: 9 March 2020