Edinburgh’s Eco-Environments: How One Charity Promotes Holistic Sustainability

Alex Owen-Hill interviews Jackie Bruce horticulturist at the Camphill community of Tiphereth, based in Edinburgh. Jackie describes the work and the ethos of this community, which uses the environment as a therapy for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. 


Alex Owen-Hill

Tiphereth is an Edinburgh charity which provides activities and community for adults with learning difficulties and mental health problems. Jackie Bruce leads craft and gardening workshops at Tiphereth. Cosmopolita Scotland spoke to her about how this charity promotes sustainable social and natural environments within a dedicated community, and how they link with the wider community through sustainable social enterprises. She discussed the great benefits of reconnecting with the natural world and how we can all contribute to declining bee populations in Scotland.

Cosmopolita Scotland – So, Jackie, what do you do at Tiphereth?

Jackie Bruce –“My job involves working with adults over 18 with a range of different learning difficulties. Some have Down’s syndrome, some have other things, but mostly they have aspergers or autism. They come to Tiphereth as a day service, which means that they come for the day and go home in the evening. We also have 3 residential houses.

[cml_media_alt id='3195']tiphereth(1303x945)[/cml_media_alt]“I work with them in the craft workshop for one day a week and in the garden the other four days a week. I’m a horticulturalist, that’s my speciality.

“We do every sort of gardening task, all of which are wonderful. We start with the seeds. We grow them, nurture them, water them. We put them into bigger pots, feed them, look after them and then we put them into the garden.

“Basically the guys are involved in every step of this process. I am a great believer in Therapeutic Horticulture. I really do think that being out in the open air and working with the soil and plants is an amazing, healing process. We celebrate the seasons as well, which is all linked to the garden. Once a year we have a big plant sale, which is amazing.”

C.S -What do you do in the craft workshops?

J.B –“On a Thursday I lead the felt-work craft workshop, which is making things from sheep’s wool. We make pictures, crafts and all sorts of things. The process is really lovely for the guys, who all have different levels of disabilities, because there’s something that each one of them can do.

“It’s such a tactile craft, it’s just lovely for them. The feel of the wool, the soap, the actual processing of the wool, the rolling. A lot of them really enjoy it. Then they see the final product at the end of it, which can be a piece of artwork, a bag, cushion, anything really that you can make from felted wool.”

C.S -And you start with the raw wool?
[cml_media_alt id='3042']Biodynamic wool produced-Lana producida de forma biodinámica[/cml_media_alt]
Biodynamic wool.

J.B –“Yes, we use the raw wool. I have also just done a course on natural plant dyes, to dye the wool. Later this year I’m going to go more into that with the guys. We will get the raw fleece, start from there and go through the whole process of dying it including growing the plants.

“I’m actually growing the plants for that just now: Wode, which is blue, weld and docken root, which are yellow. You can also use onion skins for reds and yellow. You can use nettles too, which give you all different yellows and greens. It’s a fascinating way to do things, I love it.

“We also do green woodwork, which is using raw wood to make furniture without it being dried. The guys do all the manual work for that. They have a special seat that they sit on and they have a big blade to scrape the bark off the wood. Then it’s turned on a pole lathe to make legs for tables or chairs. The guys are involved in every aspect of the garden. Rain or shine.” (1) 

The Natural Environment in the Modern World

In this fast paced modern world, it’s refreshing to hear of a whole community are so closely integrated into the natural environment. Few people these days work so closely with the soil, an activity which Jackie feels is very important. She clearly has a huge passion and thinks it can be of great benefit for many people.

[cml_media_alt id='3206']invernadero(1400x1048)[/cml_media_alt]
Polytunnel in Tiphereth.
C.S -Do you think that working in the environment is still important in this computer-driven world?

J.B –“I think that Man is so far away from the earth and nature these days. Everything is so easy. Nobody has to really get into the real life stuff any more. Everything’s in the cyberworld, it’s fake and not real. No one has to actually survive, but I believe that inside all of us is an ancient connection to the earth and the soil.

“I think that’s why gardening and horticulture is such an amazing thing for people. In a lot of lifestyles, people have no time to connect with the earth. It just doesn’t come into their curriculum at all. If they could possibly get out there and reconnect with nature again I’m definitely a great believer that it helps in a lot of ways. Psychologically and physically.

“It depends on the person of course. Not everyone enjoys being out in the elements and being out in the soil.”

C.S -What attributes do people need to appreciate working with the earth?

J.B –“I think you have to be a wee bit mad really.. (she laughs)… No, not mad. I think I was born with it. I didn’t realise it for a long long time, but horticulture, plants and the earth are just inside me.

“When I was a child, I used to go out to the park near where I lived. I used to wait desperately, looking out for the pussy-willows to arrive so that I could cut them and bring them into the house. I got really excited, I remember getting butterflies (2) thinking about it. That was when I was really small, before I realised that it was going to be my career.

“I think, for me, it’s really uplifting and I hope that the people I work with feel the same way, or that they get a sense of it. I try to encourage them to be enthusiastic about, say, smelling the plants. I encourage them to have a sniff to see what they smell like, to touch and smell the soil.”

The Social Environment at Tiphereth

Developing a sustainable environment involves more than just growing crops or recycling waste. It is also important to promote sustainable social environments which integrate every person, regardless of who they are. Tiphereth is not just a day care and residential home. It has also developed a community wherein each of its members is valued, and their opinions listened to.


[cml_media_alt id='2964']asociacion discapacitados 1 (500x333)[/cml_media_alt]
Volunteers and residents working in the Tiphereth garden.
C.S -What do you think that the members get from being part of Tiphereth?

J.B –“I don’t know what it is about Tiphereth, but it’s quite a special place. I think the way people are nurtured (3)  and cared for is really special. You can see that the guys are all happy to be there, which is a wonderful thing. They have a great time. The people that work there are amazing.

“The social environment that’s created there is really important, and the way people relate to each other. Mutual respect is a big thing at Tiphereth. We involve the guys in almost everything we do. They have a voice.”

C.S -How do you promote their voice in the community?

J.B –“We have forums where we meet with them and discuss any ideas that they may have. Every six months we discuss with them what they would like to do. We ask them if there’s anything they’d like to change, if there are any new things that they would like to add to their curriculum. We really respect their point of view and our point of view as workers is respected too. The guys are invited to our meetings.

“On Mondays we have a big communal music group where the guys can play instruments. Then there’s singing group on Wednesday. Everyone’s invited to the social gatherings and everyone’s involved by either making something or contributing in some way towards the event. We also put on plays.

“Every morning we have a gathering and we say a verse around a candle, so that everyone knows this is the start of the day. At the end of the day we have the same thing but with a different verse, so that everyone knows it’s the feeling of the end of the day.

“We all have lunch together and we sing and say a prayer before lunchtime. So, we’re all as one as a community. We all do it so there’s a sense of continuity.”

C.S -And the people who work there, are they volunteers?

J.B –“They’re people who have an interest in anthroposophy and the teachings of Rudolph Steiner and Karl König.

“Each residential house has four residents and two house parents who live there permanently. It’s like a family really. It’s a very social way of living. The house parents are very dedicated and a lot of them stay in the houses for a long, long time. It’s a vocation really, the way they live. It’s like bringing up their own family. They have these four different people from different families who they look after in an anthroposophical way. Houses have social suppers, gatherings and hold festivals together.

“At Tiphereth we celebrate all the seasons with different festivals, which we all attend, so there’s a sense of continuity going through the year.”

C.S -Which festivals do you celebrate?

J.B –“Well, we celebrate so many festivals! St Johns, Whitsen, Candlemas, I could go on forever.

“At Candlemas we celebrate the earth coming alive again before the Spring starts. We make Earth Candles. We make a hole in the soil, pour candle wax into it, make a candle and light it. That’s so that the earth forces go in to the light and the light goes out to the earth forces. It marks the darkness of winter to the coming of Spring. It’s really interesting.

“We just celebrated Whitsun recently, which is another name for Pentecost. Fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit is supposed to have allowed Jesus’s disciples to speak in tongues and they could speak languages that they had never heard before. For that, we all stand in a big circle. Then, everyone who can speak a different language reads a passage in that language. Then we sing some songs to celebrate Whitsun and hang doves from the big tree in the garden. It sounds a bit mad doesn’t it!”

Anthroposophy, Biodynamics and the History of Tiphereth

Tiphereth is part of the worldwide Camphill movement, which was founded by Karl König in 1939. König was an Austrian doctor who, as a Jew, was forced to leave Austria at the start of the second world war. He moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, and set up the first Camphill community based on the teachings of Ruldolph Steiner.

Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, whose teachings formed the so called “anthroposophy movement.” Since the first state funded Steiner School was opened in 2012, under Michael Gove’s “Free Schools Movement,” Steiner Schools have received much media coverage and criticism in the UK. Critics feel that the school’s use of Steiner’s philosophy means that they should be classed as faith schools and therefore not receive public funding. His teachings, which incorporate aspects of Christianity and paganism, include a belief in “cosmic earth forces”, the literal existence of gnomes and an underlying belief in reincarnation which shapes the school curriculum.

[youtube height=”360″ width=”490″]PLACE_LINK_HERE[/youtube]


[cml_media_alt id='3228']dr Karl[/cml_media_alt]
Karl König (1902-1966).

In 1940, König began the Camphill movement using Steiner’s ideas. In Aberdeen, along with a small group of friends, he built communities for people with learning difficulties at a time when such people were not catered for in society. Jackie explains that their approach was revolutionary.

“In those days, not many people had a positive attitude about people with learning difficulties or disabled people. They were shunned, but these people nurtured them and treated them as if they were individuals. That had never happened before. That’s one of the things that I find amazing about Camphill. In those days, people were very ignorant about people with learning difficulties, or autism and aspergers. They just didn’t understand. They just thought they were no good for anything. It’s great that those people started Camphill because it taught us a lot.”


[cml_media_alt id='2970']biodynamics 2(448x298)[/cml_media_alt]
Biodynamic preparation in cow horns.

Steiner also introduced an anthroposophical approach to agriculture, called Biodynamics, which is at the heart of Tiphereth approach to gardening. At its best, Biodynamics has been found to be a highly effective system of Organic farming, which avoids the use of pesticides and emphasises the use of manures and composts instead of chemical fertilisers. It was one of the first organic movements.

However, as with anthroposophy in general, it has been deemed by some to be a pseudoscience, for reasons such as its reliance on belief and its use of homoeopathic and magical preparations to improve the soil. The few independent scientific studies that exist (i.e. those performed by scientists without a vested interest in Biodynamics)  have not found it to be any more effective than similar organic approaches.

Jackie was introducted to Biodynamics through her work at Tiphereth.

C.S -What would you say is the difference between Biodynamics and organic farming?

J.B –“There’s a huge difference. Organic is chemical-free whereas Biodynamics is working with the earth forces, the seasons, different times of the day and using different ingredients. So they are completely different.”

C.S –What advantages does Biodynamics have?

J.B –“Well, I think Biodynamics goes back to the pagan in us. In the old days, people lived by the seasons (4), the light hours and the moon. Biodynamics goes by the moon cycle and the different times of the day. If you plant a seed at a certain time of day, in a certain week and a certain month, you get different effects. I think, in the old days, people naturally knew when the best time to plant things was. There was no book that they could read. It was just a thing inside them. Biodynamics believes that different preparations sprayed on the garden at different times of the year or different hours of the day create different effects and they help the garden. It’s a huge and fascinating subject.”

C.S -What is your view on scientific studies which say that it is only as effective as other organic farming methods?

J.B –“I don’t know any of the science behind it, but it’s very different from organic. I couldn’t tell you if there’s any difference in the size of things grown organically or biodynamically. But, I believe in Biodynamics.”

C.S -As a horticulturist, what attracted you to Biodynamics?

J.B –“Personally, it was to do with the fact that the different seasons of the year affect me and I notice that it affects other people. Therefore, I believe that it affects the earth forces that make the plants have their different traits and grow differently. I believe that because it affects humans, it must affect plants too. Biodynamics is quite a lot about earth forces. I don’t know how to explain it to you in a scientific way because I’m not a scientist.”

Steiner as an Alternative to Modern Living

[cml_media_alt id='3229']Rudolf-Steiner[/cml_media_alt]
Rudolf Steiner (1861 -1925)

Whatever it’s underlying philosophy, supporters of anthroposophy are keen to show how well it works in practice. Tiphereth is a shining example of this. Although anthroposophy has some fanatical supporters, who believe Steiner’s teachings in their entirety, like many practitioners Jackie follows the parts of the philosophy which make sense to her and the community at Tiphereth.

C.S -How much are you sceptical about the stuff behind Steiner’s ideas?

J.B –“Oh, I am quite sceptical about a lot of it. How can one man, basically, dictate that this is how things are? But, I do believe in how I feel about a lot of the teachings and I do believe that, as teachings, a lot of it is good.

“Steiner must have been a very persuasive man. I know he was very prolific and he went all over the world lecturing on his different ideas. But, how did he know that his ideas were right? Did he have any proof? I don’t know if he had any proof. However, a lot of the philosophies, the teachings and the way of living are very positive. Especially in this day and age, because they’re very focused and nurturing.

“I don’t know every detail of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Karl König. You can go and do a degree in anthroposophy. I haven’t done it because I’m not that interested. But, I do feel that the way we use the teachings at Tiphereth is positive.”

Social Enterprises

Whatever you feel about the philosophical roots of Tiphereth, the fact remains that its members have formed a strong, thriving community where everyone’s opinion is valued. In addition, the group also works to promote sustainable social environments with the wider community. It does this through its social enterprises, which are well integrated into the local community.

[cml_media_alt id='3205']Organic jam produced at Tiphereth-Mermelada ecológica producida en Tiphereth[/cml_media_alt]
Organic jam produced at Tiphereth.
C.S -How does Tiphereth connect with the wider community in Edinburgh?

J.B –“We connect with the outer community in a lot of ways. We have three social enterprises at Tiphereth. We make organic jams and chutneys. We do wood for wood-burning stoves, which is quite a big operation. We also produce compost.

“With the compost, we have an agreement with the council. Every Tuesday the guys go out with the tipper (5). They collect the bags of garden waste at the side of the road and put them in the tipper. Then we take it back up to Tiphereth and compost it. The guys get to meet the local people in the area, in Colinton. All the people in Colinton know them. They chat to them and leave them presents at Christmas time. It’s a really interactive way of having a social enterprise, which is very nice.

“We sell the jams and chutneys at farmers markets and sell the compost to community garden groups. We advertise our wood, for wood-burning stoves and fires, to the whole of Edinburgh, the outskirts and Glasgow as well. It’s all linked to the wider community.

“There’s also a forum for their families to come and discuss anything that they’d like to discuss. The families can come up and visit whenever they want to and if they have any concerns we’re happy to discuss it with them. They can volunteer to come and help us and work with the guys if they want to. It’s a really open, friendly place.”

C.S –Do your social enterprises economically support Tiphereth as a whole?

J.B –“At the moment I’m not so sure that they do, but it would be amazing if we could be self-sustaining (6). We’re hoping that, in the future, it does contribute financially towards Tiphereth as a community and as a charity.

“Tiphereth Ltd, which does the social enterprises, is separate from Tiphereth the day service, but it also employs people with learning difficulties. The guys who come from the day service can also be involved in that. If we need an extra pair of hands we all go and help out and it’s very interactive with the rest of the groups.”

Looking to the Future

This coming September, Tiphereth has entered into the Cultivation Street 2015 competition funded by the National Lottery and run by Kew Gardens and celebrity gardener David DeMoney. It will be a showcase of all the sustainable aspects of their operation, with a grand prize of £1000 worth of National Garden Gift Vouchers. Jackie and the community are currently preparing their entry.

C.S -What does the competition involve?

J.B –“There are different categories. The one I’ve entered us into is Community and Sustainability. I’m focusing on all the different sustainable aspects that we are involved in at Tiphereth. Basically, what we’re trying to do is to get all these aspects together to build up a picture of our community and how well we’re doing with sustainability and helping nature. For our entry, I’ll submit photographs and text about what activities we’re doing, what’s happening in the garden, how many bees we’ve seen, pictures of bees on plants.

[cml_media_alt id='2982']panal de aveja 3(1912x1008)[/cml_media_alt]
Bee eating pollen.

“I specifically grow plants for bees, I’m really interested in bee and butterfly conservation. I have a wildflower garden which we made two years ago. It is almost fully in bloom now, and the insects and bees that go to that are just astonishing.”

Why are bees dying out? What can we do to help? To find out how you can get involved, even if you don’t have a garden, check out Jackie’s tips here.




Use of English for Spanish Speakers


(1) Come rain or shine.

  • Definition: (adv) figurative (whatever happens).
  • Example: “The guys are involved in every aspect of the garden. Rain or shine” (“Los chicos están implicados con todas las tareas del huerto. Venga lo que venga/ A todo lo que les echen“). “Come rain or shine I’ll never abandon you” (“Pase lo que pase, nunca te abandonaré”).
  • Translation: (loc adv) venga lo que venga, pase lo que pase.


(2) Getting butterflies.

  • Definition: to get excited.
  • Example: “I got really excited, I remember getting butterflies thinking about it”. (“Me entusiasmaba mucho, me acuerdo que me ponía muy nerviosa cuando pensaba en ello“).
  • Translation: ponerse muy nervioso o entusiasmado. En algunos lugares castellanohablantes existe la traducción literal “tener mariposas en el estómago”.


(3) Nurtured.

  • Definition: in this context, act of caring, support.
  • Example: “I think the way people are nurtured and cared for is really special”. (“Pienso que la manera en la que la gente está atendida y cuidada es muy especial“). “Male bears don’t help the females with the nurture of their cubs” (“Los osos machos no ayudan a las hembras con el cuidado de los oseznos“).
  • Translation: de amplio alcance, englobante, de amplio espectro.


(4) To live by the seasons.

  • Definition: to live according to the weather of the seasons.
  • Example: “In the old days, people lived by the seasons, the light hours and the moon”. (“Hay dos grandes propuestas primordiales que engloban la integración de la comunidad castellanohablante en Escocia“).
  • Translation: vivir de acuerdo con las estaciones.
  • Comment: pay attention  to the preposition “by” in this expression.


(5) Tipper.

  • Definition: (UK) dumper track .
  • Example: “They collect the bags of garden waste at the side of the road and put them in the tipper”. (“Recogen las bolsas de residuos del huerto que están al lado de la carretera y las ponen en el camión de volteo“).
  • Translation: camión de volteo.


(6) Self-sustaining. 

  • Definition: encompassing or overshadowing everything.
  • Example: “[…] it would be amazing if we could be self-sustaining”. (“[…] sería increíble si pudiésemos ser autosuficientes“).
  • Translation: autosuficiente, autónomo, sostenible por uno mismo.
  • Comment: pay attention to the -ing form for sustaining.

Autor: Alex Owen-Hill

Alex is an Edinburgh freelance writer and blogger. As an ex-robotics researcher he's passionate about science and fascinating research in any field. He's also a dedicated food geek, filmmaker and occasional jazz musician. You can find him at www.AlexOwenHill.co.uk or on Twitter at @AlexOwenHill.

2 opiniones en “Edinburgh’s Eco-Environments: How One Charity Promotes Holistic Sustainability”

Deja un comentario

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *