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Tandem Talks and Bike Blethers – engaging with our community


In August, the Thistle Foundation and the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine got together to share “what we do” as organisations with the local community.

The event was part of the annual Craigmillar & Niddrie Community Festival and took place from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th August; celebrating community projects, groups and resources that are located in Edinburgh BioQuarter’s neighbouring communities.

Tandem Talks was designed to encourage young people to be curious about what goes on behind the scenes at laboratories on BioQuarter…

Are scientists kept in a dungeon, long bearded and never seeing daylight?

Can Stem Cell research be explained to a non-scientist without blowing their mind?

What do our neighbours do in this modern building, surrounded by beautiful landscaped, fully accessible pathways?

The Thistle Foundation invited members of their Young Persons (YP) group (aged 16-25 with additional learning needs) to participate, together with local Craigmillar residents and were also joined by those from further afield who were intrigued after spotting a post on social media.

Bike Blethers consisted of a brief introduction to Thistle’s adaptive bikes with an offer to try out the various types of equipment, with someone new and have a “bit of a blether”. Scientists, researchers, young people, Thistle Outdoors and YP teams, and residents new to the Craigmillar area, took up the invite and thoroughly enjoyed chatting and cycling together.

Groups were escorted on a tour and looked into one of the labs at the Centre of Regenerative Medicine – all members of the group were kitted out in white coats and looked very much the part. There was an opportunity to ask questions, discover research about brain development and use ​a microscope, hopefully fuelling an interest to find out more…

‘Wow, who knew science could be so much fun!’

Outside in the grounds, a group played a giant game – a science take on Twister, throwing enormous dice and matching up strange names of cells to win coloured balls and load them up in tubes. This game was designed as a fun way to to demonstrate the amazing world of biology and the CRM team made everyone feel at ease and no questions unanswered.

Dr Cathy Southworth, Edinburgh BioQuarter Community Science Engagement Manager and Teaching Fellow and colleagues explained how passionate researchers and scientists are about their “pets”. This is how one participant described what they learned…

“Each researcher or scientist is responsible for the cells they are working with. These need fed, nurtured, split, checked on – so much so they are often referred to as ‘pets’. Remember that strange wee digital game that at first is fun, then comes an obsession to keep the ‘pet’ alive, happy, growing etc?

‘Researchers often visit the lab on their annual leave, day off and late at night, just to make sure their ‘pet’ is doing well and thriving. It certainly helps you visualise the work and commitment of being a scientist.”

Over a break, both the groups got together and chatted about other Thistle groups, activities and services in Craigmillar, and careers in science and third sector organisations. This was followed by tour of the CRM garden allotment where staff can enjoy the outdoor space and unwind.

Back at Thistle HQ, a drop in cycle session created much excitement and laughter for one of Thistle’s regular attendees and resident of the Thistle estate, accompanied by a personal assistant in a two-seater ‘side by side’ cycle.

Finally, to round off a busy but perfect day, one of the Big Plan trainee hosts guided a tour of the Innocent Cycle Path as the sun shone on Edinburgh and Craigmillar.

Article Contributed by Gail Begg, Thistle Outdoors Lead Practitioner.

With thanks to Cathy Southworth, Robin Morton and the CRM team for their hospitality and hosting such a memorable day, and to Sylvia and Leeanne for their fantastic support with the YP group – Declan for helping to unload the van and support with the cycle session.

Find out more about the work and support of the Thistle Foundation.