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Posts tagged ‘wellbeing’

Five steps to make children’s rights a reality in the Scottish planning system

The Scottish planning system is soon to undergo reform. Here, Dr Jenny Wood identifies five ways Scottish Government can improve children’s participation in the planning process, and the environments it shapes and manages.

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Planning for people, for adults, or just for economic growth?

Town planning began as a service to people, and its social roots continue to drive it towards this goal. This kind of language infiltrates plans and policies throughout the UK, but in the messy political world of planning, who makes up the ‘people’ for whom we plan? Read more

Demolish Morningside! Dr Peter Matthews presents Fringe Show

Dr Peter Matthews starred in a show on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – in which he spoke about policies to create mixed communities – and why these never seem to involve relocating the wealthy. In his blog, he reflects on his experience.

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Protection ‘for’ or protection ‘from’? Children in town planning

“Children are the future” and “Let’s do it for the kids”. These are the kind of phrases you often hear when talking of the legacy we wish to leave our planet, but what if children are just as much citizens of the present as they are the future?

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Going wild in the botanics

Dr. Jenny Roe recently made the news in Scotland, Australia and the US by demonstrating the restorative effects of parks on the brain using EEG monitors. She has now been awarded a Beltane Fellowship to explore how the positive effects of Botanic Gardens can be extended to a greater diversity of people.

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The impoverishment of the UK

This morning the Guardian published the first headline results from the Poverty and Social Exclusion project. Our data shows that 33% of British households lacked at least three basic living necessities in 2012, compared with 14% in 1983.

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Poverty research broadcast on ITV

The first results from this study were broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday, March 28th in a special ‘Tonight’ programme on ‘Breadline Britain’.

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What does your office window view do for you?

IHURER PhD researcher Kathryn Gilchrist discusses some of the findings from her ESRC-funded research on the value of workplace greenspace for employee health and wellbeing.

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Opinion and prejudice in child poverty research

Nine in ten people wrongly believe that drug and alcohol addiction are a main cause of child poverty in the UK, according to a recent DWP survey. Dr Kirsten Besemer, researcher at IHURER and member of the Poverty and Social Exclusion UK team, explains how child poverty measures can incorporate public opinion while avoiding unfounded prejudice.

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Making an impact with a PhD in planning

Judith MontfordJudith Montford is doing PhD research at IHURER into the relationship between different residential layout/patterns and mental wellbeing. Here she describes how she became interested in the way our natural and built environment influences our lives.

A question anyone who wishes to a PhD should ask themselves is ‘why they want to do it’. A PhD is not to be undertaken lightly, because it is about influencing and affecting lives for their betterment. You should have a natural desire to want to work towards these goals, otherwise you will make no impact and it might be an unwise use of three years – and sometimes a bit more – of your life.

I did a MSc at Cardiff University  (Planning Practice and Research) and I enjoyed it very much because I got a good understanding of what spatial planning is all about – planning places for people to live successfully (I cannot write here what successful is, but it covers a multitude of sins, literally sometimes). I later on worked in planning practice for a short time to get some hands on experience as well. I found that my quest to know more about the places we live, by ‘doing and learning’ was insatiable.  I have always been awestruck with the way and how our natural and built environment influences our life styles or how we interact with it. Programmes like ‘The BBC human planet’ series and ‘Amazon’ by Bruce Parry  makes it all too clear how mankind relates with their environment.  Whether planned or unplanned, there is still an effect.  I once read about how the layout of slums influenced the slum dwellers social life and it was interesting to learn that what was not intentionally planned ended up being very useful in building a community.  There was a real sense of community and this was by virtue of the way the slum environment was laid out – lines and patterns.

We ‘plan’ to make lives better in essence, so being curious I wanted to find out how useful what has been planned is to us, especially our wellbeing which can be generated by having good relationships with the people we live with. Well we know it is not that straight forward, but that is what I like about this, finding out what works and how. How our environment is affecting our wellbeing. This is now part of the agenda in spatial panning to work towards positive and public health. Actually it is going back to the roots and birth of planning practice.  Interestingly an opportunity came up for a PhD research on this subject matter here at Heriot-Watt University, School of Built Environment. I applied for it and I am here now working on this research about our wellbeing and our residential environments.

Physical planning affects mental health

Physical planning affects mental health

To do a PhD, there must be a genuine interest first of all in the particular subject the research will be on. This is very important to keep you going during the difficult time which is inevitable.  There is the danger however of having a ‘tunnel vision’ of your work when you are passionate about it; however that is the time you rely on the advice of the research community. Though the research is your ‘favourite cuddly toy’ ‘outsiders can see that a rip needs to be patched before it gets ‘worse’. An objective advice is always at hand.

Research is a process. It is evolutionary, but it also oscillates a great deal and you must be prepared for this. This oscillation is challenging at most times because at every stage there are things you go through, or things that happen to test you.  It is essential that these processes, changes and challenges happen, for it makes you creative. You think more, you connect with the environment and yes – you grow and discover aspects of your person you did not know existed.

Some say the PhD process is lonely,  but this has not particularly been the case for me. Though your project is your responsibility and you have to ensure it progresses. This is in no doubt a challenge and requires hard work, but you are not alone. Research projects are acquaintances, so you are part of a whole. Also, IHURER is a community and there is support if and when you need it.  Apart from my supervisors, I have found colleagues and seniors to be very helpful, which is comforting. Apart from the support and help I get directly related to my research project, I have made friends for life. The community is also diverse and what I have learnt and continue to learn from friends has been priceless – no book or guide could have taught me this.

The IHURER research community focuses on ’real life in continuation’. This applies to all the research work being undertaken here… it is about what is really happening out there and not just ‘fantasy projects’.



What I like about being here is the fact that your professional development (not only the academic) is also taken care off. We have PhD students going away to do internships with some prominent organisations (Scottish Government, NHS) and some have secured jobs because of this. I have been given the opportunity given to help with teaching some very interesting courses. I see this as the way to go, as the PhD is for a set time but the extra you gain alongside helps to make the whole experience worth it as well as gets you ready you for the future.

I cannot say all this without saying a bit about Edinburgh – it is a beautiful city with very interesting people –robust if I am allowed to say that…. Coming from tropical Africa, I must admit that the weather here has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. It is very changeable, but that should not deter you, it is part of the experience and with everything else, it makes it worth it.

Heriot-Watt University campus itself is great for studying whether living on or off it. The environment is quiet green and there are lots of places to go for respite when needed.  The School actually won a Green Flag award for the provision of its community parks and green spaces.

The student community on campus is diverse (students from different countries all over the world) so ‘home’ is always close .  I could go on….

I consider it a blessing that I am here as part of the IHURER research family, and I am looking forward to the future. Really….it is full of promises.

IHURER is currently advertising full and part funded PhD scholarships on a variety of subjects, including Poverty and Social Exclusion, Inequalities in Access, Use and Participation within the Built Environment, International Housing Policy and many more. In addition, two scholarships linked to the ESRC large grant Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change: Understanding the Role and Impact of Welfare Conditionality are now available.  Application deadline: 30th of March

Deciding to do a PhD

Kathryn GilchristIHURER PhD student Kathryn Gilchrist is currently writing up her PhD, which focuses on how access to greenspace and nature in the work place affects people’s health and wellbeing. Her research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  In this post, she describes what it is like to do a PhD at IHURER

I’ll be honest; before coming to Heriot-Watt I had never intended to do a PhD.  It wasn’t a long-standing ambition of mine at all.   Yet now I find myself nearing the end of my time as a PhD student in IHURER and couldn’t be happier about the path I stumbled onto.  I first came to the School of the Built Environment (SBE) here at Heriot-Watt Uni as a postgraduate on the MSc Urban Planning course.  My background was in environmental science, but I didn’t want to be a scientist – what really interested me was how people and their environments interact.  The more I learned about planning and urban research, the more hooked I got.  I wanted to keep learning more, and I wanted to do that in SBE.  I liked the fact that research here isn’t about navel-gazing; it’s about real peoples’ lives and building an evidence-base to influence the decisions made in policy and practice that affect us all.  By the end of the MSc year I had, with the encouragement and advice from IHURER staff, successfully secured a place and funding to study for a PhD in the department.

This isn’t to say it was an easy decision to make.  To dedicate yourself for three or more years to a single research project that you, and only you, will design, implement, analyse and report can be a scary prospect! Deciding to do a PhD is a huge commitment, and certainly not something to take lightly.  The important thing is that doing a PhD isn’t just about the end result – producing a piece of original research  – it’s also process of training and learning the tools of the trade, developing lots of skills like critical thinking, communication, organisation and self-motivation.  It’s an apprenticeship in research.  An inevitable part of that is having to learn by trial and error, false starts and ‘back to the drawing board’ moments.   The great thing is that you’re surrounded by like-minded people who are coming up against similar obstacles, or have done in the past, and can offer advice or support.  We have a great research community here at IHURER, and because of the level of support both from academic staff and from fellow students, although your project is ‘your baby’ you’re never out there on your own.

Having said that, I don’t know if I would have gotten through the more challenging times if I didn’t have a strong interest in my topic. I study how access to greenspace and nature affects peoples’ health and particularly their mental wellbeing, and although it’s a complex subject it’s absolutely fascinating.  I really wouldn’t recommend doing a PhD on anything you don’t have a genuine interest and curiosity for; that way madness lies!  But if you do have that, it can be a really rewarding process.  I (and others I know) found it all too easy to panic a bit in the earlier stages when you don’t yet have a defined research design, there are so many decisions to be made (all of which feel like they might determine your success or failure, though they most probably won’t), and you aren’t 100% sure you’re capable of pulling off what you do have planned.  However, when things do eventually come together and you manage to successfully gather your data and (hopefully) produce some interesting findings, the feeling of achievement more than makes up for the tough periods!

Heriot-Watt Campus

Heriot-Watt campus certainly has plenty of access to nature and greenspace!

Of course there’s more to PhD life in IHURER than just the studying part.  Given the focus of my research especially, it’s really important to me to be able to take a break and within a couple of minutes wander from the building I can find myself in beautiful woodlands, feeding the swans and ducks at the loch (lake for those of you not familiar with the Scots!), or relaxing in the landscaped gardens of the old family estate that Heriot-Watt occupies.  Another major benefit is the research student community here.  It’s a really friendly department to be part of, and because we have such an international student community studying here has meant I’ve made friends from all over the world (and had some interesting experiences with some of their native foods!).   Student satisfaction is high in the university overall as well – we are the no. 1 university in Scotland for student satisfaction (National Student Survey 2012) and for the last two years running have been the Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year (and top in the UK for student experience). Then there’s the added bonus of living in the beautiful historic city of Edinburgh – it’s not consistently voted one of the UK’s most liveable cities for nothing!

If you think a PhD at IHURER might be for you too, why not check out the PhD scholarships available at the moment?    

IHURER is currently advertising two ESRC Project Studentships linked to the ESRC large grant Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change: Understanding the Role and Impact of Welfare Conditionality (Application deadline: 30th of March)

The use of enforcement and other interventionist measures to combat rough sleeping

The use of fixed-term tenancies to influence social tenants’ behaviour

In addition, IHURER is advertising full and part funded PhD scholarships on the three topics below: (Application deadline: 30th of March)

Poverty and Social Exclusion

Inequalities in Access, Use and Participation within the Built Environment

International Housing Policy

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