Everyday Changemakers: Louise, Eden Court

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Our Story Weaver, Kaska Hempel, talks to Everyday Changemaker Louise Marshall, the producer for Dance and Accessible Arts at Eden Court in Inverness.

The story is the 2nd in a 5-part series of weekly interviews with a variety of grassroots organisations involved in climate, biodiversity and social justice action across Inverness.


Interview, recording and sound production: Kaska Hempel


Kaska Hempel (Narration): Hello, it’s Kaska, your Story Weaver. Welcome to the second Everyday Changemaker story from the Inverness series in which I take my cycling community action adventures from my local Dundee, all the way to the capital of the Highlands where we held SCCAN’s Northern Gathering last September. Last week, I introduced you to Iain Mckenzie from Inverness Foodstuff who work with people caught in the crossfire of systemic failure at the intersection of food insecurity and food waste. We parted our ways at the door of Artysanal Cafe and I pedalled over to Eden Court Centre on the opposite bank of the River Ness. 

After the busy city streets, the green space surrounding the Eden Court buildings was very much a welcome relief – disturbed only by piercing calls of resident seagulls and an occasional plane passing overhead. The building was festooned in the usual poster and multimedia displays advertising the upcoming theatre, cinema and dance offerings. But as I was looking for a place to park my bike, I also spotted an unusual planting in front of the oldest part of the complex. The garden bed was overflowing with orange nasturtium flowers, along with a few beans, courgettes, and even an exotic splash of the purple artichoke bloom. The information sign declared it to be a part of the Inverness branch of the Incredible Edible network. Incredible Edible is a UK wide movement with a vision to create kind, confident and connected communities through the power of food, and they do this, in large measure, by growing food in underused public spaces, to be shared by everyone. I thought that Eden Court hosting one of the local group’s beds in their grounds was a lovely expression of their wider environmental commitment and of the fostering of community connections.

After having a good gander at the incredible edibles, I settled at the cafe inside and waited for Louise to emerge from her youth dance workshop. I was looking forward to chatting about the use of her and her teams creative powers to inspire Inverness and Highland communities into climate action. 

Louise Marshall: I’m Louise Marshall and I’m the producer for Dance and Accessible Arts at Eden Court in Inverness, which is a theatre and arts venue in Inverness and for the Highlands.

That’s my main job, but I’m also chair of the Climate Emergency Working Group, which is trying to address all things climate emergency related at Eden Court. We can’t change the world, but we’re doing everything we can within our power or trying to work towards that. And I live just North of Inverness, about eight miles north of Inverness, near a place called Tore, which possibly nobody will have heard of if they’re not from the Highlands, in a beautiful big garden with, yeah, forest behind us.

Kaska Hempel: So, can you tell me what your favorite place where you live or Inverness or elsewhere is?

Louise Marshall: Well, I have lots of favorite places. This could be a very long answer. I love where we live because we have these, this native silver birch forest just behind the house. So it’s glorious in the early mornings when the sun’s coming up.

Um, I do love the beaches up here. The beaches in Scotland are just stunning and hopefully it’s cold enough to keep most people away so they won’t get too popular. But yeah, just the most amazing beaches like Sandwood Bay and so forth.

But I was going to say, I also love London, which is a bit like contradictory. But I do love going to London, and it feels very exciting anyway, but also to see what’s happening. And there seems to be things happening quicker, should I say, there in terms of changes of behavior and things, so like seeing the vertical planting going on and transferring to paper bags in shops and things like that.

When I was a kid in the 80s, you would never have walked down the canal in London, but it’s been all regenerated, and there’s loads of people now walking along the canal. And it’s really, you know, much cleaner and an attractive place, outdoor space to be in London, where it used to be a complete no-go area, so I think things like that are really exciting to see as well as the natural stuff when we’re here in the Highlands.

Kaska Hempel: How did you get involved in the sort of climate action aspects in your work? You know, what’s your climate journey? Do you have some big aha moments?

Louise Marshall: Not really a big aha moments.

It’s been more of a creep than a sudden epiphany. Um, we had what we called a Green Team quite a while ago, pre-COVID, but it was a bit vague and a bit of a talking shop and not much actually getting done. Um, and then COVID happened, as it did to everybody. And then when we came back from COVID, we as an organization decided we wanted to just give this group some…rigor, if you like, and some actual power to do something. So it’s established as a as a proper working group. With actual legs to, like, make decisions and implement actions and to influence all the departments really in the building.

And I think, um, I’ve been here in Eden Court quite a long time, a very long time, and people know that I’m quite passionate about the environment. So I was asked to chair. Kind of simultaneous to that. When we came out of COVID, we got funding to employ someone as an artist for change with a focus on the climate and the climate emergency. So we had an activist for change, if you like, called Ink Asher Hemp.

So Ink was here for a year and had a massive influence. Um, but I was their line manager, so I was very privileged to work with them really closely. And we did a whole season called the Climate of Hope season to coincide with COP26, in Glasgow. And that gave real meat to a lot of the behind the scenes stuff we were trying to do as well.

It just really brought it into focus for our staff and for audiences. So rather than just, you know, trying to change things behind the scenes, gave it a bit, well, a lot more profile.

I think what’s really positive having had them, they were based in our department, the engagement department, which is all about, you know, teaching and learning and so forth, is the work now is embedded in our department anyway. So even though that role, because it was only funded for a year, doesn’t exist, all of the team, the engagement team, are committed to embedding that in their work. So whether that’s the actual topic of what we do, or whether it’s how we do it and, you know, we’re reusing, repurposing, sourcing second-hand materials, you know, all of that sort of thing. So I think our team has definitely embodied it, and then it filters out throughout the building.

So, it’s a shame not to have the post, but actually, the influence was huge.

Kaska Hempel: Um, can you maybe tell me a little bit about your personal climate journey? So, you know, you obviously didn’t just suddenly three years ago .

Louise Marshall: I suppose it started out, yeah, as a teen, it started out with animal welfare. I’ve always been quite political.

So it was things like animal welfare, you know, so I was boycotting Boots at that time because they were still testing on animals, but I was political. So I was boycotting things like Barclays because of the situation in South Africa at that time. So I’ve always been quite political. And then obviously, as the climate emergency, it’s not always been called that has it has developed and become more prominent and I’ve become more aware.

It’s just grown to, you know, I wouldn’t say it takes over my life, but you know, it’s very much like a part of daily life. I’m a Green Party member and volunteer and so on. We try and do as much as we can at home. It’s very difficult with the infrastructure in the Highlands.

The biggest bugbear is the car. Because it’s almost, it’s so difficult if you live not within Inverness to not drive. Because the infrastructure, the buses have just not been invested in. Um, but yeah, yeah. So it’s just incrementally grown and grown, I guess, over time.

Kaska Hempel: Now, when I say “climate-engaged art”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Louise Marshall: Projects that in some way, address climate related issues or environment related issues, to one – get the people involved in the project thinking, but two – for the audience to be communicating something to the audience that also gets the audience thinking.

And I think the important thing is that, the use of the arts can get an emotional response. And we know that can have more impact than presenting the facts because, as Ink would say, we’ve had the facts for 200 years or something, and look where we are. But using arts and culture, we can actually drive change and actually embed the change into daily life because it becomes, becomes the norm.

Um, but we can be at the cutting edge of like challenging people on their thinking, their behavior, and so forth.

Kaska Hempel: So can you recommend a particularly powerful, creative piece that you think can have particularly powerful impacts in that community settings or you’ve seen people react to in terms of motivating action?

Louise Marshall: Tricky! There was a really fabulous piece that we programmed for our COP26 Climate of Hope Season called Anthropocene. It was a digital piece of theater. Really clever. So you logged in and you could choose what some of the characters, the actors did.

So they get to a decision point, obviously with a climate element related to it, an environmental element. And you could decide what they did and see what the consequences of that action were. And then you could maybe go back and change it again. And that was really, I mean, it’s really well-performed, created, and just really clever because it just showed very directly that what decisions you made have a consequence kind of thing without laying it all out there like a straightforward play.

That really impacted me, so I hope it impacted on other audiences. The ones that have been most successful, I guess, for us here, are where it’s community involvement in terms of performers.

So we’ve brought groups together to perform. And that’s had a really big impact because they’ve been thinking about the content of what they’re going to do, um, and then how they’re going to perform it and communicate how they’ve felt about it to the audience. And I think…yeah, taking it away from the professionals sometimes it has more impact because people are actually doing it on the ground.

So we had one called Thar Abhainn Nis, which is Gaelic for “Across the Ness”. So we had about 40 performers, all ages, performing on either side of the River Ness, to each other. Highlighting the importance of the river to the city, to our lifestyle, to our environment.

And, yeah, the audience said that really struck home to them.

Because sometimes when you watch professionals, it’s like there’s a distance between the audience and what’s being performed and I think when it’s local people, community groups, non professionals, there’s a rawness to it and, uh, and that takes that distance away and there’s more connectivity there.

Kaska Hempel: What’s your favourite thing to do on a Sunday morning?

Louise Marshall: My favorite thing on a Sunday morning… It depends on the weather. If it’s not great weather, then my favorite thing to do is get up, make a cup of tea and go back to bed and read a book.

I’m currently reading “It’s Not That Radical” by Mikaela Loach. Really brilliant. Recommend it. And if it’s sunny, or fine, I should say. Sunny’s optimistic. Um, it’s get up and get in my garden and probably weed, which is an endless task. And it’s not that, it’s just everything would grow everywhere if I didn’t have some level of like: no, you can have that patch over there and this plant can have this patch over here. But otherwise it would just go crazy.

So we did leave the lawn. The grass, I should say. It’s not a lawn, that’s again, very optimistic. We left the grass this year, so we had a wild garden. It was May, June, July, and then we didn’t mow it. My husband scythed it in August.

Kaska Hempel: Wow. High level skill there.

Louise Marshall: Well, he really enjoyed it. I had a go. I was rubbish.

Kaska Hempel: It’s really, it’s something you have to practice.

Louise Marshall: Yeah, but it gives you a nicer result.

Kaska Hempel: Especially with the sort of taller grass.

Louise Marshall: Yeah. And saves on the petrol.

Kaska Hempel: It does. Very impressed with that.

Because we’re in Inverness, what do you see as unique challenges of doing the work you do in this context of Highlands and the capital of the Highlands.

Louise Marshall: The unique challenge always with the work we do, all of it, is the geography. Um, because it’s such a dispersed community.

You know, the Inverness population is quite small, but the Highlands is the size of Belgium. It’s a third of the land mass of Scotland and we try to serve the Highlands as a theatre, as an arts venue. Whether that’s people coming to see stuff or doing projects or getting messages out.

And I think, yeah, whether it’s the theatre or just, you know, having done the volunteering with the Green Party, it’s just so hard to get together. And you want to get together because that’s the buzz, that’s when things happen. But then people are travelling such long distances and because the bus service is rubbish, you know, then you’re talking about using cars, and so it all seems a bit counterintuitive. So I think that’s, for everything, that’s the biggest challenge in the Highlands.

It’s traveling and making those connections over such vast distances.

Kaska Hempel: What about an advantage of being here?

Louise Marshall: We’re constantly reminded what a beautiful place it is. So we need to look after it. Can’t avoid it.

Kaska Hempel: I ask this of everybody, it’s trying to use your imagination, to, travel into the future. So use a time machine to jump 10 years ahead. And imagine, that we’ve done everything possible to create a better world, fairer world, less climate challenged world. And you can share one of the memories from that future with us.

Louise Marshall: Well, I was going to say it would be quieter. And yeah, we can hear the traffic in the background. So definitely quieter. But not quieter because we’ll hear other things more. So, we’ll be able to hear birds more and things. But less traffic. Or even if it’s the same traffic, I guess it might be electric. So it’ll be quieter.

But I also hope it’ll be quieter in the sense of calmer. Like less frantic. Hopefully everything will seem a little bit more calm. Peaceful. Um, yeah. And move away from this constant – having to do, having to be, having to buy. Hopefully.

Kaska Hempel: Thank you for sharing that vision of the future. Um, and is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t touched on that you think you’d like to share with people?

Louise Marshall: The climate emergency seems really daunting and we all get really down about it sometimes, but find the thing that you love and use that to make a difference.

So, I’m very fortunate. I work in a theatre, I get to do what I love and I get to use that, create performances and projects that relate to the climate emergency and hopefully make a difference.

Kaska Hempel (Narration):

You’ll be glad to know that Eden Court’s Board renewed their climate commitment in the way they run their own organisation and programming to mark COP28 last November. And to raise awareness of the event, Eden Court Engagement groups presented ‘Not In My Back Garden’ at the local Botanic Gardens. The performances focused on the groups’ own experiences and what matters to them most during these uncertain times of climate change, aiming to inspire others to action.

With evening drawing in, it was time for me to find my hotel. I have to say, I was apprehensive about cycling there. It looked like it was based on the eastern outskirts of Inverness, past a couple of spaghetti junctions and in the midst of a warehouse district. In my experience, both of these spaces are notoriously unfriendly for walking and wheeling. 

To be fair, Inverness city centre made an effort to incorporate cyclists. A bit confused and confusing effort, consisting of a mix of on road, on pavement, one way and two way cycleways…so my apprehension grew as I headed away from it…But, as I approached one of the motorway junctions, I stumbled upon a bit of a cycling heaven – profiled ramps which made it effortless to climb the junction embankment, dedicated bridges over the busy road, wide paths. I was blown away. The infrastructure was very new and, sadly, very restricted. It looked like it was set up to serve the new University of Highlands and Islands campus, itself a delight of green meadowy spaces. For a brief moment I had a flashback to the effortless cycling experience I had in Basel in Switzerland a few summers ago. Is it too much to dream of this being a rule rather than an exception in our own urban spaces here in Scotland?

Ok – that’s enough of the active transport musings from me…

Next week, I will take you to the South of Inverness, to chat to Mike and Gina from a tiny community woodland in an suburban dell.


Eden Court Climate of Hope project, for COP26 https://eden-court.co.uk/news/climate-of-hope-a-beginning

Ink Asher Hemp https://eden-court.co.uk/news/back-in-my-day

Anthropocene by Gym Jam Theatre https://www.gymjamtheatre.com/home/projects

It’s Not That Radical by Mikaela Loach https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/61645827

Louise Marshall https://eden-court.co.uk/profile/louise-marshall

“Not in My Back Garden” performance by Eden Court’s Community Engagemnet Groups for COP28 https://www.highlifehighland.com/blog/eden-court-climate-emergency-performance-hosted-at-inverness-botanic-gardens-this-weekend/

The Eden Court’s statement of commitment to climate action https://eden-court.co.uk/news/climate-emergency-commitment?fbclid=IwAR3P5rmOgbJ_BbivDSCwSrmHnVVm7JJxfIrVIzCHFlRaJAqYVOm_1sq_j0g