1994: Edinburgh University Settlement’s School of Art Therapy; Historical Outline

The Origins of Scotland’s School of Art Therapy

By Nicholas A. Flavin (Director, Edinburgh University Settlement). First published in ‘Starting from Scratch: Proceedings of the First Scottish International Art Therapy Conference, March 1994’. Edited by Joyce Laing and Peter Byrne. Published by Edinburgh University Settlement, 1996. There has been a keen and continuing interest in Scotland in art and psychopathology, and in the therapeutic applications of art, ever since the work of pioneers such as Joyce Laing and the late Professor Ralph Pickford began to be recognised nationally and internationally in the 1950s.

Starting From Scratch Publication

Arising from that interest has been a desire for a training course in Scotland and, in 1991, Edinburgh University Settlement’s School of Art Therapy established Scotland’s first professional Art Therapy training course, which is academically validated by Glasgow Caledonian University and professionally accredited by the British Association of Art Therapists.


This achievement is the result of local initiative by Edinburgh University Settlement, an independent charitable organisation with a well-documented history of innovative projects, and European co-operation under the transnational “Stepping Stones” project with Denmark and Ireland, funded under the Horizon Initiative of the European Social Fund.

Certificate of Art Therapy

Edinburgh University Settlement

Edinburgh University Settlement is a long established link between “town and gown”. The Settlement was founded in 1905 “to supplement public provision for the poor, deprived, disadvantaged and disabled in the Edinburgh area.”

The objectives of the modern Settlement are to:

  • Provide services of high value that are complementary with and supplementary to, services provided in the areas of our concern by agencies of central and local government.
  • Mobilise relevant professional skills from members of the University for voluntary work as in CommunityLink.
  • Develop special projects of a paramedical, social and educational kind by our professional staff, wherever possible maximising opportunities for student voluntary involvement.
  • Seek, together with student societies and other voluntary bodies both inside and outside the University, to encourage among students a commitment to voluntary service while maintaining so far as possible, full and up to date information about sources of, and opportunities for, voluntary activity.
  • Help the University (which recognises the Settlement as an integral part of its activities) to retain an awareness of the needs of the community around the University and the possibility of using its resources in innovative ways to serve the community.
  • Collaborate fully with kindred voluntary organisations and with international associations and networks of like organisations whenever this can be of mutual value.


Mental Health Practice at Edinburgh University Settlement

Artist Painting

Early Beginnings

Seminal reasons for Scotland’s School of Art Therapy lie in the Settlement’s mental health practice established in 1930. This practice became the main referral point for rehabilitation programmes at the Royal Edinburgh, Gogarburn and Rosslynlee Hospitals. The late Professor Jim Affleck, Consultant Physician at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, was the Chairman of the Settlement’s Mental Health Programme at Wilkie House (now the home of the School of Art Therapy) for over 20 years. During this time, based on research carried out at the Settlement, he and a colleague, Ralph McGuire, produced the “Morningside Scales”, indicators of rehabilitation based on the ability to return to paid employment.

Lung Ha Theatre
Lung Ha Theatre

Range of activities

The University Settlement continues to present interesting pilot schemes in the areas of mental health and disability in relation to education and the arts. Examples include a Mental Health Project at Wilkie House (with links to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and the Cambridge Street Day Hospital), the Companion Services for sufferers of senile and pre-senile dementia and the Lung Ha Theatre Company founded in the Settlement in 1988.


This is the only theatre of its kind in Scotland centred on people with learning difficulties. A one hour documentary describing the dynamics of their first public performance was broadcast on national television. Because of its history of innovative project development supported by strong academic links the Settlement was uniquely placed to consider setting up Scotland’s first professional training course in art therapy.


This development was only possible with European co-operation under the Horizon Programme of the European Social Fund. European Union funding from 1992 to 1994 enabled Edinburgh University Settlement to work with Settlementet Askovgarden in Denmark and Kildare in the Republic of Ireland and produce a professional training course in Art Therapy informed by well tested practices from leading community based agencies in their respective countries.


Settlementet Askovgarden, founded in 1943, is a multi-service social work organisation in Copenhagen. Askovgarden runs a wide range of mental health services for the immediate neighbourhood and also for the whole of Greater Copenhagen and beyond. KARE, founded in 1967, provides services for people with a mental disability in County Kildare in the Republic of Ireland.


Edinburgh University Settlement and Settlementet Askovgarden are long-standing members of the International Federation of Settlements, and Neighbourhood Centres. The IFS formally launched the School of Art Therapy during the European Summit in Edinburgh in 1992. The launch was presided over by Sir David Smith, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, ex-officio President of the Edinburgh University Settlement.


Transnational activities were agreed and supervised by a Project Management Group which consisted of representatives of the three partner organisations. Meetings were rotated between the three countries to enable members to acquaint themselves thoroughly with the work of all three partner organisations and to facilitate direct professional exchanges.


The Project Management Group approved progress reports and staff appointments, networked with other organisations, and monitored and evaluated the project work. “Starting from Scratch” was planned as a prime mode of dissemination throughout the Horizon European network.


  • The publication and dissemination of the first part of the practice manual under the title ” Askovgarden – A Multi-Service Social Work Organisation” (produced by the IFS Secretariat on the basis of staff presentations at the Copenhagen meeting in late 1992).
  • Engagement of the IFS network to recruit students for the course.
  • Immediate recognition of the School as an International Centre of Excellence in Scotland.
  • The production of a unique exhibition of the works of Czech and Scottish artists where people with learning difficulties from the Duha project in Prague and the Settlement’s Kestrel Project were shown together with the works of established artists.
  • Maintenance of direct contact with other organisations. Practical links included an exhibition of Czech artists at the Stepping Stones Theatre during the 1992 European Community Summit.

    Art and craft workshop at the Settlement’s Wilkie House.


The First Scottish International Art Therapy Conference is a further significant result of this co-operation. In the very act of hosting this prestigious Conference and in producing “Scratching the Surface” Edinburgh University Settlement is honoured and gives testimony to the energy and vision of staff at the School of Art Therapy and due recognition to all those who have contributed from many parts of the world.


I expect that the papers emanating from the Conference will be received with interest by Creative Therapists and Institutes of Higher Education at home and abroad. I know that the Settlements and Neighbourhood Centres throughout the IFS network will be pleased to see yet another publication attesting to the power of project development from a community based agency typical of the Settlement movement. IFS, founded in 1926, represents over 4,500 local organisations of all sizes, active across the full range of social, economic, cultural, educational and environmental needs in their communities. We consider this great diversity of practical skills as our key strength in tackling the complex problems facing communities and individuals today.



Practitioners in Art Therapy and other Creative Therapies may be well served by this publication in reaching out to a growing audience in Neighbourhood Centres who will realise the potential of the Creative Therapies in a multidisciplinary and non-institutionalised community setting.

This is part of the Edinburgh Settlements digital archive collaboration with Ragged University: