Recycling a Hospital

Recycling a hospital

Recycling a Hospital
an exciting, new partnership

This year, the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) is opening the doors of its stunning new home at the Old Royal Infirmary, at Quartermile.

This new futures-focused space for learning, research, and innovation at the University of Edinburgh, will also be open to all, including private and public organisations, the local community and the general public. It will be a welcoming place, to meet, chat and/or discuss research and ideas.

Just up the road from Grassmarket Centre, EFI is also our new neighbour!

EFI and GCP, the story so far

EFI originally reached out to GCP’s woodwork team in 2020 to mill, plank, air dry and store an elm tree which was felled in the old hospital grounds. It was the start of a great relationship.

The University of Edinburgh recognises the importance of collaboration and EFI is seen as one of the ‘University’s front doors, open to the wider community.’

Recycling, community and mental health

To ensure a legacy for the old hospital, Jennifer, EFI’s Creative Projects Manager, was looking for ways to acknowledge the importance of the building’s past. Keen to reuse and recycle materials as much as possible, this grand project has become known as ‘Recycling a Hospital’.

When Jennifer and her team met with GCP’s Wood Workshop Manager, Jon, and his team, it became clear that EFI and GCP values are closely aligned. Both share a passion for recycling, community, education and improving mental health for all. Jennifer was quickly impressed with Jon’s creativity, describing him as ‘ingenious and generous.’

Jon our Wood Workshop Manager

Jon, pictured, is delighted with the partnership,

‘EFI approached us to help work with recycled wood. We are passionate about recycling and it has been great to work with such a creative team at EFI.’

Jimmy, an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in Anthropology and Gender Studies, works for the Binks Hub at the University. They have been the main EFI designer and day-to-day contact, working alongside Jon. Jimmy is a keen woodworker and understands the mental health benefits well,

‘Building from my own understandings of the benefits which woodworking can bring to mental health, the woodworking programme at the GCP seemed to be the perfect partner for us both in practical terms, but also to embed the work of our project in the local community and in ways that might in some small way support their work.’

Recycling a hospital - Spirit Case concept

The Spirit Case

Together, the GCP and EFI teams worked closely to repurpose six original pine floor beams, first laid in the hospital in the 1870’s, and many of the slate roof tiles.

Jon explains the approach,

‘Jimmy had a very strong design, so for this project the GCP team were needed more on the technical side of things, problem solving and realising the design. Jimmy wanted a kind of memory cabinet to sit in the communal area of the new building. It was important that the cabinet connected visitors and staff alike to the past importance of the building as a hospital, so it needed to be able to show off objects, poetry and other elements of the past. The final cabinet works so well. It recycles the wood from the floors to build the structure and slates from the roof to display memories.’

Jimmy was grateful for the extensive specialist equipment and professional woodworkers available at GCP,

‘The GCP workshop is really well equipped. There are tools that have great potential for injury, if not used carefully by a skilled and experienced professional. As Jon and I worked together, his fellow woodworkers including GCP members participated in a range of ways.’

Over summer 2023, Jimmy became a frequent, very welcome visitor to GCP’s wood workshop, as the project progressed. They regularly blogged about developments.

recycling a hospital - EFI
recycling a hospital - EFI - milling pine
recycling a hospital - EFI - finishing pine

Recycling a Hospital – watch this space

The result of this work, now named the ‘Spirit Case’ will be unveiled this year, so watch this space! It will be a testament to Jimmy’s vision and design and Jon and the GCP team’s excellent problem-solving and technical input.

The Spirit Case is approximately 5’ x 5’ and the lattice will hold the cleaned and stone-carved slates, carved by Gus Fisher, a Scotland-based stone and lettering artist. The piece preserves for the future the voices, poems and memories of nurses who worked in the hospital and people from the community in Edinburgh with attachments to it, ensuring no one forgets the original use and importance of the building.

As with all the many members and volunteers who connect with GCP, we are delighted that working with us has also helped Jimmy personally,

‘What I didn’t realise until I started to work in the GCP wood workshop was that I would have so much to gain personally from the experience. I learned that whilst in the past my mental health had benefitted from woodworking, in part due to the solitude and peacefulness I found in wood, what I had never really experienced was the human comradeship it could bring.’

Our next collaboration: the Elm Tree Project

So what about that elm tree, milled and drying at GCP?

The wood is ready to be used and Jon and the team are working on plans. As Jon says,

‘The plan is still in the development phase, but we’re excited to be collaborating with EFI further.’

GCP EFI Elm Project

For Jimmy, this next project is as important as the first,

‘Being able to join together wood from the first phase of the building’s life 150 years ago with wood connected to the current phase is for me a great privilege. It has become an important aspect of the spirit of the artworks on which we are working.’

Read Jimmy’s recent blog and keep your eyes peeled on our website for further developments.

We look forward to building on our new partnership with our new neighbour and we wish them every success up to, and beyond, their launch in the summer!

Photography by Jimmy Turner and Gintare Kulyte

More about GCP’s Wood Workshop

Our Wood Workshop is deeply rooted in the history of The Grassmarket Community Project. Formed in 2006, it was the Project’s first social enterprise and started by repurposing old church pews and continues to champion GCP’s commitment to the circular economy.

Through our wood workshop, our Members are able to increase confidence and self-esteem. They improve social skills, reliability and resilience, and ultimately work towards further opportunities including formal qualifications and employment.

We are proud that our woodworkers have the skills to make, mend, repurpose or renovate. We enjoy selling our beautiful hand-crafted products to the public and a range of commercial, government, third sector and community-based clients.

Choose from our range of hand-carved products

Wood Workshop Product Range - Grassmarket Community Project

View our range of beautiful wooden products, all hand-carved from sustainably-sourced timber, at our Coffee Saints cafes, our wee Tartan Shop and via our Online Shop.

Commission bespoke woodwork

Custom made wood quaichs for Scottish Government

Our Wood Workshop team also create 100’s of bespoke custom wood awards and plaques for a range of commercial, government, third sector and community-based clients.
Commission custom wood signs and bespoke furniture


The Grassmarket Community Project’s Wood Workshop on the generosity of our customers, funders and donors. Our key funders for this area of our work are John Lewis and Partners, Hub Foundation/Inspiring Scotland, Heritage Fund, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Edinburgh Airport. We thank them for their essential continued support.

John Lewis Logo
Hub Community Foundation - Grassmarket Community Project
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Edinburgh Airport