Hello – I’m Jules Haston, Director of Development for The Quaich Project. West Princes Street Gardens has always held a special place in my heart and I’m so inspired to be part of such an exciting project that will have a lasting impact for future generations.
The Quaich Project Team are a really diverse bunch – we’re incredibly international with team members from six countries and three continents! With a wide range of experience within the charitable and public sectors, the team is able to bring in fresh and informed views and opinions – our team meetings are very lively with creative ideas flowing as much as the many cups of tea consumed. One thing we have in common is a love for Edinburgh, public spaces and a real passion and enthusiasm for the project.
We have the enviable position of being based at The Quaich Project campaign headquarters in the beautifully restored Victorian Cottage in West Princes Street Gardens. Our team meetings are often interrupted by visitors knocking on the door and asking ‘Who lives here’? So we thought a blog would be a good way for everyone to meet the faces behind The Quaich Project and find out what the Team are up to. As I recently attended Scotland Week celebrations in New York City, I wanted to kick off the first blog in our series by sharing some of the highlights from my visit.
I’m on a plane heading to New York for about 20 meetings and events. I’m finishing the first of a pair of knitted socks for Alan Cumming. They are nice ones: with an intricate Argyll pattern and Scottish Thistles, knitted with Shetland yarn in colours with suitably northern names like Highland Mist and Atlantic Spindrift. I’m meeting Alan for lunch in a few days and I had an idea to knit him socks, much to the bemusement of my team. He’ll get a bag of The Quaich Project goodies too, but I wanted to mark the honour of meeting him with a personal touch. I’ve just finished re-reading his book Not My Father’s Son. His mum used to knit him socks, so the hope is the present will be a nice reminder of home!
Scotland Week is a huge celebration for American Scots and those with a passion or connection to Scotland. The Tartan Parade has grown over the years; a procession of tartan attired dogs, dancers, pipers. This year the Grand Marshall is the wonderful Billy Connolly. He’s a big hero of mine so it’ll be a great personal thrill to be marching down 6th Avenue behind him. This year I will be joining members of the American Scottish Foundation. Formerly headed by Alan Bain, Camilla Helman has now taken up the presidential role. They’ll also be putting on several pre and post Tartan Day events and activities. It’s a great time to visit New York – it’s the run up to Immigration Heritage Week and the Carnegie Hall festival Migrations: The Making of America. American history and what it means to be American is indelibly linked to human movement. New York was built by waves of migration – whether by choice to find a better life, or through enforced exportation. And of course, many of those people were from Scotland. Of the approximately 12 million immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, some half million were Scots.
It’s Monday my head is spinning from three days and nights of ceilidhs, breakfast meetings, and events hosted by Scottish Government, Caledonian Society, and American Scottish Foundation. Saturday morning I witnessed the ceremonial ‘Kirkin o the Tartan’ at The Brick Presbyterian Church followed by a brunch event put on by St Andrews Society of New York. A moment of hilarity: the Scottish Gov Minister Graeme Day, the Scottish Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, was introduced as the Minister for Veterinarians! A moment of panic: no way I’ve got any time to complete Alan’s second sock!
I’ve had lunch with Joni Smith, the Scotland-US Ambassador, met the directors of the Bryant Park Corporation and Central Park Conservancy to talk about community engagement and support (including public loos!), and dinner with Chapel & York who support international fundraising efforts. I met journalist Aaron Hicklin for lunch; he originally endorsed wHY’s design bid and was the link to Alan. On Sunday I caught the tourist ferry over to Ellis Island to meet with the Commander of the Clan Currie Society, Robert Currie and his wife Suzanne. Robert Currie is a respected leader in the philanthropic and cultural heritage community and I was delighted to discuss The Quaich Project with him. Tartan Day on Ellis Island is one of the most outstanding Scottish heritage events in the USA. Scottish author Roddy Martine describes the exhibition as “a beacon of what USA Tartan Day is all about: the emigrant ancestors of ordinary Americans who over three centuries crossed the Atlantic Ocean to create the world’s greatest democracy.”
I’m on the flight home and … still knitting, finishing Alan’s second sock! Our meeting went extremely well and he has agreed to help us with our campaigning in New York and to share the cup of friendship that is The Quaich Project. He shared this picture of him as a child at Edinburgh Castle looking over the gardens. His new children’s book, Honey and Leon Take the Highroad, also features Princes Street Gardens on its cover! He was absolutely lovely, and we got talking about the sock and I ended up gifting him the Completed One. To my utter delight he told me that Club Cumming, the venue that emerged as a permanent version of the actor’s pop up Cabaret after show parties, hosts a knitting night. What has come to be fondly described as a ‘stitch and bitch’. This is a now a must do when I’m next in town!
I also met earlier with Scottish sculptor Andy Scott who was in NYC to receive a Great Scot award from NTA the following evening. The Kelpies were a huge inspiration behind our project identity, so I’m meeting Andy and his wife Hanneke to discuss ideas about how we might work together on both sides of the pond.
Everyone has been so enthusiastic and supportive about what we are trying to achieve. I’ve been taking the new The Quaich Project brochure with me to distribute wherever I go and have played our animation – narrated by Edinburgh born actor and Game of Thrones star Iain Glen – dozens of times. It’s not often that a campaign is so unanimously welcomed but I think it speaks volumes. A public green space in the heart of a city, a space to bring all members of the community together in new ways, and set under the iconic Edinburgh Castle. What’s not to love?
It’s a once in a lifetime project and so special because it’s truly for all members of the community. From residents to global visitors experiencing Edinburgh for the first time, West Princes Street Gardens will become a destination like no other – a truly world-class public space that we can all be proud of!
Did I tell you I love my job?
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