PUBLICATION: Gail's 'Paper and Pens'

Gail's Paper and Pens

Artlink has supported Gail Keating, a retired teacher to publish two new books about what her autistic pupils taught her. 

Gail Keating, a retired teacher of students with multiple and complex needs has distilled over 30 years learning from people with autism into two volumes. Gail’s books ‘Paper and Pens’ are two illustrated volumes, one of stories and one of tools, intended as friendly supports for parents or support staff working with anyone who has autism related anxiety or requires creative communication.

“This book aims to help all of us who share the lives of those with what is called autism to learn to think differently ourselves so that they can understand us better.” 

Gail Keating

Readers will discover Gail’s stories in Volume 1 – through anonymous characters or vignettes of those she’s taught (or as she’d describe it, what they’ve taught her), and how they helped her see a different vision of the world. In Volume 2, she shares some of the tools or practical ways which helped mutual communication.

The book is for anyone who supports someone with autism or a learning disability who wants to understand more about another’s perspective.

Gail’s book is available free of charge through Midlothian libraries and is available to buy or download from the Artlink Shop. 

This work has been supported by the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust Fund and Midlothian Council Autism Strategy.

Discovery – finding meaningful activity through the senses

Discovery is a new project to design a digital resource for people with complex needs of any age to find activity to appeal to particular sensory interests. So many of the requests we receive are from parents or carers looking for personal, meaningful opportunities that allow people to connect with something that reflects who they are, and have freedom to enjoy that.

With the expertise of a software engineering team from JP Morgan’s Force for Good programme,  Artlink will create a unique directory to browse experiences from the perspective of people with particular sensory interests in Midlothian by collating knowledge suggested by parents and support teams. Working in collaboration with park rangers, community organisations and heritage facilities we will share opportunities with sensory appeal.

We aim to create a responsive web page (for phone, iPad or desktop) by Summer 2019 to allow parents or carers of people with profound and multiple learning disability to find specific experiences for those they care for.

Watch this short film – it does a better job of describing this project than words!

Discovery will to use unique local knowledge to share meaningful activity.

Where can I watch owls fly?

Where are there interesting places for someone who loves to listen? 

My daughter loves reflection – where can I find lots of mirrors?

I support someone who loves the movement of trains – where can we go? 

Supported by JP Morgan Chase, National Lottery Year of the Young Person and Midlothian Council

Lottery award celebrating young people with creative skills

Young Midlothian People with complex needs awarded Year of the Young Person National Lottery Funding.


£9800 from the National Lottery Year of the Young Person awards will celebrate the creative talents of young people with autism and complex needs. The project entitled Creative Directors, supported by Artlink Edinburgh, will offer one to one support for young people to direct their own community projects focused on their unique skills like acting, drumming, animation and even listening.


The funding will involve six amazing young people from Bilston, Penicuik, Gorebridge and Loanhead, whose untapped talents will be the focus of community activity to benefit other young people in Midlothian;

  • Lewis loves acting but there’s no local group that suited his needs and interests – he will set one up for him and his friends.
  • Jordan has recently showed huge ability for drumming and will organize a music concert for friends and family.
  • Chris has amazing listening skills but needs quiet spaces he can really tune into the sounds around him – he will work with community venues to involve him and many others with complex needs.


Artlink Midlothian Coordinator Kara Christine said “The project focuses on young people who have evident, but untapped talent because the youth groups or activities that exist locally aren’t always set up for people with anxieties or complex support needs. This project will put them in charge in contributing their skills to make a difference for others in Midlothian.”

Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Seona Reid, said “ This funding will help young people to make a positive change in their lives and I wish Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians every success as it works to improve young people’s health and wellbeing in celebration of Scotland’s Year of Young People.”

Barter Swap Shop

We staged a Barter swap shop in the Pig Rock Bothy of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art between the 13 – 22 March 2015. In that time, instead of an exhibition or sale of artwork by artists with learning disability, we aimed for an alternative value exchange, of more meaning than simply a cash transaction.

Over 40 swaps occurred between the six artists and visitors to the gallery. We didn’t anticipate such a positive response- swappers said that the absence of currency allowed a more personal, meaningful consideration of what they might offer in exchange for each work. Reaction to the quality of the artwork seemed to fuel people’s desire to exchange something valuable, assisted by a guide to the interests of the maker.

People came up with some amazing exchanges in relation to their own skills and networks.

Sculptor Duncan Robertson thought of an incredible swap for David’s giclee cactus prints, sparked by the suggestion that David would like a night away somewhere. Duncan has a room in his Georgian house which he hires out as a B&B through Airbnb which happens to have a four poster bed. He offered David and his worker to stay over for a night in Edinburgh.

Scots music fan Paul’s ON-NO knuckleduster caught the attention of clarsach player Lola who offered to compose a ceilidh piece to be performed live for him.

Kurt Geiger in London have offered fashion fan Alan a pair of shoes, one for each day of the week in exchange for his David Bowie and Grace Jones T shirts.

Lynne’s hand painted silk floor cushion was exchanged for a bag designed by Alexa Hare in response the fabric design “I was inspired to imitate Lynne’s design as I loved it so much. I learned that Lynne likes handbags so I asked if I could make her a handbag for her cushion”

Gary Barlow fan Lorna swapped her apron made from her textile design for a ticket to see Take That in Glasgow.

Artists Andrew Gammond and Cai Conduct made personal CD’s for pop music fan Leanne in exchange for her posters. Andrew’s CD tracklistings began with L E A N N E S W A P S H O P and Cai’s CD cover was designed and illustrated by him.

People have swapped their work to see live music, manicure vouchers, Pro marker felt tip pens , boxes of Maltesers, a makeover and photoshoot, a gluten free meal, a train trip to Dunbar with fish and chips, tickets to a fashion show and the opportunity to gig with a band.

To see the swaps that took place, and what happened next, follow Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians facebook page.

The Red Room

Artist Steve Hollingsworth writes:

Laura and I were working today on changing a former smoking room at the care centre we’re working in, into a much more useable sensory space. All the walls are glass and it gets a great deal of light, Laura ordered some red gel and we placed this on glass on all the walls. When it’s bright the entire room is bathed in a warm orange/ red glow. We also re-floored the space using tiles in a pseudo Juan Munos fashion. It looks very geometric and bold, hopefully people with reduced vision will be able to perceive the floor as there is a lot of contrast between black and white. We left an aperture so anybody inside can look through to the conservatory space (we have big plans for this space too..) We also bought a big red blind so the space can be entirely red without any other visual distraction. The extreme red-ness of the space really has an effect on vision, on emerging from the space other colours such as blue and green took on a new aspect. We want this space to be spare and clutter free, so people can go in there and just relax or engage in one sensory activity at a time. We also plan to finish off the space by installing some coloured neon to play with the light further, perhaps circles of red green and blue, again re-inforcing notions of being bathed in colour. I guess the space hints toward artists like James Turrell who uses colour and light to show ourselves seeing and how perception is easily fooled.


The barter project creates artwork made by people with learning disability, as an alternative form of currency to trade in return for goods, services or new experiences. This amazing hiking boot was created by the Friday barter workshop participants for the benefit of a rambling or walking society in Midlothian. Midlothian Council’s ‘Ageing Well’ project coordinator, Vivienne Wallace, saw an advert we posted on a Midlothian agency website, and wanted to give the artwork a home with Ageing Well for a very specific purpose. She wants to use the trophy to acknowledge the commitment of her volunteers who volunteer their time to lead health walks across Midlothian. These champions of healthy living will then nominate the next recipient, so the foot stays 2 months at a time with one owner, then moves on!

In return, Vivienne has offered two workshops for older adults with learning disability in Cherry Road Resource Centre, one in line dancing and the other in indoor curling.

This project is financed by Midlothian Council, the Scottish Government and the European Tyne-Esk Leader 2007-2013 programme.

Wheely Walls

Steve and I have been working hard to get the wheeled walls I mentioned in a previous post into being. We were bending metal on this machine from another dimension it took some serious elbow grease, but we got it done in the end. The idea is that they will house a series of climbing plants and interesting sensory delights. We want them to be used by service users and staff, visitors and other life forms to create walls where needed in the large communal area. The will never be the same from day to day, as they will be growing and reflecting what is happening in the center. But what to call them? I affectionately call them wheely-wallys, but think they need something more informative and directional – can anyone suggest something?……. Laura Aldridge