IT HAS housed a monastery, a school and a hospital during its 800-year history and this week the High School Yards in Edinburgh will open a new chapter in its story when it joins the frontline in the fight against climate change.
On Tuesday, Princess Anne will officially open the new home of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), a “hub” launched three years ago by three of the city’s universities to bring together academia, industry and the public sector.
The paint has only just dried on the £10.5 million redevelopment of the site – which once housed Edinburgh University’s archaeology department – but already the body is turning its attention overseas.
Andy Kerr, executive director at the ECCI, told Scotland on Sunday: “We’ve already been working in China, Hong Kong, India and Mexico.
“We are sharing skills with people in these countries through our educational programmes and training schemes but we’re also sharing ideas about how to build the low-carbon economy.”
Ed Craig, the ECCI’s head of business innovation, added: “We’re also looking at opening sites in other countries, which companies could use as a base for exporting their products and services.”
The ECCI’s base at High School Yards draws together the three strands of the organisation’s operations covering “innovation”, “policy” and “skills”.
The centre has an “accelerator” where companies can take desk space and collaborate with charities, public sector bodies and universities.
It will be used by masters’ students in law, carbon management and other courses, along with professionals undergoing continuing career development.
Staff from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government’s 2020 Climate Group are also taking space.
About a third of the funding for the centre’s £15m budget over the past three years has come from Edinburgh University, with a further third coming from other public bodies and the remainder from private donations and corporate involvement, from companies including delivery giant DHL.
Kerr added: “This isn’t about being ‘greeny’ for the sake of it. This is about being hard-nosed on what will work in the current economic environment.
“We’re not here as a lobbying group over climate change, we’re here to take a practical view.
“We’re not looking at renewable energy generation – because a lot of people are already doing that – so instead we’re working on projects such as more efficient transport systems and making people’s homes warmer to reduce the demand for power.”
Kerr pointed to examples such as CalMac, which is buying diesel-electric hybrid ferries. The ECCI is working to see if it can set up renew-able energy generators from which the firm can recharge its ferries, creating benefits for local communities.
Craig added: “We’re operating an ‘accelerator’ centre rather than an ‘incubator’ centre because there are already lots of those available.
“It’s about looking for the gaps in the market where we can help companies. It will be a mess, but a constructive mess that will take ideas forward.”
One of the companies that has already moved into the accelerator is Scene, run by Botswana-born Jelte Harnmeijer. His consultancy firm helps communities build hydro-electric schemes and wind turbines.
Harnmeijer said: “Support for small businesses is crucial. Being based in the centre gives us access to people like Ed Craig.”