Three decades of impact

Legacy giving has helped support teaching, learning and research at the University of Edinburgh since its foundation in the 16th century. Today, supporters who pledge a legacy gift in their wills become part of the Carlyle Circle, a group that will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. To mark the occasion, we look back across the past three decades to reflect on some of the ways legacy giving has benefited our University, its people and our wider community.

1990s: Inspiring visionary thinking

Paolozzi exhibition
Items from the Paolozzi bequest on display at the Centre for Research Collections

The 1990s was a dynamic time for research and development in computing and cognitive science and technologies with the creation of our School of Informatics in 1998. The School brought together the department of artificial intelligence, the centre of cognitive science and the department of computer science. But it needed a home.

Ten years later, the £40 million Informatics Forum opened on Crichton Street, finally bringing the School’s research activities under one roof ina contemporary, collaborative space, as ground-breaking and innovative as the work it would nurture and inspire.

It would also be the perfect home for a bequest of artworks from Scottish sculptor and artist Eduardo Paolozzi, given to the University in 2005. The Edinburgh-born artist regularly explored themes such as the relationship between humans and machines, the representational and the abstract, the organic and the artificial. He was especially inspired by Alan Turing and his Turing Prints were among the artworks to be displayed at the Forum, along with four sculptures.

Today the School is among the world’s top five world-leading centres of research and teaching in computation, information and cognition, and has generated 61 start-ups and spinouts in the past six years alone, contributing significantly to the local economy. When you consider the achievements of Informatics, it would be difficult to think of a more fitting place for Paolozzi’s works to be seen and appreciated, prompting ideas and discussion among an enlightened community of more than 1,000 students and researchers.

2000s: Better prospects for maternal health

Baby image for Tommys Panel Banner
Tommy's has benefited from Legacy giving

Last year pregnant women attending the Tommy’s Centre in Edinburgh were eight times less likely to have a stillbirth than those attending clinics not specialised in helping obese women – an outcome that demonstrates the Centre’s mission to help women with severe obesity to have safe and healthy pregnancies.

The opening of the Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health heralded an exciting period in reproductive health research, supported significantly by a legacy gift from Albert McKern. The 1917 Edinburgh graduate wrote his will on a scrap of paper shortly before he died at a Japanese prisoner-of-War camp in 1945, requesting that proceeds from his estate be given to medical research, specifically to alleviate women’s “pain and distress” during labour, after his family had benefited from his assets. His gift was shared between Edinburgh, Sydney and Yale universities, 10 years after his last son’s death.

More than 60 years after McKern wrote that will, his wishes have found a fitting home in the Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre. Led by Professor Jane Norman, an Edinburgh graduate, and a team of specialist doctors and midwives, the centre has trained more than 10 PhD students in maternal and fetal health research, published more than 100 papers in peer-reviewed journals and provided care to more than 1,000 pregnant women in its clinics during the decade since it opened.

In 2016, the centre opened its preterm birth clinic with NHS Lothian, offering a specialist service for women who are at higher risk of having a preterm birth or late miscarriage.

Women who are referred to the clinic also have the opportunity to participate in research studies to help the team understand more about why preterm birth happens.

Not only is the Edinburgh Tommy’s Centre making a positive difference, helping many women in Edinburgh experience safer pregnancies, as the only clinic of its kind in the UK its ground-breaking research is helping to enhance understanding around how to prevent preterm labour.

When Albert McKern wrote that will all those years ago, he probably had no way of imagining that this action could lead to supporting women in Edinburgh and around the world have safer, healthier pregnancies.

2010s: Sharing knowledge between generations

Students at Main Library sign
The University's Main Library - established by legacy giving, and continuing to thrive with its assistance

When the University’s Main Library’s ambitious redevelopment project was revealed in 2012, it had transformed the interior of the iconic building into a contemporary, student-focused space fit for 21st-century learning and research. Launched by Edinburgh graduate and novelist Ian Rankin, the project’s grand reveal marked an exciting milestone for the history of the library and, indeed, the University.

As one of the most important libraries in Scotland, it holds 3.8 million books, e-books and e-journals. It has provided a second home to countless students at many stages of their academic lives, it looks after an impressive collection of historic artefacts, books and objects dating as far back as the 16th century, and it offers a slice of architectural history through its Basil Spence design.

The Main Library is a great source of pride for the University community and it is remarkable to think that its origins go as far back as 1580 with a single bequest of 276 theological books from city advocate Clement Littill. This foundation collection can still be accessed today.

The Main Library’s most important manuscript collection comes from 19th-century scholar David Laing, a Scottish expert on early books and manuscripts who travelled across Europe acquiring precious volumes. In the 20th century, Edinburgh graduate and advocate James Cathcart White donated a collection of books and a significant sum of money that is still used to buy books and manuscripts today.

The Main Library may have transformed its physical appearance, but this important resource will always be more than a building. At its heart is the idea that this library is a powerful collection of ideas and knowledge, shaped by an impressive community of thinkers who will continue to benefit generations of future leaders, innovators and influencers.

legacy timeline
A timeline of impact: Highlights from the past 30 years of legacy giving at Edinburgh:

Related links

Legacy giving