Light projection onto building of sun in sunglasses
The University is a hub of creativity – of thought, of practice, and of ambition. Nowhere is that more evident than our research and teaching across the creative arts, and in the impact of our cultural research and teaching on a regional, national and international level. Through our creative practice and innovation, and our wide-reaching partnerships, we are building a culture of ingenuity, diversity and distinctiveness that has far-reaching benefits in the community, industry and economy at large.

Celebrating the connection between lives and landscapes

A collage of 483 images – each taken at sunrise in Plymouth for every day of the UK’s COVID-19 restrictions – sat at the heart of a new exhibition  based on the work of Dr Heidi Morstang, Associate Professor in Photography.
Featuring photographs and films created over the past two decades, the works served as an observation of a fragile natural environment, and the increasing changes in the climate that have now become a global emergency. Amid visions from across the world is Himmelbilder / Skies of Dawn – a 5m collage of images taken from Dr Morstang’s garden in Plymouth. It includes 69 columns of seven pictures, one column for each week that the UK lived under restrictions, and focuses solely on the sky as it appeared on each of those 483 days.

When the pandemic started, my plans changed very quickly, but continuing with my idea gave me a sense of personal stability. I hope people who see it realise that although it was a turbulent time, the skies during those months were very often clear and blue. Despite what was going on, the sun – like the tides – still rose and fell every day.

Heidi MorstangHeidi Morstang
Associate Professor in Photography

Himmelbilder / Skies of Dawn (Credit: Heidi Morstang)

Helping people cope with loneliness or isolation

Reading, writing and sharing poetry can help people cope with loneliness or isolation and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Research led by the University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, found that many people who took to sharing, discussing and writing poetry as a means to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic experienced ‘demonstrable positive impact on their wellbeing’. The findings are based on a survey of 400 people which showed that poetry helped those experiencing common mental health symptoms as well as those suffering from grief. Just over half (51%) of respondents indicated that reading and/or writing poetry had helped them deal with feelings of loneliness or isolation, and for a further 50% it had helped with feelings of anxiety and depression.

These results demonstrate the substantial power of poetry. In addition to supporting health and wellbeing, our website now provides an historical archive for how people around the world used English language poetry to navigate the crisis.

Anthony CaleshuAnthony Caleshu
Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing

Happy young woman reading a book in a chair.

Mapping the experience of lives impacted by the invasion of Iraq

March 2023 marked two decades since the invasion of Iraq. In the years since, the nation’s people have tried to come to terms with the devastation it brought to their cities and towns, their communities and lives.
That initial fight for survival, and subsequent struggle, is being revealed in never-before-seen detail thanks to an ongoing project taking place at the University. Supported by funding from the British Institute for Study in Iraq, Dr Sana Murrani interviewed 15 Iraqi citizens from across the country, using their memories to create a visual archive of how they survived the invasion and the impact it has had on their lives in the two decades since. Some of the resulting material is now available through a digital archive, with the stories featured in an exhibition at the LSE Middle East Centre, and a book due to be published by Bloomsbury in 2024.

Iraq suffered, and continues to suffer, from vast social and demographic change, with infrastructure and the health system in ruins and poverty and unemployment rife. I hope this ongoing work will amplify Iraqi voices but also their stories, memories and traumas.

Sana MurraniSana Murrani
Associate Professor (Spatial Practice)

Sana Murrani plymouth pioneers

Making NHS space more welcoming for children

BA (Hons) Illustration students from the University worked to transform an NHS centre into a space that is more welcoming and friendly for children and families.
The second-year students were set the challenge of coming up with a fresh new look for the Plymouth Child Development Centre. The results are centred around an underwater theme featuring a range of marine creatures and some species not normally found in the ocean. It also includes interactive displays, providing further information on the creatures exhibited, as well as a seaweed QR code wall which signposts to other helpful resources for families. The scheme was developed in close collaboration with staff who work in the centre, and some of the children and families who use it regularly.

Throughout their course, we give our students experience of real-world projects the like of which they will encounter through their careers. It gives them the opportunity to apply the skills they are developing to a set brief, and to then adapt their thinking and ideas in response to client feedback.

John KilburnJohn Kilburn
Lecturer in Illustration

Illustration students mural in Plymouth Child Development Centre

Fashioning an immersive light show for sell-out musical performances

An artistic collective that creates innovative and immersive light-based experiences is preparing for a series of sell-out performances at iconic venues in the UK and the USA.
Squidsoup is an international group of artists, researchers, technologists and designers. Professor Chris Bennewith (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business) has had the opportunity to work with them for over 20 years. In May 2023, they worked alongside electronic music pioneer Four Tet to create a unique audio-visual experience for audiences in Los Angeles, New York and London.
For the shows, Squidsoup created its largest ever light installation, which was enjoyed by audiences during two sell-out concerts at London’s Alexandra Palace. That work consisted of a 30m x 30m volume of lights, comprising over 40,000 individually addressable points of light, with both Four Tet and members of the audience immersed within the space.

Nowadays, audiences are expecting a lot more from a live performance, and the blending of digital innovation with live experiences means we are in a great position to provide them with it. As technology continues to advance, the immersive space is really creating opportunities for us.

Chris BennewithChris Bennewith
Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business

Four Tet performs in the midst of a Squidsoup light installation in 2019 (courtesy: Rikard Osterlund/Squidsoup)
Four Tet performs in the midst of a Squidsoup light installation in 2019 (courtesy: Rikard Osterlund/Squidsoup)

Creating unique experiences for artists and listeners

Professor Eduardo Miranda has reinforced his position as one of the key global pioneers unlocking the potential of quantum computer music.
Within the technological leap provided by quantum computers, Eduardo is at the forefront of an emerging innovation that unites these most complex of sciences with the arts. In 2023, he launched the first ever book on the subject – Quantum Computer Music: Foundations, Methods and Advanced Concepts – at a talk and performance hosted at the Goethe-Institut in London.
Like the advent of electronic music in the 1970s and 80s, and other great advances in music production before it, Eduardo firmly believes that quantum computing could herald the latest cultural shift in the constantly evolving music industry.

You could start the composition process exactly as you do now, putting together notes or sounds and seeing how they blend. But if you then run music through your own programmed quantum software, it could give you results you had never even thought of.

Eduardo MirandaEduardo Miranda
Professor in Computer Music

Professor Eduardo Miranda -  ICCMR

Celebrating the distinctiveness of early years education

The curriculum delivered in early years education and childcare is more focused around what children are interested in learning rather than the things they might need to learn, a new report led by the University found.
However, rather than prompting concerns, the report’s authors said that is something which should be celebrated and preserved as it provides an inclusive and flexible approach that supports learning among younger children. The findings stem from a project conducted by academics at the University’s Plymouth Institute of Education, supported by Montessori Global Education. It aimed to establish how children up to the age of five can get the most out of early years education, whether that is delivered at home, in day nurseries or in their first months at school.
4 children laying on colourful carpet with their arms in the air smiling

Those we spoke to also felt that the curriculum was delivered very much as a partnership between educators, families and the children themselves. In that sense, its uniqueness from other forms of education – and the innovative and inclusive way in which it is delivered – is something that should be celebrated and preserved.

Verity Campbell BarrVerity Campbell Barr
Director of Plymouth Institute of Education


Launching the Plymouth Cold Case Unit

Created in 2023, the Plymouth Cold Case Unit (PCCU) investigates unsolved missing persons cases. Its mission is to uncover new evidence which can be used by the police to solve these cases while giving students the experience and skills – including investigative, analytical and social – to launch them into rewarding careers.
It functions as a student-led, expert-guided group with international connections and access to facilities and training at both the University and Locate International. The unit works out of the University’s Crime Suite, and its work gives families of missing people comfort from knowing their loved ones have not been forgotten.

Joining the PCCU has taught me how to work effectively online and in groups to deliver a report. By working cold cases, we have learnt to think outside the box, as everything may not appear as it seems.

Natasha Hughes, BSc (Hons) Criminology student
Students in the Cold Case Unit present evidence from social media on a large screen

Charting the changes in concessionary bus travel

The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant reductions in the number of people taking advantage of concessionary bus travel, according to a report published in 2023.
Compiled by experts in transport logistics at the University for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, the report compared English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) and Active Card Data for the calendar years 2019 and 2022. It showed a 36% reduction in total ENCTS journeys across 18 regions studied, with the total number of journeys falling from 95 million in 2019 to 61.2 million in 2022.
This was in spite of the number of active passholders falling by just 2.6%. Across England, the report found that the average number of journeys per active card had fallen to an average of 48 single journeys per year. This included a reduction in the number of journeys by elderly passholders of 38% and disabled passholders by 28%. Those aged over 80 had the largest reduction, with male passholders making 43% fewer journeys per active card, and female passholders making 46% fewer journeys.

Taking public transport can be more than just a journey. It can help people maintain contact and avoid loneliness and isolation. This research’s confirmation that, since COVID-19, concessionary travel is down across England is a concerning one.

Andrew SeedhouseAndrew Seedhouse
Director of Transport

Older couple using a bus

Highlighting the growing crisis for renters

A major new report by the University and Citizens Advice shone a spotlight on the damaging effects of a freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates for local private sector renters.
The report, Sometimes I Sit on the Sofa and Cry, tells the stories of local people struggling to keep up with soaring rents and eviction notices. It also contains suggestions to help ease the crisis, including an increase in LHA – an emergency cap on rents and the provision of more affordable homes. The research (which focused on the South Hams, Plymouth and South East Cornwall) found that average rents in the area have been outstripping the level of LHA support since 2015, but the gap has now grown to 12%.
The increase in people facing eviction has also led to big increases in bills for temporary accommodation for local authorities. In Cornwall, the figure rose from £9.5 million in 2020–21 to £18.4 million in 2022–23, while for South Hams District Council the figure rose from £115,000 to £476,000 in the same period.

From the outside, many people may look at Devon and Cornwall and perceive them as being relatively affluent. However, there are thousands of people having to make very difficult financial choices every day as they struggle to keep a roof over their head.

Nigel JacksonNigel Jackson
Associate Professor (Reader) in Persuasion and Communication

Row of terraced houses / accommodation
Ceramic house figures sat on top of piles on coins, signs on the houses read 'sold' and 'for rent'

Highlighting the hidden heroism of civilian sailors

The coastal convoys that sailed every day through some of the Second World War’s most dangerous waters have been commemorated with the launch of a new book.
The War for England’s Shores, published by Pen & Sword Books, was written by Dr Harry Bennett, Associate Professor in History and a leading expert on maritime operations during the conflict. It lifts the lid on the actions of these vessels and their owners, who carried food, fuel and the materials required for weapons around the UK, all while under constant threat from the German Navy’s S-boats. It also shines a light on the significant losses they sustained, with the wrecks of vessels that fell foul of the S-boats littering the east coast and English Channel. Those who went down with the boats form part of a roll-call of around 3,500 sailors from 20 nations who lost their lives in British coastal waters between 1939 and 1945.

When you think of civilian vessels and the roles they played during the war, what probably springs to mind are the rescues from Dunkirk or the battles encountered by merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic. But this is a battle that took place every day within sight of our coasts, and it is a story of outstanding bravery and heroism that has been significantly undertold.

Harry BennettHarry Bennett
Associate Professor (Reader) in History

Black and white photo of world war 2 sailors on a small ship at sea

Applying digital technologies to create inclusion and opportunities

As society becomes increasingly digital, older people across the South West have been faced with the growing prospect of isolation and exclusion.
The growth in the digital sector has also led in the past to younger people feeling they may need to leave the region in search of work in the industry. Now, the Intergenerational Codesign of Novel technologies In Coastal communities (ICONIC) project is looking to address both challenges by finding ways of engaging older generations with digital content – and encouraging younger generations to create it. Led by the University, it will work alongside more than 20 partners from the public sector and the arts, as well as farming, environmental, health, and other organisations. The project will recruit 80 older and 40 younger people, who will work with researchers to develop novel technologies that will help participants connect with their community and the cultural landscapes in the region.

By supporting the collaborative design of novel technologies, the ICONIC project presents a unique opportunity to engage with local communities to address digital exclusion in Cornwall and Devon. Cultural, environmental, and heritage sites have also embraced the role of these novel technologies in promoting both wellbeing and digital inclusion.

Sheena AsthanaSheena Asthana
Director of Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research


Celebrating achievements through the Graduate Show

The Graduate Show is an inspiring exhibition of work from final-year students across the School of Art, Design and Architecture. Each year, it showcases the impressive creativity, innovation and talent of our students across disciplines from architecture and design, to media and photography.
Part of the show’s aim is to boost employability for those about to graduate, with the public getting a chance to discover – and, if they want, to buy – new works, while businesses and employers are able to interact with potential new recruits. 
The 2023 show featured a range of striking physical and digital works, showcased at venues across the University and the city.
Graduate Show 2023