Urban Dialogues sub pages
A number of people in groups around tables in discussion.

play  ‘Play is finding expression; it is letting us understand the world and, through that understanding, challenging the establishment, leading for knowledge, and creating new ties or breaking old ones.’ (Sicart, M. (2014) Play Matters. Cambridge: MIT Press, p. 18)

ground  1) An area used for a specified purpose 2) An area of knowledge or subject of discussion or thought 3) Factors forming a basis for action or the justification for a belief. Oxford Dictionaries (2018) ‘Ground’, available online at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ground (Accessed 11.09.18)


Playground is at once both a shared ground for the exchange of ideas, and a space in which both existing and new ideas can be played with, their meanings and possibilities examined and explored. We will explore lessons arising out of work to date by collaborators and guests, and consider their potential to inform future ways of working. 

Playground brings together both University of Plymouth staff and students active in civic-based learning and development, alongside a wide range of similarly-minded external partners.

Playground will operate as a series of lunchtime events, in which invited contributors will prompt and participate in a dialogue about their practice with other players in the room. Attendees are asked to bring their own lunch; tea/coffee and water/juice will be provided.

Playground is part of the Urban Dialogues Network.

All Playground sessions are held in The Sustainability Hub (Kirkby Lodge).

Keep an eye on this page for dates to add to your diary and join us to hear about where we are so far, the support we have in place, and the next steps in taking this initiative forward.

Future events

Urban Dialogues Playground Series

Spring 2022

Please join us for the upcoming dialogues as part of the Urban Dialogues Playground Series.

This spring's series engages with a number of our external partners who advance civically-engaged learning projects in China, Malaysia and Sudan.

All Playground sessions are on Wednesdays from 1:00–2:00 and will be available via Zoom, passcode: 401996.

Urban Dialogues Playground Series promotion flyer for their 2 March, 2022 event

Playground session – 30 March 2022

Dr Wan Srihani Wan Mohamed is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Design and Architecture at the University of Putra Malaysia. 
Her research and teaching interests include self-build architecture, an interest which underpins collaborative work with communities in Malaysia. 
Central to this work is the design and construction of community structures by architecture students.
Playground Session with Dr. Nancy Abd El-Moneim – 30 March 2022
4 May – Professor Zhu Rong
Jiangnan University
Professor Zhu Rong has an established record of project work with civic authorities and institutions and with national parks to enhance the public realm in both mainland China and the historic city of Macau. Underpinning her work is rigorous research exploring both inherited histories of place-making, and dialogue across cultural and disciplinary boundaries.
1 June – Professor Veronica Ng and Dr Sucharita Srirangnam
Taylor's University (Malaysia)
Taylor's University has a long-standing agenda of civic engagement, working with economically-challenged communities in Kuala Lumpur to develop and implement strategies to improve the physical fabric of these communities and enhance community livelihoods. Professor Ng will be speaking on how Taylor's civic agenda is embedded within the curriculum and university structure, while Dr Srirangam will be discussing recent project work.

Past events

Playground Session – 2 March 2022

Urban Dialogues - Playground event 2 March 2022 with Dr El-Moneim
Dr El-Moneim from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Marine Transport (Faculty of Engineering & Technology) shared recent work around urban planning teaching aligned with the Aga Khan Historic Cities Program. 
As part of the discussion, Dr El-Moneim presented urban regeneration projects of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar in central Cairo with a central focus on cultural heritage and human well-being. 
Their student proposals looked at landscaping abandoned urban spaces bringing to the city much-needed green space, reusing local materials and wider scale network mappings connecting design interventions. 


Playground session – 2 February 2022

Flyer for the Urban Dialogues Playground event on 2 February 2022
For February’s playground session, Suha Hasan from the Royal Institute of Technology and the Architectural Association (AA), shared her experience of running the AA summer school project entitled, ‘a blue dilemma’. The project responded to the extreme climactic changes in Sudan, in particular the flooding. 
The cross-disciplinary team of anthropologists, architects, artists, bioarchaeologist, community initiatives, and historians explored the issues of climate change in Sudan through lectures, seminars, studios and workshops. 
One approach was to look at the recurring nature of climate change throughout history, developing qualitative and quantitative approaches to architecture and the environment. 
This was delivered as an online-programme operating in a third space; an online space for collaboration. 


Playground session ‘Well Connected' – 24 November 2021

Playground session ‘Well Connected' – 24 November 2021

November’s Urban Dialogues Playground warmly welcomed Wendy Smith MBE and Andrew Dean of Well Connected; a Plymouth-based charity that was founded to establish outreach projects focusing on oral health and wellbeing. Wendy and Andrew talked through Well Connected’s aim to inform, inspire and innovate for the purposes of wellbeing for everybody. 

They gave examples of projects such as ‘The Listening Project’ and ‘City of Smiles’ that foreground listening to the stories of local communities, focusing on kindness, caring and empathy in the co-creation of projects that have a broad reach and holistic approach to wellbeing. Well Connected then seeks to use this place-based expertise to inspire students and communities leading to impactful, award-winning initiatives (The Dental Awards 2021 Winner - Best Charity Initiative).  

During the COVID-19 pandemic ‘The Listening Project’ heard ways in which people who had experienced disadvantage or marginalisation had adapted and developed resilience, this helped inform a workshop to help students returning to study after the pandemic on how to build resilience. Other key themes that emerged from these conversations was the importance of creative practices to deal with some of the issues people are facing and the need for outside space to connect with nature and to encourage greater wellbeing. 


Playground session ‘Connecting the Dots III’ – 24 March 2021

At the third ‘Connecting the Dots’ meeting, Dr Richard Ayers (lead for Population Health for Plymouth Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry), discussed how the global pandemic exacerbated key challenges facing the Stonehouse community’s existing inequalities – with many people afraid to leave homes. 

Also of concern is the rise in digital inequity being made more visible through his work in the community. More and more processes and access to healthcare is predicated by digital access – making evident a need for increased fluency of digital technology and digital equity going forward.

Urban Dialogues event – Connecting the Dots Part III: Envisioning the Future

Hannah Sloggett (Nudge Community Builders) raised the need to keep in mind who benefits from any proposed interventions locally, asking how projects can generate value that can be passed on through generations and add value locally in a space at risk of gentrification. One instance of this is land ownership, how can local people make their own space and do great things locally in the existing neglected buildings? How can we facilitate this?

Both Richard and Hannah believe opportunity lies in collaboration, specifically practical collaboration – doing things and making things happen on the ground in turn, drawing out small but tangible benefits.

Roger Pike of the Milfields Trust raised the need to provide quality housing – providing a good stable home is vital. At the same time, wealth needs to be transferred through ownership of homes with a long-term view of turning around a community. He would also like to see investment into the local primary schools, a cornerstone for lifting families and an overarching shift to social enterprise and inclusive growth whilst protecting what the community already has. A new form of communication needs to be in place to collaborate better from the bottom up in order to fight structural inequality.

The three ‘Connecting the Dots’ Playground sessions have brought to the fore the deeply complex and entangled issues the Stonehouse community face. Contributors to these discussions have some great experience in pulling together with the community to draw upon and seek to make new opportunities for working together across sectors and ask some tough questions that won’t be answered overnight. How can city leadership begin to foster collaboration? How do people get to the table to be a part of these conversations? What can we contribute? What can we commit to the community in a process of building trust and for making more things happen or them?


Playground session ‘Connecting the Dots II’ – 24 February 2021

At the second ‘Connecting the Dots’ meeting attendees were prompted by the question: how can we co-create community engaged learning and sustainable civic development through compassionate dialogue?

In previous weeks, we have brought to the table our layered and increasingly overlapping interdisciplinary work, sharing best practices that equally serve the needs of community partners, engaged student learning and sustainable civic development. What has become evident is the value we all place on the partnerships forged between the University and community through the creation of shared experiences in shared spaces.

Playground Session ‘Connecting the Dots II’ – 24 February 2021 via zoom.
Playground session via Zoom

Filmmakers and lecturers Dan Paolantonio and Dr Allister Gall have been present in Stonehouse community for over ten years, building long-standing engagement with the community through film making and screening, reactivating areas to be re-popularised, and a forging a new creative cultural centre that serves intergenerational needs. These creative processes encourage storytelling – urging all to pick up a camera and tell their story and articulate their own points of views, perspectives, issues and challenges.

During one such event, Dan and Al screened archival film of the Stonehouse area and in turn people started sharing wonderful memories of these same spaces through the years. This event led to a collective walk around the environments and people were re-inhabiting the spaces and talking about them in a free and open exchange. Rooted in the place and in time, the community talked about fantastic things, aspirational conversations that made everyone there feel positive about the future here.

Such creative exchanges are taking place in the street, a shared space for collaboration and dialogue capturing and celebrating the knowledge and stories of the community. Provoking, encouraging, facilitating and mutually learning from one another.

During this meeting, possible future projects began to emerge. Josanne Stewart of Millfields Inspired, drawing upon her work with schools in the area and children thinking about work in relation to the archival film Dan and Al were sharing. The possibility of a collaborative ‘Stonehouse Workplace’ workshop was discussed and how the history of the work in the area has developed over the years through archival film.

Similarly, Rosie Brenman of the UoP Law Clinic has been in communication with Nudge Community Builders about co-producing a facilitation space for helping the community with their needs. Also recognising a potential overlap of this space with creative opportunities, a hub that facilities the serious and the playful in the community.

The dialogue continues and areas of common interest are beginning to emerge as potential focus areas for even greater collaboration and community engagement.


Playground session ‘Connecting the dots’ – 27 January 2021

Dr Richard Ayers (lead for Population Health for Plymouth Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry), Hannah Sloggett (Nudge Community Builders), Dr Allister Gall (Film and Imperfect Cinema), Roger Pipe (Millfields Trust) and Professor Robert Brown (Architecture) came together online to share their work rooted in the community, history and urban fabric of the Stonehouse Neighbourhood of Plymouth. 

It is hoped, by coming together, we can begin to share ways of tackling issues of deprivation through community based, joined up thinking.

Urban Dialogues Zoom playground session, 27 January 2021
Playground session via Zoom

Dr Richard Ayers talked us through his research and observations as a practicing GP in Adelaide Street Surgery, Stonehouse, the most deprived ward in the city. 

Richard shared insights into the inverse care law, a policy that restricts care in relation to need; this has resulted in areas such as Stonehouse having a stark mismatch between need and resource with insufficient time to truly manage patient problems – something outlined in the Deep End analogy/ project. In response to the above, Adelaide Street Surgery now runs outreach services to the homeless in the city.

Hannah Sloggett lives in Stonehouse and has volunteered in the community for over ten years. With a background in community engagement and regeneration, Hannah co-founded Nudge Community Builders, a group of local people that grow and build their community through incremental ‘nudges’. 

Hannah shared a wide range of projects that began with a street party that has grown into creating several direct and immediate spaces of support and services for local people. Over time, Nudge Community Builders has regenerated Union Corner, the Clipper, accommodation for single parents, a community Café, the Plot, the Millennium building, and a recurring street market.

Dr Allister Gall shared his socially engaged community film practices, which have most recently been centred in Stonehouse. The project engages local people as participant filmmakers and elevates their voices through filmmaking workshops, screenings and performances in a shared screening environment.

Roger Pipe of the Millfields Trust and Professor Robert Brown discussed community engaged design and the development of a community hub in Stonehouse. Through joined up thinking and on-going dialogue, projects undertaken by the Master of Architecture student’s research are revealing the long-term impact of climate change on the built environment of Stonehouse. 

A particular focus being rising sea levels prompting a need for long term planning in today’s propositions. A range of projects between the Master of Architecture students and BA Architecture Year 1 students have embedded local narratives, at various scales, into a range of proposals from an outdoor learning environment for local school to the regeneration of wider urban areas.


Playground session – 26 February 2020

Dr Alice Inman (Global Health) gave a well-received introduction to her work with the MSc Global Health students and local health practitioners, generating a lively discussion amongst attendees.

Dr Alice Inman (Global Health) gave a well-received introduction to her work with the MSc Global Health students and local health practitioners, generating a lively discussion amongst attendees.

Alice's presentation put forward some challenging and sobering insights about the state of health of Plymouth's population; alarming were the significant disparities in both life expectancy (including differences of up to 10 years) and obesity in the population as one moves through various areas of the city. At the same time, conditions prompt students to rise up to the challenge in terms of not only their own learning but also their professional ambition(s).

A number of key considerations came out of both the presentation and the discussion that intertwined Alice's talk:

  • Leadership: the activation of leadership is key agenda within the global health program. Students' are asked to arrange their own placement, and through their work in a practice setting, identify and pursue positive outcomes.
  • Reflexive practice: while learning about issues pertinent to practice whether in Plymouth or Peru (or other global locations), central in the learning experience is developing a critical perspective on oneself.
  • Risk: community engagement, while bringing significant learning opportunities, also comes with an element of risk given the unknowns that may be encountered in interacting with the wider community. Central within the program is a critical discussion between students and staff prior to the placement on what constitutes risk, and how to address that risk.


Playground session – 22 January 2020

Dr Alex Cahill (Theatre and Performance) gave both a challenging and inspiring talk exploring both the general nature of our civic engagement, and her particular work with St. Luke's Hospice and local schools.

Dr Alex Cahill (Theatre and Performance) gave both a challenging and inspiring talk exploring both the general nature of our civic engagement, and her particular work with St. Luke's Hospice and local schools.

Grounded in her work with students within forum-based theatre, which activates the spectator as both provocateur and actor in the performance, Alex has with her students been active in supporting St. Luke's work with local schools exploring our understanding of loss.

Alex was joined in her presentation by Robyn Newport from St. Luke's, and Ryan Wilce (a former student). The work raised consideration of how we can be both proactive and empathetic in exploring sensitive issues with a wider audience.

Equally central to Alex's talk was a challenge she set out at the beginning, asking us to consider just how civic we are in our engagement. 

Central to this was an interrogation of the phrase knowledge transfer, and the posing of knowledge exchange as a more balanced and mutually affirming alternative. 

This prompt helped to raise a probing discussion on the nature of our civic commitment, both within our University-based disciplines and for the University as a whole.


Playground session – 13 November 2019

Dr Alun Morgan (Education) gave an insightful and impassioned talk under the title of 'Ocean City - Ocean Capital?'

Dr Alun Morgan (Education) giving an insightful and impassioned talk under the title of "Ocean City - Ocean Capital?"

With the recent successful launch of the UK's National Marine Park here in Plymouth, Alun explored the city's engagement with the water that surrounds it on three sides. 

Crucial in his discussion was the potential of the ocean as capital – not in an economic sense (and thus possibly subject to exploitation) – but rather in more of a cultural, ecological and social sense and how the water can be understood as a resource from which all can benefit while fostering a greater sense of place attachment. 

Key themes considered included:

  • developing capacity in ocean literacy

  • the potential for Plymouth as a site of social learning extending across all facets of education as part of life-long learning

  • a (re)valuing of Plymouth's marine heritage.


Playground session – 1 May 2019

Professor James Daybell (History/The Arts Institute) gave an entertaining presentation on the entertaining presentations he has been giving under the theme of 'Histories of the Unexpected'.

Professor James Daybell (History / The Arts Institute) gave an entertaining presentation on the entertaining presentations he has been giving under the theme of 'Histories of the Unexpected'.

As part of his outreach, James has faced a daunting task; how to take a subject like history, which is too often taken for granted or even disregarded, and transform it into something in which people will be interested.

Taking in books, live presentations and television, James has indeed made history entertaining. This success has carried over into work with local schools, Yet aside from the quite visible success, there are equally a number of key lessons that have been learned.

There is great value in making things visible, including the use of theatre-like representations (whether literally or not) to achieve this.

  • The use of modern technologies have played a key role in making the message/story presented more visible.
  • Know your audience; with a multi-faceted audience, a multi-faceted (i.e., multi-disciplinary) presentation can help to extend he reach of the message.
  • At the same time, the role of the personal view can make the unknown somehow more familiar to an audience, being a perspective they themselves can connect with.


Playground session – 3 April 2019

John Kilburn, a lecturer in Illustration, together with some of his students and external partners in the audience, provided a presentation on his high profile A Suitcase Full of Eels project, along with a review of of his other ecologically minded-work with illustration students.

Ranging from bikes to eels to lungs, John’s low-key approach has achieved significant impact, from not only the local level but also through informing international debate.

His students’ work for Bikespace in Plymouth has helped to support local enterprise, while enabling the crossing over of social and economic boundaries. The Suitcase Full of Eels project has brought attention to the critically endangered European eel, resulting in a trip to and exhibition of student work at the European Parliament in Brussels.

John Kilburn, a lecturer in Illustration, together with some of his students and external partners in the audience, provided a presentation on his high profile A Suitcase Full of Eels project, along with a review of of his other ecologically minded-work with illustration students.

The Fresh Air project in Uganda has helped local villages through making medical information more accessible to a non-English speaking audience, while supporting medical outreach initiatives.

It is impressive body of work that John and his students have achieved in a short time. Was is surprising is that the relatively short timetable within which some of this work has been generated. Starting with a four-week group project, students team up to work with on live projects with local, typically non-profit partners. Students then spend the rest of the semester either continuing to work in a team or working on their own, further refining both the project brief and the proposition itself.

In addition to all the success achieved, there have been some important lessons learned from these projects. These include:

  • Getting the brief right so that all (students and external partners) understand what is required. This usually requires a careful process of negotiation, relying on a refining of the project brief as the project develops.
  • Intrinsic to the above is a need for students to reflect on both the general nature of sustainability and its meaning in a particular situation.
  • Further to the above is a challenge of managing expectations of external partners, understanding that while engaged in service-oriented work students are also engaged in a learning journey.
  • Students equally need to manage their own expectations, requiring a professional sensitivity to a modified version of the work being presented.

A final challenge is that owing to the discursiveness of the work pursued by students within any one module requires a diligence in keeping track of the progress of students’ work, and interaction with a number of disparate external partners, across a range of projects.


Playground session – 6 March 2019

Rosie Brennan, Sarah Guy and Julie Thompson (Law)

Rosie, Sarah and Julie, together with some of their students and external partners including from the British Red Cross and Plymouth Community Homes, provided a presentation on their awarding winning law clinic and external outreach with Devonport High School for Girls in Plymouth.

Playground session – 6 March 2019Rosie Brennan, Sarah Guy and Julie Thompson, together with some of their students and external partners including from the British Red Cross and Plymouth Community Homes, provided a presentation on their awarding winning law clinic and external outreach with Devonport High School for Girls in Plymouth.
Presenting on the award-winning law clinic and outreach work with Devonport High School for Girls

The range and extent of the law school’s commitment to supporting Plymouth residents is impressive, which includes: client-facing clinics (i.e.family law, employment law, welfare tribunal, and refugee family reunion clinics); partnership and interdisciplinary work (i.e. the MedLaw project with the medical school, Wolferstans and Foot Anstey solicitors; and partnerships with the British Red Cross, Citizens Advice and Shelter); and teaching, legal and community research (i.e. International humanitarian law project with Devonport High School for Girls, the street law project, and the crime law in history project).

Some very constructive insights were raised in discussion, noting both the laudable achievements of this work and some very real challenges faced:

  • Crucial to the law clinic’s ongoing viability and resilience is a critical awareness of the need to continually reflect upon, and evolve its practice in response to the emerging conditions and issues faced both by the communities and partners they work with, but also with considerations affecting the actual running of the clinic.
  • Law students are highly supportive of the opportunities for personal and professional development provided by contributing to the clinic, which includes: changing their perspective on their own education; becoming more analytical in their learning; changing their sense of professionalism; and heightening their independence and ability to operate both in their studies and in a professional context.
  • Meaningful partnerships have been realised with both the community and external stakeholders, but this meaningfulness arises out of continuity and commitment over time. Such relationships are underpinned by the dedication of staff (and students) to making it work, with staff in parallel providing significant support to students to develop their capacity to work with the wider community and external partners.


Playground session – 13 February 2019

Toshiko Terazono (Architecture) and Dr Karen Wickett (Early Childhood Studies)

Toshiko and Karen, together with some of their students and Brian Lee (former headteacher at Ham Drive Nursery) provided a presentation on their work at Ham Drive Nursery and Riverside Nursery in Plymouth.

Aerial photo of new outdoor learning space at Riverside Nursery, Plymouth.
Aerial photo of new outdoor learning space at Riverside Nursery, Plymouth

Both projects have been a success, with Year 3 BA Early Childhood Studies students supporting Year 1 BA Architecture students in consulting with the children at these nurseries, and providing insights on early childhood learning to the architecture students as they developed designs for new outdoor play/learning spaces at the nurseries. The architecture students then went on to construct these new spaces as part of their course work.

The discussion the presentation prompted was probing, and revealed some useful and at times challenging observations including:

  • So much in the way of questions and ideas arises during the course of the collaboration; a real challenge is finding both ways and time to capture this dialogue and not let it disappear.
  • Different styles of learning, and differences in types of learning spaces, between the architecture students and early childhood studies students, posed a challenge for the respective groups of students understanding each other’s ways of thinking and working.
  • There is a real need to examine what the other party is gaining from the collaboration and project as a whole; i.e., it is useful to have a shared sense of purpose.
  • The students’ having a sense of ownership – that is, over the process and of the outcome – can contribute to the success of the project.
  • There was a real value in Toshiko and Karen modelling an openness to collaborative working to the students.



Urban Dialogues Network website launch

Our new website launched on Thursday 6 December.

Urban Dialogues start-up get-together

Wednesday 28 February, 13.15–14.00, Room 207, Roland Levinsky Building

There was the opportunity to join us for a short discussion, alongside tea, coffee and cake, to hear about where we were so far, the support already in place, and the next steps in taking this initiative forward.

Urban Dialogues Network launch

Thursday 19 April, 16.30–18.00 Room 206–207 Roland Levinsky Building

This event celebrated our ambitions and gave us the opportunity to discuss both the potential and challenges of our agenda. We were joined on the evening by our guest speakers who included:

  • Jackie Clift, CEO of POP Plus (Plymouth Octopus Project – powering Plymouth’s voluntary sector)
  • Hazel Stuteley OBE, Connecting Communities
  • Lynne Sullivan OBE, Royal Institute of British Architects Ambassador for Climate Change (2015–2017).