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

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 (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, an initiative within The Arts Institute and supported by the Centre for Sustainable Futures within the University of Plymouth.

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

Playground schedule for Spring 2020

Wednesday 25 March

Dr. Allister Gall, Lecturer in Film and Television

Note: All sessions are held in the Sustainability Hub from 13:10 - 14:00.

Past events

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.

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.

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?'

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'.

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.

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.

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 ( 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

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).