Dr Michael Leyshon

Exeter geographer helps generate sense of belonging

A geographer on the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus is helping shape a series of arts projects designed to generate a sense of community belonging.

Dr Michael Leyshon of the School of Geography is working with a European team to devise a series of activities and events starting in Minehead, Somerset.

An expert on rural communities, Dr Michael Leyshon has been called in to provide expert advice on methods for interviewing local people. He has just returned from a conference in Romania, hosted by the University of Bucharest and French Embassy, where he met the rest of the team and helped generate ideas for the project.

The Echo Project is a journey through time that will capture key events from Minehead's past, its present and take a look at the hopes for its future. The project is led by Somerset-based theatre company Theatre Mélange and involves partner organisations in France and Romania.

Using stories from local people as its starting point, the Echo Project will result in live performance, art and films that capture the community’s memories and hopes for the future. The project will look back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s and forward, asking what opportunities the future will hold.

The first step of this journey was an interactive installation created by the artists of Theatre Mélange that gave a taste of Minehead in the 1950's and early 60’s. Courtesy of the West Somerset Railway, make do and mend! took place in an empty railway carriage at Minehead Station in December and January.

Other events will take place in the town throughout 2010, often in unexpected places. There will be free workshops on the theme for local groups as well as interviews with local people of all ages. This journey of discovery will culminate in a public event hosted by the Regal Theatre, Minehead, in July 2010.

The team then hopes to roll out similar projects in other parts of the UK and Europe.

Dr Leyshon is a social and cultural geographer, best known for his research on rural communities and youth culture. He is based in the School of Geography on the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus. He said: “At the beginning of the 21st century we are experiencing a period of great change. That is exciting but also threatening for people who have seen their communities transformed over the last few decades. The Echo project provides a great opportunity for me to work with artists and theatre practitioners and to use my expertise in research into communities in a new way.”

The £100 million Cornwall Campus (known as the Tremough Campus) is a Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative of which the University of Exeter and Falmouth University are two of the founding partners. It is funded mainly by the European Union (Objective One), the South West Regional Development Agency, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with support from Cornwall County Council. Set in 70 acres of countryside, but close to the waterside towns of Penryn and Falmouth, the campus offers a lively student community. The University of Exeter now offers degrees in Biology, Modern Celtic and Cornish Studies, English, Geology, Geography, History, Law, Mining Engineering, Politics and Renewable Energy on its Tremough Campus, which has expanded rapidly as part of the Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative.

The Echo Project is supported by Arts Council England, the National Lottery, Somerset County Council, ARTlife, Take Art and the European Union.

Date: 6 January 2010

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