Professor Michael Leyshon
Associate Professor in Social Geography
Peter Lanyon A88
Peter Lanyon Building, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Treliever Road, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
Office hours: My student drop in sessions are usually Monday 10.00-11.00 and Wedensday 09.00-10.00 but these sometimes change from week to week. If you are a student at the University of Exeter and would like to come to a drop in session, please add your name(s) to a specific slot (date/time) and also if you want to meet in person or online via Microsoft Teams here: Drop-In-Sessions.
My student drop in sessions are usually Monday 10.00-11.00 and Wedensday 09.00-10.00 but these sometimes change from week to week. If you are a student at the University of Exeter and would like to come to a drop in session, please add your name(s) to a specific slot (date/time) and also if you want to meet in person or online via Microsoft Teams here: Drop-In-Sessions.
Professor Michael Leyshon is a social geographer. His research explores how third sector agencies and small businesses innovate to produce social change. In particular his work seeks to ground place-based person-centred approaches in a variety of locations, practices and performances, by focusing on issues relating to care in the countryside, and business adaptation to climate change.
Michael worked previously at Gloucester Constabulary as a researcher before moving to the University of Exeter to undertake a PhD in Geography on ‘Youth Identity, Culture and Marginalisation in the Countryside’. He has since worked at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Geography and Environmental Science, at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. He is the Co-founder and Co-Director of the Social Innovation Group at the University of Exeter, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers and an Associate of the Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter. He has been a visiting International Scholar at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, NJ, USA, Miami University, Ohio, USA and Kenyon College, Ohio, USA. He is also the External Examiner for the FdSc In Ecotourism at Cornwall College, University of Plymouth.
In the last ten years my work has covered two interconnected themes: (1) delivering social innovation especially in social care through exploring how local agencies, charities and organisations can optimise volunteering time and effort to build resilient communities; and (2) business network knowledges and social innovation in responses to climate change.
I am the Co-Director of the Social Innovation Group (Prof Catherine Leyshon, Dr Tim Walker, Dr Shuks Esmene, Matthew Rogers) which is a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from geography, anthropology, health research, and journalism who work in collaboration with organisations in the third sector, health and social care, restorative justice, the environment sector, local, regional and national government. Our focus is social innovation at all scales, using place-based, person-centred approaches and tools. We produce academic work, evidence and practical tools to support individuals, charities, governments, organisations and agencies – anyone interested in social innovation. Current projects include HAIRE, Smartline Extension, Your Shore Wildlife Trust project and Citizens Journalism News Network.
We attract funding from a variety of sources, such as the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), EU Interreg, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), NHS, Cornwall Council, amongst others.
Follow us on Twitter or Facebook and sign up to our mailing list to keep up to date with the latest news, events and publications.
Business Responses to Climate Change
Although much attention has focussed on the question of how businesses could help society mitigate climate change, little is known about how entrepreneurs communicate knowledge and reach a working consensus. I have two lines of research in this area. (1) Working with Dr Katharina Kaesehage, University of Edinburgh, we explore how entrepreneurs build a ‘commons logic’ and innovate social solution around climate change within their networks. We advise policy makers to actively support the usage of those mechanisms to help networks create more alternative institutions. (2) Working alongside Dr Shuks Esmene and Dr Timothy Taylor, Medical School University of Exeter, we explore how new innovative scientific knowledges on electric vehicles and climate change are communicated to publics to create a networked response to climate adaptation and mitigation.
See my Google Scholar profile
Or my Research Gate profile
Or my Academia Education profile
Research group links
My current research focuses on social innovation and the current Challenges for the Voluntary Sector. The growth in Britain’s ageing population coupled with the significant financial pressures on the NHS mean that innovative approaches are needed to deliver public services. The voluntary care sector is playing an increasingly important role in delivering these services. As the UK Governments White Paper on volunteering explained, “the voluntary and community sector is uniquely placed to reach socially isolated people and connect them to befriending services and other networks of friendship and support” (HMSO, 2012: 22). Because as we know, people are happiest and healthiest when they are active, independent, valued members of their communities, and supported by a network of family and friends. Despite potential the voluntary care sector still faces great challenges; especially around training, organising and retaining volunteers in communities.
My career has had two interlinked key phases. In the first part of my career, I led debates in youth geographies on the role of identity, care (youth work) and place in the complex lives of young people in rural areas. In the second phase of my career to date, I have further developed my research interests on identity and care in two fields of contemporary relevance and strategic importance: i) geographies of volunteering; and ii) geographies of innovation and business.
Geographies of youth, identity, and care
My research has made a number of important contributions to understanding the complexities of the everyday life of young people living in rural areas in the UK and USA. This work is characterised by bottom-up, participatory approaches which seek to give voice to young people, by prioritising their needs and experiences (Leyshon, 2002; 2004; 2005). The research combines rich empirical data this with theoretical and methodological insights from geographies of identity and care to recover the voices of young people so often elided in literature. My main theoretical contribution focused on developing ideas of around the concept of ‘inbetweeness’; being between places, ages, care and lifecourse experiences (Leyshon, 2010; 2013). In particular my research on memory and place (Leyshon, 2011; 2013; 2014; 2015) and young peoples’ flat ontologies of self has made a significant contribution to the study of youth cultures in geography and other related disciplines (Leyshon, 2015; 2016). My research on young people led to me being a CI on the successful ESRC Capacity Building Cluster in Sports, Leisure and Tourism at the University. I have recently returned to writing about young people through the lens of environmental volunteering and connections to place (Leyshon et al, 2021). I am exploring ideas on how voluntary community action and place-based knowledges can be used as a force for social change (Esmene, Rogers, Leyshon, 2020). These studies link to my more contemporary work below.
Geographies of volunteering
My current research focusses on a critical engagement with geographies of volunteering. This burgeoning area of geographical enquiry seeks to provide person-centred, place-based solutions to social problems through co-producing knowledge with individuals, agencies, the voluntary sector and businesses. My research is gathering intellectual momentum and impact through a range of projects (26 grants in the last 14 years, recently HAIRE (ESF), Smartline (ERDF) and Anchor (ESRC/Duchy Charitable Trust). These grants have enabled me to build a team of researchers and form the Social Innovation Group which I co-direct. My current research illustrates that in policy and practice, volunteers are often framed as units of action which satisfy a given need. We have offered an alternative theoretical model of volunteering through a Theory of Change. In Walker et al (2020) and Williams et al, (2021) we showed how this can lead to missed opportunities, with volunteers not fulfilling their potential, or experiencing dissatisfaction. In Walker et al (2020) and Leyshon et al (2021) we further argued that mobilising volunteers, realising their potential, and involving them in the co-production of care requires improved volunteer management practices. Building on earlier work (Moir and Leyshon, 2013), we critiqued how the choice architecture of volunteering, structural, management and operational levels that enable volunteer action in the new decentralised state system, requires fundamental reform from breaking down silo modes of delivery to the promotion of new forms of civic duty (Leyshon et al 2021). In Leyshon et al 2019, we showed how changes to care legislation since 2012 have created a tension between the rhetoric of co-production at the heart of policy and greater involvement of the voluntary sector in the care provided by GPs and multi-disciplinary teams. The barriers that exist to incorporating volunteers into conversations about care are both spatial – such conversations go on in places that volunteers do not have access to – and institutional – because of concerns about risk and data protection.
My research has started to challenge existing orthodoxy in the academic literature on volunteering by drawing attention to the difference that place and identity make in creating specific cultures of care (Harrison et al 2012). In our research on walking groups and social prescribing we illustrate the importance of sociability and how being part of a self-sustaining voluntary social group has important implications for long term benefits of social prescribing (Esmene et al, 2020). Further, in Colebrooke et al (2021) we developed the notion of emplaced ‘edgy-ness’ as an affective characteristic resulting from an ‘anticipatory unease’ emerging in relation to the lived experiences of austerity. In our research on care and social housing (Smartline) and heathy aging (Healthy Ageing through Innovation in Rural Europe) we have developed a raft of tools that enable individuals and organisations to disrupt ‘business as usual’ models of care delivery. For example, the Guided Conversation tool uses an individual service user’s wider needs and aspirations, and their views of their community, surroundings and wellbeing, to integrate them into their communities, help them participate in community innovations and reduce demand on statutory health and social care services. Cumulatively, these recent papers emphasise the importance of, first, how the state is withdrawing from non-statutory services, second, how responses determined through specific spatialised cultures of care can work, and finally, directs future research to rethink the role and purpose of volunteers in the emerging shadow health care sector. This research is particularly prescient as the NHS role out local Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships in which the voluntary sector is entering new partnerships for the delivery of statutory care.
Geographies of Innovation and Business
My work has informed both academic and policy debates on the ways in which businesses innovate around climate change. My research has focused on two lines of enquiry, first business networks and knowledge exchange, and second, mobilising knowledge and innovation. I developed the former research with colleagues at Exeter, Edinburgh and Cardiff universities where we explore the role of climate change for business strategies, specifically how entrepreneurs and businesses can be potential frontrunners in attaining a low-carbon economy through their embeddedness in local societies (Kaesehage et al 2014; 2017). Our research on business community networks has won awards. The book Social Innovation and Sustainable Entrepreneurship won Business Innovation book of the Year 2019 and our chapter was singled out for praise (Kaesehage and Leyshon, 2018). My research on mobilising knowledges in rural spaces illustrates how opportunities for transitions to smart systems can occur (Esmene et al 2016; 2020). This research proposes new ways of understanding how individual identity positions impact the dissemination of new technologies (Esmene and Leyshon 2019). I am currently in the process of bringing together my expertise in geographies of volunteering and climate change in a special issue for the journal Sustainability after being invited to do so by the journal. My future research plans on geographies of innovation and business will focus on theorising how knowledges of climate change shape and move through informal voluntary business relationships to produce innovation and behaviour change.
Social Innovation Group
2020-2023 €5.3million Interreg - HAIRE Project
This Interreg 2 Seas project aims is to reduce isolation and loneliness and improve wellbeing in the 60+ age group; increase collaboration between participating agencies and Voluntary and Community Sector Organisations (VCSO); improve rural community vitality; increase active participation of older people and voluntary sector in service design and delivery; create new models of service delivery; achieve widespread change to models of delivery. It is a collaboration between 15 universities, municipalities and 3rd sector agencies headed up by Prof Catherine Leyshon.
2020-2023 £4m ERDF Smartline Extension – University of Exeter collaborative project with the Medical School (Karyn Morrissey), Geography (Catherine and Michael Leyshon), EMPS, Business School, Volunteer Cornwall, Cornwall Council and Coastline Housing.
2017-2020 £30k The Wildlife Trust - Your Shore Beach Project
The project looks at how to promote social innovation and local engagement in the protection of marine environments through sharing knowledge with young people. Additionally, the Your Shore Beach Ranger project looks to enhance community knowledge and action through a range of activities that help people with long term health conditions improve their employability. The primary aim of the role is to carry out data collection using established tools, input and analyse the data, and to produce an annotated report for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The intern will contribute to the development of an analytical toolkit that can be used to help the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to refine their Your Shore Beach Rangers project.
Recently Completed Projects:
2017-2020 £64k ESIF Widening Participation through Skills – Citizen Journalists
If we live in a ‘post-truth’ then where does this leave the national/international news gathering organisations who’s cultural capital is built upon the foundations of harvesting objective truths. Time and time again throughout UK audiences have witnessed the abject failure of national/international news outlets to report and accurately predict the mood of the nation on a number of key national issues such as the UK referendum to remain or leave in the EU held on 23rd June 2016. This research asks the question, are communities within and surrounding hyper-local community media organisations able to reclaim some of the lost national news agenda for their own regions? This research will deploy iterative network design methodologies to ensure that community media organisations are informed by, maintain and in some instances improve upon their inclusive approaches towards participation and representation. This research will also supply ongoing access to technology and training for a range of rurally marginalised costal communities within Cornwall who score very highly on the indices of multiple deprivations.
2017 £1.98million ESIF SMARTtenant – University of Exeter (Catherine and Michael Leyshon), The Learning Partnership, Volunteer Cornwall, Cornwall Council and Coastline Housing
Smart Tennant focuses on vulnerable social tenants to deliver new training programmes to stabilise households and give them the confidence and skills to move towards employment and the opportunity to volunteer to support their peers in the community thus adding to the social capital of the area.
2017 £1.2million ESIF Living Well to Work – University of Exeter (Catherine and Michael Leyshon), The Learning Partnership, Cornwall Council, Volunteer Cornwall and Pentreath
Living Well for Work will deliver 12 pilots to test and evaluate innovative ways of engaging older individuals and those with mental ill health, LDD, autism, diabetes to re-engage in training and employment.
2017-2020 £5.1million ERDF SMARTline – University of Exeter collaborative project with the Medical School (Tim Taylor, Karyn Morrisey), Geography (Catherine and Michael Leyshon), EMPS (Stuart Townley), Business School (Stephan Hickman), Volunteer Cornwall, Cornwall Council and Coastline Housing
SMARTLINE and SMARTLINE Extension is a research and innovation project aimed at supporting the growth of eHealth and eWellbeing of the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector in Cornwall through the identification and support for products, processes and services that will improved the health and wellbeing of social housing tenants and build the cohesion of their communities. This is a partnership project involving the University of Exeter, Coastline Housing, Volunteer Cornwall and Cornwall Council.
2018 £10k Eden project: Social Prescribing for Health and Wellbeing
This project was in two parts. The first set out key findings from a qualitative evaluation of a walking group for people with diabetes and at a high risk of diabetes (this group is part of a social prescription program run collaboratively by St Austell Health Care and the Eden Project). The main research questions focused on the participants’ experiences of the group, the changes they have made relating to managing their diabetes and any changes to the status of their diabetes (as well as their wellbeing in a general sense).
The second project focused on the work of the Vounder Farm Horticultural Therapy Group (Space to Grow) which is part of St Austell Health Care’s social prescription programme which started in June 2016. Overall the findings reveal the positive disruption of the group. The garden become a space participants were able to incorporate into their lifestyles and form a positive relationship with. Some of the participants pushed this positive relationship further through their encounters with the wildlife which can be seen around Vounder Farm. Interestingly different species of wildlife evoked different responses.
2017-18 £15k NHS RCHT Sustainability and Transformation Plan
Research around engagement activities on the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Sustainability and Transformation Plan with Michael Leyshon (Centre for Geography, Environment and Society). This project for the NHS develops a research approach for engagement activities with a variety of different publics to help gauge their opinions on the changing structure of health care. The study is focuses on the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Sustainability and Transformation Plan.
2016 £25K ESRC IAA – iTapMapping www.volunteersincommunities.org/film/
This is a collaboration between the University of Exeter (with Michael Leyshon) and Age UK and is called the TAP-MAPPING project. TAP (Transport Access People)-MAPPING offers an opportunity to accelerate innovation and realise the wider impacts of the Volunteers in Communities project run by Dr Michael Leyshon and Prof Catherine Leyshon. At an operational level TAP-MAPPING will improve existing transport management systems for volunteers through social innovation in Cornwall's community transport sector. At the sectoral level the project will establish a network of partners to produce and deliver digital solutions into the future. This will include bringing in new partners from the digital economy. TAP-MAPPPING in this sense will produce a new triangle of innovation; with the public, private and third sectors collaborating on the real world problem of community transport management
2016 £20k The Reading Agency Bibliotherapy
With Professor Paul Farrand, Dr Joanne Woodford (Clinical Education, Development and Research, Psychology) with Dr Michael Leyshon (Centre for Geography, Environment and Society). The research is a small qualitative study evaluating the attitudes and perceptions held by users of the Adult Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme available through public libraries across England. Reading Well Books on Prescription helps people to understand and manage common mental health difficulties though reading self-help book titles (https://readingagency.org.uk/adults/quick-guides/reading-well/). The scheme is endorsed by health professionals and supported by public libraries. The research will also examine the potential to involve community based volunteers in supporting people to engage and use books on the scheme and activate wider community support
2016 £1k Cornwall Community Fund – LifeCycleFal
Social intervention with BikeWorks Falmouth and the University of Exeter (with Michael Leyshon). This is a pilot research and practice project on the delivering of a bike mechanic course to young people in Penryn. The course develops soft and hard skills amongst young people in one of the most deprived parts of Cornwall.
2015 £1k Cornwall Community Foundation (via Volunteer Cornwall)
Small scale pilot project designed to give young people the skills they need to repair and rebuild a bicycle. Local young people will be given an opportunity to work in a professional workshop and gain the vital experience needed to gain employment as a mechanic.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
I am a Trustee and Director of the Charity, Volunteer Cornwall.
I am the External Examiner of the FdA in EcoTourism at Cornwall College.
Research Impact and Engaged Research
Engaged research with Cornwall’s voluntary, public service and charitable sector has been the focus of my work for the last 14 years with the Social Innovation Group which I co-founded and co-direct. This has not only underpinned the current impact case study for REF 2021 but has laid the groundwork for significant impact in the next REF cycle. This has been achieved through my strong commitment to co-production and the series of strategic research network and knowledge exchange partnerships I have developed with Volunteer Cornwall, Cornwall Council, Age UK, The Wildlife Trust and the NHS. As noted above funding for my research has come from diverse sources including the ESRC IAAs and participation in large, collaborative projects focused on the role of the voluntary sector in transforming communities through innovative solutions to loneliness and isolation (Living Well), building community capacity (Smartline) and volunteering as a pathway to employment (Living Well to Work). My research has underpinned reworked training materials in use nationwide by Age UK and has helped secure an additional £1.95m funding for organisations delivering projects in Cornwall which have tackled financial literacy and unemployment. My involvement in the Interreg 2 Seas award sees my research extend across the UK, the Netherlands, France and Belgium and encompass not only local government and voluntary organisations but national and international bodies such as the EU, WHO and UN. The HAIRE project has paved the way for a new project called 'In the Rural Mix' which is exploring the lives of rural youth.
My teaching reflects the range and diversity of my eclectic interests in how knowledge is produced and communicated. I use a variety of teaching methods in my modules drawn from my experience of working in Higher Education for the last 20 years, from gamifying problem-solving scenarios, to the flipped classrooms where I co-produce knowledges and the curriculum with students. I am module leader (ML) on a number of undergraduate courses and I also teach on a range of other modules.
I have a strong appetite and experience for teaching leadership, innovative pedagogy and reform in higher education. My approach to driving excellence in student-led learning is founded on three fundamental commitments: i) to provide learners with a personalised, immersive, and empowering experience which is transformative; ii) to situate learning within a research-intensive environment, grounded in the intellectual enquiry of real-world circumstances; iii) to lead on creating innovative learning communities in which education is a collaborative and active process between staff and students, that develops problem solving skills, entrepreneurship, digital literacy, cultural competence, and global citizenship. My teaching philosophy focuses on encouraging students to become independent critical thinkers who can engage both intellectually and practically with pressing contemporary issues in a solutions-focused way. Treating students as individuals for whom excellent academic outcomes are a function of a successful transition into and out of HE requires that we collectively produce the conditions in which learners thrive. I have been and will continue to work to ensure that there is an equality of opportunity underpinned by a shared vision and collegial atmosphere of mutual respect and support, leading to success for students that aligns with the University 2030 strategy to deliver a fairer, healthier and sustainable education experience for all.
I have supervised 10 PhD students and 1 MPhil student to completion, including students supported by departmental awards, ESRC SWDTC, and through funding I was successful in obtaining, either through bespoke awards or within existing projects, e.g. two AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards, ESRC Capacity Building Cluster and ESF. I have acted as external examiner on 6 PhDs at a range of instititions.
I have held a number of positions of responsibility and provided leadership in the University (Senior Tutor, Chair of Ethics and Geography Programme Director) the most significant being my role as Director of Education in CGES (2019-2022) that I wish to focus on. My mission is to lead by example by working tirelessly to produce inclusive spaces of learning to deliver excellent and engaging programmes for our students. Our degree programmes provide research- and teaching-led solutions for a fairer and sustainable world.
I have developed an international reputation for delivering education, for example, I have strong links to Kenyon College, Ohio and I have advised them on developing a new Rural Studies programme.
I have innovated in teaching throughout my career, having used a flipped classroom format since 2010, developed role playing and scenario planning in classes and on field trips, and evolved new ways of assessment via the gamification of my Rural Social Issues module. The latter won me the Innovative Teaching Award in 2013.
I have a very strong interest in and commitment to digital learning, which has led me to apply for a range of novel education funding to trial new ideas and practices. In 2008 I was awarded a Higher Education Academy grant to develop digital learning on news reportage. In 2015 I was awarded an EU/ESF Flexipot Widening Participation through Skills grant and again in 2021 ESF Widening Participation through Skills Project to develop a citizens’ journalism course with Matthew Rogers. The result was the Citizen Journalism News Network (CJNN) project, the first of its kind in the UK. It is a level 3 University accredited course that is delivered into the communities experiencing social disadvantage in Cornwall. The focus is on ‘cold spots’ (areas of social disadvantage) to encourage non-standard learners into undertaking a university course. Participants study journalism in a blended format alongside broadcasters, for example within community radio stations such as Source FM, RSAB, KMF Radio and Coast FM. I believe in providing flexible learning into communities and envision the University being fully embedded into the region and beyond through delivering micro-credentials, CPD and other forms of flexible learning.
Developing out of the CJNN I was also awarded with Matthew Rogers a University of Exeter Incubator Fellowship in 2018 to develop a distance learning podcasting course. The micro-course brings together ideas and practical knowledges on producing podcasts, digital journalism and enhances communication skills.
Earlier this year I was interviewed for an episode of the podcast series Blueprint for Tomorrow’s Learning Spaces. The series explores higher education policy and practice for the future. Arriving at the Fourth Industrial Revolution creates an unprecedented opportunity for a systematic re-think of higher education learning spaces. Learning is an enriching activity and an immersive experience that spans across one’s lifecourse and across spaces both digital and physical. The podcast series captures the ideas of leading international thinkers in order to co-create a research agenda for lifelong learning spaces within HE and inform new ways of designing and managing HE learning spaces. The 30-minute episode will be released in December 2021 and is on ‘Walls’ – the (meta)physical bounds of education. In it, I discuss how to rethink future learning spaces and the extent to which new digital pedagogy is challenging the physical spaces and practices of universities.
My Vision for Future University Education
There is a need to articulate and then act upon a vision for education that expresses itself more ambitiously and with purpose. University education has evolved into dynamic and flexible ways of learning in which students are co-creators in their own learning experience. Recently the University has launched the new Education Strategy 2030 that provides an opportunity for new intellectual connections and innovations in pedagogy to occur. Staff and students need to focus much more on student outcomes rather than outputs. In particular, learning processes need to be inclusive and accessible and close the attainment gap between the outcomes of different groups, as well as the gap between education and the real world of work. At an institutional level I would like to promote a culture of innovation and seek ways of developing agile systems to enable adaptation to occur quickly. We need to develop courses that are global facing that embrace new innovative digital learning alongside more traditional intensive small group teaching. We need to enable our graduates to be accomplished thinkers, collaborators, problem solvers and leaders in their future professions, by giving them the opportunity to apply their learning in real-world contexts. In this vein I would like to explore how campuses could become a hub of multi- and interdisciplinary teaching by bringing disciplines together through developing co-taught modules that broaden the student learning experience. My vision is to produce and deliver fairer, healthier, and sustainable education by giving greater prominence to research-led learning and problem solving across a broad spectrum of subjects. To this end I want to see the campuses grow to be a destination for local, domestic and international students who are engaged, enlivened and excited by seeking solutions to complex issues like the twin universal challenges of climate change and sustainability.
- GEO1418 - Granite Landscapes and Society
- GEO1506B - West Penwith Fieldclass
- GEO2445 - Rural Social Issues
- GEO2449 - Green Consultants
Supervision / Group
- Shukru Esmene
- Matthew Rogers
- Timothy Walker
- Nikos Antzoulatos
- Jacob Bull
- Moir Eilidh
- Shukru Esmene
- Kathi Kaesehage
- Simon Morton
- Ben Oldcorn
- Lucy Rose
- Sarah Thomson
- Tea Tverin
- Stephen Vainker
- Timothy Walker