Projects Dates: July 2015 - ongoing
Funder and amount: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator Fund £9.985.69
School Contact: Dr Paul Cowie
Partner(s): Cap-a-Pie theatre company
How we got involved: Collaboration workshop with Cap-a-Pie
This innovative project uses theatre to research community participation in planning and to co-produce research with communities through the production of a new piece of theatre.
The Town Meeting was developed by Dr Paul Cowie and theatre company Cap-a-Pie and draws upon research into neighbourhood planning outlined in publications by Dr Paul Cowie and Professor Simin Davoudi.
This research highlighted issues of democratic legitimacy in neighbourhood planning and how neighbourhoods seek to represent themselves within the planning system. The Town Meeting builds on this by exploring how communities react to external pressures and represent themselves; rather than research participants the audience are co-investigators.
The Town Meeting is set in the fictional Little Rikjord - a town in crisis. Voted most picturesque town in Great Doggerland four years running, it is an affluent and vibrant community which owes most of its wealth to an open cast iron ore mine.
The play is set on the eve of a crucial hearing when the audience, in its role as the town’s residents, must come up with a plan for Little Rikjord’s future assisted only by shambolic junior planning officer Benjamin Rennold (Brad McCormick). Little Rikjord is modelled on a real-life mining town in Sweden – Kiruna - which is being moved 3km east to allow iron ore mining to continue.
The main aim of this project is to make academic research more democratic, accessible and relevant to communities.
The use of theatre as a tool for conducting collaborative research, known as performance ethnography, is novel in the field of spatial planning and these issues are particularly relevant at the current time with moves to ever greater devolution in planning with the introduction of the Localism Act (2011).
The play has highlighted how the role of planner has changed in recent years, moving away from the role of expert to more of a facilitator or mediator in the planning process.
The play has been performed across a number of communities in the North of England and in 2015 planning officers from across the North of England took part in a special performance where they took on the role of the Little Rikjord community.
A version of the play has also been developed to be used as part of the MSc Town Planning degree to give prospective planners a first-hand insight into community engagement.
You can listen to the story of how Cap-a-Pie worked with Dr Paul Cowie to make The Town Meeting on the podcast (via soundcloud).