A group of white people around a table in discussion about a board game.

The Penrynopoly Project

What futures do you want for the town that you live in? Do you still see yourself living in five years? What about ten? Are there shops that you like visiting? Are there things you're missing? Do you struggle to get around the space? Does it feel like home?

In The Penrynopoly Project, Natasha Evans, Dean Pomeroy and I were exploring these questions and more in the town of Penryn, Cornwall. Penryn is probably the country's smallest university town (St. Andrews may just about beat it), and has changed a lot in the past decade. It was once an important harbour town, and seen as more important than the neighbouring town of Falmouth. Since the introduction of universities at the Tremough campus on a hill above Penryn, though, Falmouth has gradually become the dominant town, with a booming student and long-term resident nightlife, a quirky and varied food scene, and an influx of new developments that are gentrifying the town at a rapid pace.

In collaboration with Penryn Parish Council, who were beginning their Neighbourhood Planning process, we undertook a research project (led by Dr Joanie Willett) to explore what futures young people wanted for Penryn. We used a phenomenological and new materialist lens to understand what Penryn actually represented for people who live and work in the town - not least its ever-increasing student population. The research painted a picture of a population of young people who loved Penryn but felt poorly served by it. Most of the people that we spoke to love the feeling of Penryn - its 'quaintness' - but struggled because of a lack of infrastructure and the fact that infrastructure and facilities were much better in its neighbouring town of Falmouth.

In an attempt to communicate our research findings and make social change through this, we constructed a board game - Penrynopoly. Quotations from the research were used as the source for Community Chest and Chance cards, whilst the locations that were deemed significant through our participatory mapping exercise became spaces on the board. We played through the game with the Parish council, and found that this gameful method of research dissemination was a highly effective way of breaking through people's established perceptions of the town they knew so well.

Following this, we received ESRC Festival of Social Science funding to reproduce a higher quality version of the game, and we were asked to use the game to assist the Neighbourhood Planning Committee in their processes of feedback and engagement. This work was presented at Jisc Change Agents' Network 2017, Enhancing Student Engagement Conference 2017, was included in the EU Association of Local Democracy Agencies Democratic Compact, and has been published in in the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change.

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