Where we live next – how can policy help to SHAPE sustainable places?

Published on 8 November 2023

Sarah Baker

Blog by Sarah Baker, Communications Officer, University of Exeter. ‘A fly on the wall’ account of the British Academy Exeter Policy Workshop on Tuesday 7 November.


This week (Tuesday 7 November) I joined several ACCESS Co-Investigators at a British Academy event in Exeter city centre looking at what a future sustainable Exeter might look like. The workshop also included several other academics, an ACCESS Leadership college fellow (lovely to catch up Mandy Bisset from The Southampton Collective), as well as local NGOs, government officers and businesses. The aim of the afternoon was to think about why place matters for environmental policy; and what policy could do to catalyse a more sustainable future for places.

The windows of the room looked out onto a busy shopping street – reminding me of the diverse people, cultures, and lives all around us – and how thinking about place might also ensure our work is more inclusive. We started with short group discussions about what a sustainable Exeter might look like and  how the policy environment is already supporting some sustainability goals.

Milly at the British Academy then introduced the idea of place as a powerful lens for creating effective policymaking. Milly and the BA have done a lot of research in this area and are now developing helpful principles for place-sensitive policymaking, gathering insights from case studies, regional policy workshops (like this one) and national policy ones. More information can be found ‘Where We Live Next’ programme.

We were then treated to two relevant project case studies from ACCESS Co-Is and partners. We listened to Professor Jane Wills and Professor Steffen Boehm (University of Exeter) talk about Sustainable Food Cornwall. Jane started with some interesting open-ended questions:

  • How can governance be improved to respond to the need to be more sustainable?
  • Do we need new institutions, or can we adapt what we have, to respond to our modern-day problems?
  • How do you develop the Global Sustainability Goals at a local level in a democratic way?

Jane then talked about their project Impact – Towards a Sustainable Cornwall and some of the challenges they faced. Steffen explained in more detail about the fourth and most recent stage of the project, a summary report highlighting the work of community growing projects. The report can be found on the Sustainable Food Cornwall website.

Dr Alice Moseley and Dr Rebecca Sandover, (University of Exeter) turned their attention to Devon and their work evaluating the successes and challenges of the Devon Climate Assembly. Their work gathered critical reflections from participants and practitioners involved in the Online Citizens Assembly which has then informed a useful toolkit on online and digital methods for deliberative democratic processes with partners. Project details can be found here Net Zero Assembly Research

The last hour was spent thinking about what the barriers are to a more sustainable future. And how can sensitive-place policy help tackle these. Back on the wet city pavements, my mind was buzzing with possibilities and with fresh hope that today’s workshop can help us get closer to a more sustainable and thriving city. Follow the British Academy on X @BritishAcademy_ and keep up to date with the project here.

N.B. Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy (SHAPE) is a collective name for the social sciences, humanities and the arts.