Programmes > Exchange > Stories of Change

Stories of Change

£1.5M community research project to reignite energy debate

Research has shown that many people feel disengaged, disempowered or actively hostile to the changes to the UK’s energy system required to meet the targets embedded in the Act. At the same time it shows wide acceptance that actions will be required to reduce demand and cope with future environmental hazards. However new developments and measures to manage or reduce demand can generate dispute.

Visiting Arts has partnered on a research project led by The Open University which will challenge the terms of public debates about energy issues. “Stories of Change: Exploring energy and community in the past, present and future” has received nearly £1.5million in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to examine areas of conflict and make space for more diverse voices.  The project is exploring energy choices through an innovative mix of social science and humanities research, digital storytelling, short films, and other creative work; and is generating a publicly-accessible collection of stories.

 At the heart of the Government’s Climate Change Act of 2008 is a cross-party commitment to cutting carbon emissions. However, research shows that many people feel disengaged from or even hostile towards the changes needed to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets. Public and political conversations about energy have stalled and we aim to return some momentum by looking in a fresh way at its past, present and future… We are working to discover and create stories because they offer a popular and engaging route into thinking about possible energy futures. Everybody can gather around stories. We are finding that they help to connect researchers, artists and communities. – Dr Joe Smith, lead researcher and Senior Lecturer in Environment at The Open University

The project will uncover accounts of the relationship between energy, industry and landscape in the English Midlands; it will see how energy resources such as coal and wind have shaped life in South Wales; and it will also bring together existing communities of interest around energy policy.

The interdisciplinary project team also includes researchers from the Universities of Sheffield, South Wales, Birmingham, Bath and Exeter and the arts organisation TippingPoint. The project is rooted in a body of ambitious partnerships, including government departments, business, NGOs, museums and community groups. Creative partners include a mix of poets, filmmakers, theatre makers, writers and artists. All of them are experienced in helping to give voice to people and/or things that are often unheard.

In April 2017 an exhibition and performance in the Neuadd of the Senedd gave a voice to people in the south Wales valleys who have been working on the creative Stories of Change project exploring their changing relationships with energy over the decades. See the interview with Assembly Member Adam Price AM.

The project is funded as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme, designed to help us understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life.

Find our more at

Who We Are

Stories of Change is being led by Prof. Joe Smith of The Open University’s Geography Department. The project is organised around three mini research projects, or “stories” and one cross-cutting project “Energetic” that supports these.

Visiting Arts’ Chief Executive Yvette Vaughan Jones leads as core arts organisation partner alongside Peter Gingold of Tipping Point.

The team also includes:

Partners and Acknowledgements

The project has been built with the support of a very wide range of partners. Our thanks are also due to many collaborators, participants and friends. See the full list of project partners and acknowledgements.