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  • Author or Editor: Catherine Hagan Hennessy x
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This chapter discusses the Grey and Pleasant Land project on rural ageing which focused on older people’s connections to and participation in community life in diverse rural settings in southwest England and Wales. The interdisiplinary approach used to investigate the types, extent and experiences of older people’s ‘connectivity’ in these rural places is described, including the combination of empirical and arts-based methods. Seven principal types of connectivities identified are elaborated using examples from the research findings: civic engagement; social participation; intergenerational relations; connections to the landscape; connectivity and group identity; virtual connectivity; and imaginative connectivity. The implications of these connectivities of older people as sources of rural community capital with the potential to sustain ageing populations in these areas are discussed.

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This chapter describes the background and guiding interdisciplinary framework of the GaPL research programme that forms the basis of this book. It outlines the aims and organisation of the volume highlighting the broad interdisciplinary approach that informed this study of how and in what ways older people are connected to civic society in rural settings. The chapter begins with a presentation of the case for greater research on older people in the countryside in light of global and national demographic trends in rural ageing. The predominantly problem-focused nature of previous research on older people in rural areas is described and the need for a perspective on older people as positive social assets in rural community life is established. The principal foci of the GaPL research are outlined and the process of synthesising diverse disciplinary perspectives into an integrative framework around the cross-cutting concept of ‘connectivity’ is explained. The location of the rural study sites and the rationale for their selection are outlined. The survey that underpinned the various parts of the GaPL research is described and findings on the sociodemographic characteristics of the survey sample are presented. Chapter One concludes with an overview of each of the remaining eight chapters.

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Governments promote increased social connectivity to give power and responsibility to citizens. In England and Wales this has led to many older people’s networks and active community participation by rural elders. This can be conceptualised through social capital which can be seen as both inclusive (bridging capital), or exclusionary (bonding capital), as well as functional or power-related. While Bourdieu’s capitals explore social, economic, cultural and symbolic assets, a human ecology conceptualisation complements these with a focus on the importance of place in developing connectivity. Here, macrosystems focus on national and international influences, exosystems on external influences, mesosystems on direct influences and microsystems on individual or personal space. Further, the chronosystem can also take temporal influences into account in examining connectivity from a conceptual standpoint.

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This chapter draws together the main findings and issues from this study of connectivity and older people in rural Britain. It begins by reviewing the main challenges of interdisciplinary research encountered during the project. It goes on to summarise not only the main dimensions of connectivity explored in detail in earlier chapters such as civic engagement, social participation and connecting to landscape but also key barriers such as poor health and digital exclusion. These findings are then conceptualised in terms of both social capital and critical human ecology theory. The chapter concludes by drawing out policy and practice implications with an emphasis upon the dangers of increasing inequality for lower income rural elders at a time of austerity with its consequent emphasis upon community self-help. However, the overall message of the book is that it is still important to celebrate rural elders the majority of whom are well connected to their locale and hence making an important and varied contribution to community life.

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Older people, community and place in rural britain

Older people in the countryside are vastly under-researched compared to those in urban areas. This innovative volume, the first project-based book in the New Dynamics of Ageing series, offers a unique interdisciplinary perspective on this issue, focusing on older people’s role as assets in rural civic society. It demonstrates how the use of diverse methods from across disciplines aims to increase public engagement with this research. The authors examine the ways in which rural elders are connected to community and place, the contributions they make to family and neighbours, and the organisations and groups to which they belong. Highly topical issues around later life explored through these perspectives include older people’s financial security, leisure, access to services, transport and mobility, civic engagement and digital inclusion – all considered within the rural context in an era of fiscal austerity. In doing so, this book challenges problem-based views of ageing rural populations through considering barriers and facilitators to older people’s inclusion and opportunities for community participation in rural settings. Countryside Connections is a valuable text for students, researchers and practitioners with interests in rural ageing, civic engagement and interdisciplinary methods, theory and practice.

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The potential of older people’s participation in leisure activities as a means of creating community capital is an expanding focus of research by gerontologists although to date the leisure engagement of rural elders has received comparatively little attention. This chapter focuses on older people’s connections to rural community life through their engagement in cultural and leisure activities. Older rural residents’ leisure participation and its determinants are considered from a life course perspective as well as the forms and uses of later life leisure within the rural community context. Findings from the GaPL survey on types and frequency of current participation in individual and group-oriented hobbies and social activities are presented. Patterns of participation across life stages are examined through findings from oral histories focused on respondents’ ‘leisure lives’. The chapter also describes a community oral history project designed to raise awareness of older people as rural social and cultural capital and to increase public engagement with this research that formed part of this work.

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