Grey and pleasant land

Project details

Full project title: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of the Connectivity of Older People in Rural Civic Society

Sponsor: ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council)

CTS Principal Investigator: Professor Graham Parkhurst

CTS Principal Researcher: Ian Shergold

Project Partners: University of Bournemouth, University of Swansea

Start date: January 2009

Finish date: January 2012

Research briefing sheet: Download the briefing sheet document

Project summary

The Centre for Transport and Society is leading one of seven workpackages which make up the project, titled ‘Travelling through the Rural Lifecourse’.

The impact of population ageing in rural areas is relatively under-researched in the UK. The aim of this interdisciplinary research programme is to investigate the circumstances, experiences and quality of life impact of older people's inclusion ('connectivity') in rural civic society. The research employs a mixed methods framework of quantitative and qualitative methods and perspectives from the arts and humanities, the social and geographic sciences, informatics and transport studies to characterise key aspects of older people's connectivities (i.e., cultural, spatial, social, economic and technological) in rural community life and the role which these links play in facilitating civic engagement. The research is being carried out in six case study areas in South West England and Wales and addresses the following principal questions:

  • How and in what ways are older people connected to civic society in these rural settings?
  • What is the impact of this connectivity on older people's quality of life in rural areas?
  • How is later life experienced across diverse rural contexts and within subgroups of older people?
  • How can novel interdisciplinary approaches be used to capture and disseminate evidence about older people's participation in and contributions to rural civic society, i.e., as a source of rural community capital?

The overall project will involve an internationally-significant team of more than 20 academics, drawn from the fields of rural studies, social care, gerontology, economic and social geography, sociology and psychology, led by Professor Catherine Hennessy of Plymouth University. The WP3 team is led by Professor Graham Parkhurst in association with co-investigators from the Universities of Bournemouth (Professors Kate Galvin, Les Todres) and Swansea (Professor Judith Phillips), as well as at UWE (Dr Charles Musselwhite).

WP3 focuses on mobility, using a range of biographical and survey methods to increase our understanding of older persons' physical connectivity in relation to their transport and other mobility needs in rural areas and the goal of achieving sustainable rural communities. Current rural transport policy dilemmas will be examined, namely:

  • understanding the instrumental and affective value older motorists attach to car access and overcoming car loss;
  • the definition of public transport solutions which meet wider quality of life objectives; and
  • personal mobility alternatives to the car (examining the social, health and technical inhibitors to cycling (particularly for the younger old) and walking (with a focus on the oldest old), along with the relevance of ‘intermediate’ solutions such as mobility scooters - now popular in towns - in rural areas.

For each of the three policy areas a deeper understanding of the impasse specifically as it relates to the needs and aspirations of older travellers will be sought, with the intention of assisting in the management of adjustments to individuals’ ‘mobility capital’ brought about by changing personal conditions, aspirations or environmental consciousness. Hence, the research will add to knowledge about how carbon-intensive travel by rural elders needs to be, and the wider implications of substituting virtual mobility for movement. The ‘new mobilities’ perspective will be developed through a consideration of mobility along a continuum ranging from physical through virtual and potential mobility to imaginative ‘mobility’.

Grey and Pleasant Land is one of a number of projects funded under the ‘New Dynamics of Ageing’ programme. This seven-year research initiative, the largest research programme on ageing to date in the UK, is a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils – ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC – supporting scientists from across the disciplines to work together on research which will benefit the quality of life of older people.

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