Rural ageing


Catherine Hennessy, University of Plymouth


  • Ray Jones, University of Plymouth

  • Andrew Phippen, University of Plymouth

  • Inocencio Maramba, University of Plymouth

  • Jill Pooler, University of Plymouth

  • George Giarchi, University of Plymouth

  • Fraser Reid, University of Plymouth

  • Robin Means, University of the West of England

  • Graham Parkhurst, University of the West of England

  • Iain Biggs, University of the West of England

  • Nigel Curry, The Countryside and Community Research Institute

  • Charles Musselwhite, University of the West of England

  • Simon Evans, University of the West of England

  • Thomas Abba, University of the West of England

  • Kip Jones, University of Bournemouth

  • Kate Galvin, University of Bournemouth

  • Les Todres, University of Bournemouth

  • Rosie Read, University of Bournemouth

  • Yvette Staelens, University of Bournemouth

  • Peter Howard, University of Bournemouth

  • Liisa Rohumma, University of Bournemouth

  • Paul Milbourne, University of Cardiff

  • Judith Phillips, University of Swansea

  • Vanessa Burholt, University of Swansea

  • Lee-Ann Fenge, University of Bournemouth

  • Norah Keating, University of Alberta


  • Commission for Rural Communities

  • Government Office for the South West

  • Welsh Assembly Government

  • Age Concern South West

  • Age Concern Cymru

  • Carnegie UK Trust

  • Sustrans

  • Culture South West

  • Gloucestershire Rural Community Council

  • Stagecoach Devon

  • Gay and Grey in Dorset

  • Intercom Trust

  • Help the Aged

  • Older People in Rural Areas (OpeRA) Panel

  • OPAN Cymru


Catherine Hennessy


At the time of the project, rural areas throughout the UK were ‘greying’ due to a combination of demographic trends including increased life expectancy, out-migration of young people and, in many locations, in-migration of retirees. However, the impact of population ageing in these rural areas had received comparatively little attention by researchers.

Growing older in contemporary rural Britain is experienced against a backdrop of issues such as incomer group pressures, minority group citizenship, gentrification and changes in land use, all of which have implications for ageing identities, attachment to place and participation in community life.

Existing studies show that many older residents of rural communities report a variety of disadvantages which affect their inclusion in community life. Broader in-depth research coverage was needed on the determinants and quality of life impact of older people’s connectedness in rural communities in the UK. Particularly needed were studies which explored the positive aspects of rural living for many older people, including the potential contributions of older people to rural community and citizenship.

The use of interdisciplinary perspectives and methods offered expanded potential for characterising key aspects of older people’s inclusion (‘connectivity’) in rural community life, ie, cultural, spatial, social, economic and technological connectivity and the role which these links play in facilitating civic engagement.

Aims and objectives

The aim of this research programme was to investigate the circumstances, experiences and quality of life impact of older people’s connectivity in civic society in rural areas.

The research was carried out in rural settings in South West England which had the most ageing population structure of all regions in England and in rural Wales which was experiencing similar demographic trends.


The research programme was comprised of seven interlinked work packages (WPs) employing a mixed methods framework including a broad range of quantitative and qualitative methods.


WP1 used existing national and other relevant datasets and collected new primary survey data to investigate social, spatial, technological and cultural connectivities and their relationship to civic involvement among persons aged 60 and over.

This data served to create a common conceptual core for the programme as a whole and as a platform for additional data collection in each of the other WPs.

A total sample of 1,200 older persons were interviewed in six rural areas in South West England and Wales.


WP2 examined the role of cultural and leisure activities in active ageing through an intergenerational oral history project designed to promote awareness of older people's contributions to community cultural capital.

Qualitative biographical accounts of older people’s participation in cultural and leisure activities were used in conjunction with WP1 primary survey data to address research questions regarding earlier life and current involvement in cultural activities and leisure pursuits and as a basis for a community oral history project, interactive website and museum exhibition co-created with the project participants.


WP3 used 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.

Older people’s behaviours, perceptions and meanings related to their physical connectedness and access to their rural communities were investigated in WP3 in light of identified rural transport policy dilemmas.


WP4 included two projects which used tools from the arts to examine how older people experience connectivity, rural place and space and identity. It focused on the experiences and perceptions of rural living among older residents including those whose lifestyles may not fit existing community norms and/or remain invisible and disconnected.

The first project investigated the connectivity (or lack thereof) experienced by gay and lesbian older people residing in rural settings while the second project explored older rural residents’ conceptions of the physical, social and cultural landscapes in which they locate themselves, focusing on issues of memory, place and identity and their relationship to the ageing experience.

Arts-based outputs from this WP included a film, website and multi-media book-based publication.


WP5 used primary survey data from WP1 and ethnographic methods to investigate problematic aspects of rural living among older persons through examining the nature and extent of material deprivations experienced in low-income households in the study areas and the relationship between these deprivations, connectivity and social capital.


WP6 built on the involvement of collaborating stakeholder groups in this research (older rural persons panels, non-academic partner organisations and international academic experts in rural ageing) to explore stakeholder views on quality of life issues for older rural people.

The project used web-based computer methods to enable connectivity among these groups and to investigate older rural persons' use and experiences of communication technology.


Finally, the work of a seventh WP coordinated and synthesised the individual programme research findings into a coherent overall account of older people’s involvement in rural civic society.

It also investigated the interdisciplinary research process through qualitative analysis of research team meeting proceedings and contributions of the WPs and disciplines to a programme web-based knowledge management system through which interdisciplinary theory was developed.

Policy implications

Engagement with policymakers, practitioners and other stakeholders focussed on using the research findings and outputs to raise awareness of older people as sources of actual or potential rural civic capital, identifying barriers and facilitators to realising these social resources and demonstrating how the contributions and experience of older people in rural areas can be promoted as positive community assets.