Joseph Rowntree research: Support, help and dependency in Hebden Bridge
Wednesday, 22 January 2014
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) commissioned this paper as part of its programme on risk, trust and relationships, aiming to build understanding of the little explored territory of risk, trust and relationships in our ageing society. Researchers were Helen Spandler, Meg Allen, Yvonne Prendergast and Lynn Froggett from the University of Central Lancashire.
This report is based on findings from the first phase of a two-year research project in Hebden Bridge. They looked at the "small, everyday acts of kindness that sustain us throughout our lives." They say that this has rarely been a topic for research and it could be argued that the focus on 'official' social care policy has marginalised concerns about care and support in everyday life.
Their aims were to draw out the implicit 'rules' surrounding the giving and receiving of help; to understand the language in which we frame acts of kindness; and to identify the mediating factors which can foster or inhibit mutual aid in communities.
They chose Hebden Bridge not for its 'representativeness' but because in many ways it is atypical. It has a reputation for being a cohesive town with strong support networks based on established community activism as well as traditional extended families. The perception of the town, as a place where mutual aid and community ties are strong, makes it a potentially rich context for the exploration of low intensity support.
They described our town as follows:
"Hebden Bridge ('Hebden') nestles in a steep valley on the Yorkshire side of the Pennine Hills. It grew at the end of the nineteenth century as a thriving mill town, a major producer of woollen goods for urban markets, but its manufacturing status was undermined with the introduction of cheaper imports. By the 1960s, its story echoed that of a hundred other mill towns across the north, a lack of local employment, few facilities and deteriorating housing stock (Spencer, 1999).
"In the 1970s, however, Hebden began to experience a revival with the influx of a new wave of urban dwellers; artists, writers, musicians and 'New Age' activists who were seeking a place to settle, a place to explore their creativity and develop alternative lifestyles. This inward 'hippy' migration continued into the eighties, developing Hebden's reputation as an alternative refuge. People started to see its potential for a more community-based way of life that was felt to be missing in more urban environments (Barker, 2012).This potential also resulted in an inward migration of lesbian, gay and bisexual people who have chosen to live in the town. More recently, a sizeable population of well-educated professionals have chosen Hebden as a place to live and work (it is within easy commuting distance of a number of cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Preston) or to retire.
"There is also a feeling locally that inward migration in the last decade has resulted in an increasing 'gentrification' of Hebden Bridge. The local website 'HebWeb' describes these more recent incomers as 'wealthier yuppie types' and there is a sense that these new arrivals have yet to find a place in a town where hill farmers rub shoulders with crystal healers, lesbians and city commuters."
They spoke to 69 men and 82 women. All participants were white and largely from Hebden Bridge (72%) and the surrounding area. Early findings suggest that positive emotions are important, especially in relation to giving support, and lends some support to research in the 'positive psychology' tradition, which suggests that engaging in helping others boosts positive well-being.
They also identified a need to take more account of the role of social conflict and emotions in the 'decision-making ecology' around informal support relationships.
The next stage of the research begins in autumn 2013 and will focus on things such as how "prevailing discourses of dependency interact with prevailing norms of reciprocity in preventing people asking for help?" And "How do current notions of independence and dependency resonate in people's lives and impact on the giving and receiving of support in everyday life?"