Hebdenroyd aims to become an age-friendly council

Impact: Policy, Awareness and understanding


A project led by Annie Harrison and funded by the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing, drew on creative methodologies in a project to explore the experiences of older people living in Upper Calder Valley, a rural and semi-rural area.

Annie designed a photo-elicitation project, inspired by the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Cities program, to explore with older people what makes rural areas age-friendly. In Western Europe the rural population is generally healthier than the urban population and in Europe, less than a quarter of the population live in rural areas. However in England the rural over-65s population is higher than the urban population and 13% of rural pensioners live in relative poverty after housing costs are taken into account. There is a breakdown of rural social networks due to a complex mixture of factors and this creates a particular challenge for older people. Their participation in community life is dependent on the age friendliness of their communities.

Photo-elicitation gave the participants time to think deeply about the question and to capture their everyday experiences. The photographs they produced were also triggers for different interpretations when shared with the other participants, and led to the collection of rich and varied data.

Engagement in the research project was extremely high with 12/13 participants actively involved in research activities after the photo-elicitation stage. These activities included further training in research methods, data analysis, writing a public report, doing presentations and arranging and staffing exhibitions of their photos in five local and regional venues.

WHO’s Age Friendly Cities guide identifies eight topic areas which are important in making a city age-friendly, including the physical environment, the social environment, and access to information and services. The analysis methodology in the rural project allowed participants to generate their own themes, and their themes differed from the Age Friendly City topic areas. However, by comparing both themes and subthemes, it was possible to map the similarities and differences between the two sets of categories. Themes identified by the participants of this project which had no equivalence in the WHO AFC domains were:

• Place and identity including the importance of: retaining the character of the area, knowing and preserving local history and traditions and people’s connections to them, and a connection with the seasons and natural environment.

• The importance of local businesses, including local shops, cafes, post office and markets, milk delivery and local banks.

• The benefits of ageing including increased confidence and freedom to be oneself due to age and experience, opportunities to slow down and reflect, living in the present, acceptance of change and managing physical limitations.

Despite the differences in methodology making comparison difficult, this project suggests that there may be differences in what makes a city and a rural area age friendly, and in the priorities of older people depending on where they live.

More research is needed into the specific health and wellbeing needs of older people in rural areas.

The level of engagement in the project suggests that creative methodologies may both attract and maintain participation, even when the follow-up work has less creative content. However, further research is needed to explore whether this engagement would be maintained with other participant groups and whether it would operate across a more representative sample.
Category of impactPolicy, Awareness and understanding
Impact levelEngagement

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing