Sociological Research Online

The Focus Groups

In all but one of the groups women were looking after their own children so that our discussions were frequently disrupted. This was quite normal however and I don't think it materially affected the contributions people made. The purpose of the groups was not to gain detailed personal information and there is consequently no standard information here. I accepted what members told me about themselves without further questioning.

Carley Hill

This group runs in council accommodation on a row of estate shops. The council estate was built after the war and is an estate in which there are recognised problems of unemployment and crime. The shop fronts were all covered with roll metal shutters and with the exception of the newsagent this was the only building open on the morning that I visited.

There were five women present throughout the meeting and one woman who came very late and did not really join the discussion. The group membership was:

Jane: husband had been a miner but was made redundant when the pit closed. Jane had two older children and then a long gap until her youngest child. Husband drives a taxi and cleans windows. Jane has two cleaning jobs.

Mary: is an auxiliary nurse working full time on shift work. Husband unemployed since redundancy from the pit.

Denise: childminder for another child while looking after her own. Husband ex- miner, recently got a labouring job.

Debbie: living with husband, both on benefit -husband and ex-miner.

Anne: refused to join in group discussion because of my using the tape recorder- she did eventually relax and make some comments but I found out little about her as an individual.

Marley Potts

This group runs in a Salvation Army 'hut'. It was the easiest group to run because the Major volunteered to look after the children for the group members so we were able to talk uninterrupted.

Marley Potts is part of Southwick and shows similar social and economic profile to Carley Hill. It is an estate with high levels of male unemployment, a relatively young age structure and large families. It was described as a 'difficult to let' estate in the 1983 ward profile published by the local authority.

The group comprised the following people.

Betty: living with partner, two children older and one toddler and had not worked outside home for a number of years. Husband long term sick.

Diane: part time hairdresser, living with husband has two children.

Julie: had been a nurse before having her children. Will return to work when they reach school age but thought she would have to take night-shift work to fit in with the family

Ada: Julie's grandmother, visiting

Christine: had worked as a wages clerk but was now at home full time. Expected to return to work on a part time basis when her children reached school age.

Mandy: had had various jobs, including shop work and nursery assistant. Now at home full time as a single mother sees her partner but prefers to be separate because he gambles and 'can't pass the pub'

Eileen: divorced and living as a single mother with her children. There was no job she could do which would earn enough to support her family and was having difficulties in getting maintenance paid through Child Support Agency. Described it as a very lonely life.


Redhouse is a council estate and the third group to be run in the 'poor' area. This estate was built in the 1950's and is a popular area requiring a high number of housing points to gain a tenancy. It is a settled and 'respectable' council estate but is closer in terms of social and economic profile to the housing in Marley Potts than to the Roker area.

Members of the group gave information about themselves as follows;

June: had been a nanny part-time, now not working, Her husband is a milkman

Margaret: had been a shop assistant husband had worked in the shipyards. Both are now unemployed

Mavis: formerly a 'sales supervisor', husband is now a window cleaner.

Patricia: shop assistant. Husband a building labourer.

Barbara: formerly a local government officer. Husband unemployed

Karen: formerly sewing machinist, husband unemployed.

Carol: formerly teacher's help. Husband unemployed.

Roker Group 1

Roker is the intermediate area in terms of affluence and I held two group meetings here. Tenure is mixed in this area but it is predominantly owner occupied, older terraced housing. Women again were generally in a fairly secure economic position with partners working.

Irene: Bank clerk working part time, husband an accountant.

Rita: part time hairdresser. Husband a wholesale hairdresser

Sheila: Had worked in a clothing factory. Husband manual worker for coal merchant.

Penny: Bank clerk on 5-year career break. Husband Assistant Manager retail

Ruth: formerly a sewing factory worker. Husband self-employed builder

Hilary: formerly a computer operator, husband a pharmacist. Had returned to work full time but had been made redundant.

Roker Group 2

Jenny: married with two children working part time as a District Nurse, husband a policeman

Rose: married with one child. Working part time as a clerical worker for the Local Authority husband working for Nissan

Stella: Married, two children, formerly a sewing factory worker, registered sick for the last two years husband at Ikeda Hoover

Leslie: married with two children and had been a nursery assistant but said 'I can't remember the last time I worked'. Husband is a painter and decorator

Jill: married with two children, had been a sewing factory worker but currently registered sick. Husband working offshore on the rigs


Three groups ran in this area. Fulwell is an affluent area of almost entirely owner occupied post war detached and semi-detached housing. Levels of unemployment are low as are other indicators such as take up of free school meals. Group members had partners who held a central position in relation to work.

Dovedale Road

This was the most difficult group to interview because the group took place in a very large and noisy church hall. The acoustics of the Hall meant that the contributions some people made were not recorded and I have therefore quoted only three people.

Group members referred to were;

Clare: a full time mother at present but trained as a teacher and would return to this work when her children went to school. Husband is a clergyman.

Sarah: a former bank clerk whose husband is a Business Management Consultant. Was currently a full time mother but hoped to start her own business as an interior designer.

Elaine: trained as a Beauty Consultant now working part time with one child. Will return to full time work when children are older. Husband runs a small family business.

Community Centre, Fulwell

In this group five women made contributions referred to in the article. As in the other Fulwell groups all had husbands /partners who worked full time.

Brenda: had been a driving instructor before having children but was not currently working

Eve: A sewing factory worker, now a full time mother.

Esther: a full time mother with a teenage child as well as a toddler. Had not worked since before her first child was born.

Jean: a nurse working part time.

Fiona: Young woman with first child, would not return to work until after her second child was of school age.

Monkwearmouth, Mother and Toddler

Alison: full time mother of three children age 7, 4 and 2 years.

Avril: Doing part time night work at sports complex. Mother of two

Doreen: 1 son, not working outside the home

Enid: has one son and works part time for a Travel agent

Frances: two children

Hazel: two children, full time mother

Jennifer: two children, full time mother

Caroline: has two girls said, 'I don't work - not for money anyway' husband in Royal Navy

Judith: has two children, ' I do work full time as a mother

Anne: has two girls and works part time