Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003


Thomas Scharf, Chris Phillipson and Allison Smith (2003) 'Older Peopleís Perceptions of the Neighbourhood: Evidence from Socially Deprived Urban Areas'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 4, <>

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Received: 17/11/2003      Accepted: 17/11/2003      Published: 28/11/2003


Neighbourhoods contribute significantly to shaping their residents' identities. For older people, the neighbourhood may be even more important than for younger people. Ageing can be associated with an intensification of feelings about locality and space, and the neighbourhood may contribute significantly to older people's quality of daily life. Within the context of a study that examines the concerns of older people living in areas of England characterised by intense social deprivation, the article explores perceptions of the local environment. Findings are reported from an empirical study conducted in nine socially deprived neighbourhoods across three cities. Data collection consisted of a survey of 600 people aged 60 and over, and in-depth interviews with 130 people of the same age group. The article focuses on older people's views in relation to both positive and negative aspects of their local environment. It concludes with a discussion of three key themes: first, the question of older peopleís attachment to their neighbourhood; second, the issue of variation between areas; and third, the impact of place on the quality of older people's daily life.

Deprivation; Neighbourhood; Older People; Social Exclusion; Urban Areas


Analyses of the ways in which social exclusion can affect particular groups of people and certain types of geographic location represents a central theme in contemporary social policy debates (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998; 2001). However, while the focus on social exclusion has been useful in extending current understanding of the ways in which people and places can become increasingly prone to marginalisation within society, there are important limitations to these debates. This article addresses the situation of older people - a group that is frequently overlooked in academic and policy research on social exclusion. While the risk of exclusion experienced by children and people of working age has been a consistent feature of both policy and academic debates in Britain since the late 1990s (Lupton, 2001; Hills et al., 2002), much less is known about the conditions of social exclusion faced by older people, or the processes that lead to such exclusion.

The article's particular focus is upon aspects of the situation of older people who live in socially deprived urban neighbourhoods. It develops a number of ideas that link contemporary debates about the area-base of social exclusion with central concerns of social and environmental gerontology. Alongside a need to consider further such themes as poverty and deprivation, and the nature of older people's participation in social roles that reach beyond paid employment, earlier research suggests a need for greater awareness of the links between ageing, social exclusion and aspects of spatial segregation in urban areas (Scharf et al., 2001). According to Madanipour et al. (1998: 81):
Space has (...) a major role in the integration or segregation of urban society. It is a manifestation of social relationships, while affecting and shaping the geometries of these relationships. This leads to the argument that social exclusion cannot be studied without also looking at spatial segregation and exclusion. Social cohesion or exclusion, therefore, are indeed socio-spatial phenomena....

The importance of the spatial dimension of social exclusion has been recognised in current government policy efforts designed to regenerate England's declining urban areas (Social Exclusion Unit, 2001), and a range of regeneration initiatives reflect widespread concern about the economic and social costs associated with the growing polarisation between Britain's poorest neighbourhoods and the 'mainstream' of society (Glennerster, et al., 1999; Hills, 1998; Lupton, 2001). However, older people have largely been invisible in relation this aspect of public policy (Riseborough & Sribjlanin, 2000). This oversight is surprising, given the significance attributed to the neighbourhood in research on ageing and older people. Two themes can be highlighted in this regard. The first concerns the role played by the local residential environment in shaping the identities of those who reside in them. As noted by Marcuse (1996: 197):
Neighbourhood has become more than a source of security, the base of a supportive network, as it has long been: it has become a source of identity, a definition of who a person is and where he or she belongs in society.

For several reasons, the neighbourhood may represent a more important element of older people's sense of identity than would be the case for younger people. Many older people will have spent a substantial period of their lives in a particular neighbourhood, deriving a strong sense of emotional investment both in their home and in the surrounding community (Young & Willmott, 1957; Phillipson et al., 2001). But the role of the neighbourhood in shaping identity cannot be attributed to length of residence alone. In his pioneering study of environmental aspects of ageing, Rowles (1978: 200) made the point that:
Selective intensification of feelings about spaces may be far more than merely the coincidental outcome of lengthy residence in a single setting. It is postulated that it represents a universal strategy employed by older people to facilitate maintaining a sense of identity within a changing environment.

More recently, Rowles & Ravdal (2002: 87) have taken this idea forward, suggesting that the 'selective and repeated mental reconstruction and maintenance of these places in consciousness ... provides a sense of reinforcement of the self.'

The degree to which it is possible mentally to reconstruct and maintain a place in consciousness is made potentially more difficult by residence in a rapidly changing urban neighbourhood. Despite a frequently expressed wish to live alongside people with similar attributes and a shared history (Cattell & Evans, 1999), in most urban areas, older people's desire for 'sameness' may be difficult to realise. This applies in particular to 'zones of transition' that thrive on a rapid turnover of people and buildings, or to so-called 'non-viable' estates - those unpopular urban neighbourhoods characterised by low housing demand and the subsequent abandonment of housing by all but the very poorest or least mobile residents (Power, 2000: 12). It is also clear that older people can be highly selective in how they view the consequences of profound urban change, and this can often translate into negatively charged perceptions about those around them. Potentially, this could also result in dissatisfaction with the neighbourhood, as demonstrated by Burrows and Rhodes (1998) in their study Unpopular Places. An outcome of such perceptions of the neighbourhood could be that older people living in deprived areas may experience difficulty in maintaining their sense of identity.

A second major theme in relation to the role of neighbourhood and its impact on ageing encompasses older people's quality of life (Smith, 2000). The potential here for a negative impact on well being is likely to be greater in neighbourhoods characterised by poverty and intense levels of social deprivation. Such neighbourhoods may be prone to the loss of a range of services and amenities that older people regard as important for meeting their day-to-day needs (Scharf et al., 2001). Older people may also find their life quality diminished by a perceived vulnerability to both the personal and property crimes that characterise many socially deprived neighbourhoods. The experience of crime and the fear of becoming a victim of crime can act as barriers to the maintenance of a 'normal' daily life for many older people (Scharf et al., 2002). As a result, older people may be less likely - in for example inner city areas - to leave their homes after dark (Raphael et al., 1999; Phillipson et al., 2001). This type of limitation was summed up in the following way by a participant in a discussion group conducted as part of the research being reported upon here, who commented that: 'Quality of life ends at half past six. Once it's half past six pensioners don't want to go out'.

Equally, there are also parts of some neighbourhoods, such as parks and cemeteries, that are effectively out of bounds to some older people, even during daylight hours (Scharf et al., 2001). These experiences are compounded by health problems, with disability and long-term illness placing limits on the extent to which older people can move beyond their immediate community. Where neighbourhoods are threatened through depopulation and urban decay there may also be significant repercussions for the quality of people's lives (Rogers & Power, 2000).

Within this context, it becomes important to explore the older people's perceptions of their neighbourhood. Such views are likely to influence individuals' ability to maintain their sense of identity, and they are also likely to contribute to the quality of their daily lives. The research reported upon here examines these issues by focusing on the situation of older people living in areas characterised by acute social deprivation.

* Methodology

This analysis of older people's perceptions of their neighbourhood represents part of a broader study of social exclusion and quality of life in socially deprived urban areas of three English cities. The paper reports findings from an empirical study of older residents of nine electoral wards in Liverpool, Manchester and the London Borough of Newham. The study areas were: Clubmoor, Granby and Pirrie in Liverpool; Cheetham, Longsight and Moss Side in Manchester; and Park, Plashet and St Stephens in Newham. These were selected on the basis of their low ranking in the 1998 Index of Local Deprivation (DETR, 1998). While the areas vary in relation to their proximity to their respective city centres, local socio-economic structure and population profile, they share a range of characteristics associated with intense urban deprivation. This includes, for example: above average rates of unemployment; relatively poor housing conditions; a steady loss of services, such as shops and banks; and a high incidence of crime (Social Exclusion Unit, 1998).

Two main phases of data collection took place. The first phase consisted of a questionnaire survey of older people. Following piloting, trained interviewers conducted face-to-face interviews with 600 people aged 60 and over. Recruitment of participants occurred in two ways. A first group was randomly selected through local electoral registers using a coding classification that assigns people to age bands according to the likelihood that their first name belongs to a particular birth cohort. 501 respondents were recruited in this way (response rate - 42 per cent). A second group was recruited from the largest minority ethnic group in each electoral ward, drawing on relevant community organisations and researchers' local contacts. The aim was to generate a sufficiently large sample from each group to facilitate statistical analysis. Ninety-nine older people from four different minority groups (Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, and Somali) were recruited. Interviews were undertaken by members of the research team, or by interviewers recruited from the relevant minority groups in the language of respondents' choice. Variation in the number of interviews with older people belonging to minority groups accounts for the different sample sizes in each study area. The number of respondents in each city ranged from 188 in Newham to 206 in Liverpool and Manchester. Between 55 and 95 interviews were undertaken in each ward.

The second phase of data collection comprised 130 semi-structured interviews with people aged 60 and over. Ninety interviews were undertaken with people who had previously taken part in the survey, and had consented to be contacted again. Further interviews were undertaken with 20 older Somali people in Liverpool and 20 older Pakistani people in Manchester. The in-depth interviews explored such issues as: older people's perceptions of the neighbourhood; their experiences of daily life; and the types of social relationships in which older people were engaged.

Analysis of survey data has proceeded using SPSS. In-depth interviews were transcribed, where necessary translated, checked and cleaned. Coding and analysis has been undertaken using Winmax software. For the purposes of this article, the analysis concentrates on data collected in both the survey and in-depth interviews pertaining to older people's views of their neighbourhood. In this respect, it is useful to summarise the approach adopted here to examining 'neighbourhoods'. While the study areas were defined in relation to administrative boundaries (electoral wards), such geographical units are often meaningless to local residents. To address this point, the survey invited respondents to identify what they perceived their neighbourhood to be. For the nine wards, this generated 47 names that older people felt described their neighbourhood. For example, in Pirrie (Liverpool), people variously described their neighbourhood as being: Norris Green; Walton; West Derby; Anfield; Aintree; or Fazakerly. Not one person mentioned the name Pirrie. Subsequent questions related to the neighbourhood that respondents identified with.

* Findings

Neighbourhood likes

The first issue to be considered here concerns people's likes and dislikes about their neighbourhood. Older people were asked the following question: 'Thinking about this neighbourhood, is there anything you particularly like about living here?' People who answered this question positively, were then asked to identify - in an open-ended response - what it was that they liked about the neighbourhood. Overall, three-quarters of respondents (75 per cent) could identify at least one positive feature of their neighbourhood (Table 1). The expression of positive views about the neighbourhood was not linked to respondents' age, sex or ethnic background. There was also little geographic variation in such perceptions. The proportion identifying things that they liked about the neighbourhood ranged from 72 per cent of respondents in Manchester to 79 per cent in Liverpool. There was greater variation between responses at ward (neighbourhood) level. However, this variation was not statistically significant.

Table 1. Older people identifying positive aspects of their neighbourhood

In Pirrie (Liverpool) and Moss Side (Manchester), more than four-fifths of people could identify positive features of their neighbourhood. In Cheetham (Manchester) the proportion was less than two-thirds. Interestingly, these findings are consistent with those of a comparable earlier study. When analysing older people's experience of community life in three urban areas on the basis of an identical question, Phillipson et al. (1999: 723f.) found that 79 per cent of older people could find something to like about their neighbourhood. In that study, however, there was greater variation in responses between areas, ranging from 87 per cent in Woodford (a predominantly middle-class community in Essex) to 65 per cent in Bethnal Green (an ethnically-diverse area in inner London).

The features of the neighbourhood regarded as positive by our respondents were broadly similar across the study areas. Multiple coding of open-ended responses identified three main sources of older people's positive perceptions. More than half (53 per cent) of people who could identify something that they liked about their neighbourhood commented on the presence of good neighbours, friends and family. The local availability of, and access to, amenities was ranked second, with 42 per cent of people identifying this as a positive feature of their neighbourhood. Also important for almost one- quarter (24 per cent) of respondents were positive descriptions of their local area. Data from the in-depth interviews can be used to illustrate these points, and to draw attention to variations in perceptions across neighbourhoods.

In all areas, older people commented positively on the general 'friendliness' of their neighbourhood and the presence of good neighbours, along with proximate family and friends. Such references were most common in the two Liverpool wards of Granby and Pirrie, where respectively 69 per cent and 65 per cent of respondents identified local people as being something that they liked about their neighbourhood. In two Newham wards, the proportion of people commenting favourably on this aspect of the neighbourhood was somewhat lower. Only 41 per cent of respondents in Park and 43 per cent in St Stephens identified such social relationships as being something that they liked about their neighbourhood. Typical comments relating to this theme included:
'[T]he neighbours are good. You know, the chap over the road takes my bin out if I'm not there and brings it back for me. I've seen him this morning, talked to him. And the lady next door - if I'm going to Asda or anywhere and I'll be late, she keeps .... We've all got keys.' (79-year-old white woman, Pirrie)
'The good thing about living here, I would say, is that there is a Pakistani community here. So you can easily make friends with neighbours and community members.' (Pakistani man, Longsight)
'I went out shopping this morning along the bungalows, and a lady was coming along and she said 'good morning'. And I've never seen her before in my life. People are friendly. The majority of them are.' (81-year-old white woman, Plashet)

Good access to shops and amenities also featured prominently as characteristics of the neighbourhood that older people liked. Here too there was variation across the study areas. More than half of respondents in St Stephens (53 per cent), Pirrie (52 per cent) and Plashet (51 per cent) perceived their neighbourhood as having good access to such services. This aspect of the neighbourhood was mentioned rather less frequently in Park (28 per cent) and Moss Side (30 per cent). Typical comments included:
'[E]verything's here. It's really convenient, you know. Everything's not very far away. I mean, it'd be different, say, if you lived in a country place. It might be, I don't know.... But here, as I say, it's only 10 minutes walk from here to the Post Office and you can get all the services you want there.' (84-year-old white man, Granby)
'I find that Stratford is good because I can walk to Stratford, do my shopping, walk home and don't have to worry about buses. I can get to Ilford from here. I can get to Romford from here. And if you're aged you get a bus pass in Newham. You don't get it everywhere. And yeah, I think, you know, we've got the Theatre Royal which they're doing up. We've got a cinema. The station is quite near; you can get to most anywhere from Stratford Station. I like living here.' (65-year-old white woman, Park)
'It's good, in the sense that you have all your shops here and the mosque is nearby. You are also with your own people. But then again, I don't know any different. But the main thing is that there are mosques nearby.' (Pakistani woman, Longsight)

The third most important category of responses to this question encompassed general descriptions of the neighbourhood. Around two-fifths of respondents in Clubmoor (41 per cent) and Park (39 per cent) described particular features of the neighbourhood that they liked. This contrasted, markedly, with responses in other areas. In St Stephens and Cheetham, respectively, 11 per cent and 13 per cent of people identifying something that they liked about their neighbourhood commented favourably on the way their neighbourhood looked. Given popular perceptions of socially deprived urban areas, a surprising number of older people commented, very favourably, on the orderliness and apparent peace and quiet of their neighbourhood:
'This area's very clean. For example, I don't know whether you noticed it, but down there they have a few bins and there's always ... every day there's a man goes along sweeping up.' (66-year-old white man, Park)
'I've no problems, if that's what you mean, you know. I don't have noisy neighbours. I don't have noisy kids. It's pretty tranquil down here, you know. They call it sleepy valley, actually.' (72-year-old white man, Longsight)
'Compared to other areas in Liverpool, I mean, Toxteth gets a terrible name. But it's quite quiet. It's quite good. I mean, we've got no problems with violence - it's just that ... Well we just don't go out of a night - that's all.' (63-year-old white man, Granby)

Finally, when commenting on the aspects of their neighbourhood that they liked, the positive perceptions held by some older people appeared to be influenced by their negative views about other local areas or streets. In this regard, several people commented on the absence in their immediate neighbourhood of a range of potential social problems:
'I mean, I go to them [community safety] meetings, so I know there's virtually no crime, not on this estate. We have a problem across the road - but here, no we don't. No, it's quite good here. So I like everything really.' (65-year-old white woman, Cheetham)
'The neighbourhood is quite good. No stealing, no pickpockets, no breaking and entering.' (64 year-old Black African man, Park)
'I mean, it's [local area], had a very, very bad name. But it's not as bad as they've pictured it, you know. That's the way they put it like, you know. I wouldn't live up there [neighbouring area], you know, it's bad. But I mean you can leave your car here.' (67-year-old white man, Granby)

Neighbourhood dislikes

In a second question, older people were asked if they could identify something that they disliked about their neighbourhood (Table 2). Again, for those answering positively, an open-ended question invited respondents to specify the nature of their dislikes. Overall, 59 per cent of respondents reported at least one dislike - a figure substantially lower than the three-quarters who could identify things that they liked about the neighbourhood. There was a much more pronounced variability of responses to this question, across geographical areas, than for the previous question. The proportion of people identifying dislikes ranged from 67 per cent in Liverpool to 49 per cent in Manchester (p<0.001). At ward level, variations in response were statistically significant at the highest level (p<0.0001). The two Manchester wards of Longsight and Cheetham stand out as having particularly low proportions of people identifying negative features of the neighbourhood - less than two-fifths in each case. In the three Liverpool wards, in Moss Side in Manchester and St Stephens in Newham, the respective proportions were two-thirds or more. These results can also be directly compared with data from an earlier survey reported by Phillipson et al. (1999). In that study, 52 per cent of older respondents highlighted some aspect of the neighbourhood that concerned them. This proportion also varied significantly between areas, ranging from 64 per cent of people in Bethnal Green to 46 per cent in Woodford and 48 per cent in Wolverhampton (Phillipson et al., 1999: 724f.).

Table 2. Older people identifying negative aspects of their neighbourhood

In the current study, there was no significant difference in responses to this question according to the respondents' sex or age. However, ethnic background significantly affected the degree to which concerns were expressed here about aspects of the neighbourhood. Relatively low proportions of people of Black Caribbean (48 per cent), and especially of Indian or Pakistani origin (24 per cent in each case) identified dislikes. By contrast, older Somali people - all of whom were living in the Granby area of Liverpool - were most likely to identify something that they disliked about their neighbourhood. Of the 39 Somali people interviewed, 32 (82 per cent) were concerned with at least one feature of their area. Respondents identifying themselves as 'white' were also more prone (63 per cent) to highlight a dislike than those belonging to other ethnic groups.

Responses to the open-ended question revealed variations in the nature of older people's dislikes across the study areas. Three key themes emerge as important. Of those who identified something that they disliked about their neighbourhood, 42 per cent commented negatively on the general appearance of their area, 39 per cent mentioned the presence or behaviour of other people, and a further 39 per cent pointed to the existence of a range of social problems in their area. Relatively few people (nine per cent) made reference to the absence of local amenities or services.

Negative descriptions of the local area and references to the way in which the neighbourhood had been perceived to have declined in recent years figure prominently in older people's perception of things that they dislike about their neighbourhood. Interviews were marked by respondents' often strongly held views in relation to the general dilapidation and decline of the local area, the apparent lack of maintenance of buildings and public spaces, and environmental problems, such as traffic noise. The survey indicated some variation across the study areas in respect of the proportions of respondents identifying such features of the neighbourhood as dislikes, but this variation was not statistically significant. More than half of respondents in St Stephens (56 per cent), Longsight (56 per cent) and Park (51 per cent) identified such dislikes, compared with one third in Cheetham and Pirrie. Typical comments included:
'The neighbourhood is in a real bad state. It looks awful and run down.' (Pakistani woman, Longsight)
'There are rodents, rats running around because of the empty houses, empty properties. We found rats roaming around [inside the house] and we called the council. ... These houses are too old and need to be demolished.' (Somali man, Granby)
'Well, the general appearance of the estate has deteriorated. Broken lamp standards and empty property.' (68-year-old white man, Cheetham)
'The streets are untidy. Well I was walking along this morning and I thought: "Filthy." All the bits and pieces in the road. And yet I saw the road sweeper across the road as I was going out. Oh it is dirty! It has really gone downhill, I think.' (81-year-old white woman, Plashet)

A second category of respondents' dislikes identifies other residents of the neighbourhood as being in some way problematic. In the survey, individuals mentioned a broad range of problematic groups and individuals, including neighbours, people belonging to other ethnic groups, young people, students, drug addicts, and beggars. Differing perceptions of the particular social groups or individuals who were viewed as problematic accounted for significant variation in responses between neighbourhoods. For example, young people, especially those involved in drug-related activities, were of greatest concern to older residents in Liverpool. In Manchester, it was the presence of students that was often of more concern:
'Well, I used to take the dog for walks of a night. But there's that many kids around here. They're terrible the youths. They're not nice.' (63-year-old white woman, Clubmoor)
'Basically, I can only describe this area as an area that has been forgotten by the authority. It is an area where there are a lot of drugs and violence, and it seems the situation is getting worse in terms of drug dealing and also violence.' (Somali man, Granby)
'Because they don't own the property, they're not careful to make sure it looks good. So the gardens are neglected, the front curtains are, you know, not as they should be. ... It does kind of lower the appearance with the curtains not hanging right and ... the gardens not tidy and the fronts not swept, you know. So in that respect it makes the area look cheap and, you know - but it's just because the students... Well, to be honest, they probably don't even have time, but they don't even think of it anyway. They ... just open the door, go in and that's it and what's out the front doesn't matter, you know. They don't sweep the front or anything, you know.' (62-year-old Black Caribbean woman, Moss Side)

Negative references to people belonging to ethnic minority groups were taken as a separate, albeit related, category in our analysis. Sixteen per cent of people who could identify something that they disliked about their area made such comments. Though isolated comments of this type occurred in almost all areas, the proportions were highest in Newham, where 37 per cent of respondents identifying a dislike commented on the presence of people from minority ethnic groups. In St Stephens, almost half of those expressing a concern about the neighbourhood (49 per cent) made reference to people from ethnic minorities:
'Nearly all my white neighbours have gone. There aren't many of us [white people] down here now because they're nearly all Asians and what have you. All right, some of them are quite nice - some of them. I speak to them and I'm sociable to them, but you still feel as if you're being taken over, you know.' (75 year-old white woman, St Stephens).
'It's too many ethnics, I think. It's overdone. I'm not a racist, but I think it's too far, especially with the Borough. I mean, you couldn't complain about any ethnics - you'd just be evicted from your house if you started that sort of thing. But I mean it's wherever you go. I mean, you go to the council offices - they're ethnics. You go to the doctors - they're ethnics. They're all behind every desk and behind every counter round here. I mean, it's a bit much. The hospital's the same ... I mean they're all, you know, West Indians, Pakis or what have you. It's too much all at once, I think.' (85-year-old white man, St Stephens)

A third category of older people's dislikes encompasses a range of perceived social problems in the neighbourhood. In particular, frequent references were made to the incidence of various types of crimes and forms of anti-social behaviour. Such comments figured most prominently in people's responses in Granby (in Liverpool) where 58 per cent of respondents identifying dislikes referred to one or more social problem. These concerns were frequently expressed by older Somali residents in Granby, who often raised issues about drugs and crime. Such comments also accounted for a high proportion of dislikes in the three Manchester wards of Cheetham, Longsight and Moss Side where, in each case, 48 per cent of those identifying dislikes referred to a range of social problems. Typical comments included:
'[I]t is not safe if you leave your house. It might get broken in. In the early days, you used to able to go to the sea - six months, seven months - and you would leave your house empty and it will remain safe. I mean if you leave for half an hour now, you might come back and see they burgled the house.' (Somali man, Granby)
'The bad thing is that crime that is occurring in this area and ... You know that there was recently a shooting in the area too? It frightens me to think that my children will grow up in this kind of life. There is nothing for them here.' (Pakistani man, Longsight)
'There is so much vandalism in the area. I mean to say the bus shelters, at all the bus stops - they are forever coming down and putting new glass in. Because they are smashed, night after night, after night.' (73-year-old white woman, Plashet)

In many people's responses - especially those of long-term residents - contemporary aspects of the local neighbourhood were compared unfavourably with earlier times. This reflects in part the difficulties faced by some older people in coming to terms with the consequences of profound urban change. People who have developed a strong attachment to their neighbourhood as a result of long-term residence may find such change traumatic (Rowles & Ravdal, 2002: 84). In our study, the (physical and mental) space that - in Rowles' (1978: 158) terms - some older people had previously 'possessed' had since been lost. At times this perception could be associated directly with the loss of neighbours and friends (either through death or migration). On occasion, people commented on the absence of people of similar age:
'You see, most of the people of my age now they're either dead or moved away. And the young people that are coming up now, they're not a bit sociable, because it's like the older people are in their way. They have no respect for us, no regard. Very few, you know. They're rude and obnoxious and even if you see them doing anything, no matter how young they are, and if you see them doing something that you think is not right you daren't speak to them because they'll give you a mouthful you know so .... They'll even throw bricks and stones at you, so it's best to leave them alone.' (69-year-old Black Caribbean woman, Moss Side)
'It has deteriorated a lot round here. Neighbours never speak.' (85-year-old white man, St Stephens)
'There used to be a sort of a clutch of people that felt as if they belonged. They'd worked together to keep the street clean or ... if you seen anybody else's bin at night, you'd push it through the gate and things like that, you know. And anybody in trouble, you'd go to see. But there's not that many people you know so well now because the whole ... population has changed. I mean this whole side of that road, down there, is all new people, and we speak to them and they're very nice - but we don't know them.' (65-year-old white woman, Cheetham).
'That's why we don't know anyone, because they're coming and going. They change. They're just hopping from one house to another and we don't really know a lot of people in the street now. As I say, we've lived here 38 years. But they're in transit aren't they? They just live there, then go.' (63-year-old white man, Granby).

Drawing on Rowles (1978: 200), it could be argued that older people holding such views about neighbourhood change may experience difficulty in maintaining their sense of identity. However, it should also be noted that the ideas expressed by older people in this study have a long and healthy tradition in community studies of ageing in urban areas. Population turnover, one of the key characteristics associated especially with 'zones of transition', traditionally tends to be regarded unfavourably by older people. Townsend (1963: 149), commenting upon older people's views of neighbourhood change in Bethnal Green in the 1950s, essentially makes the same point:
Neighbours moved away or died and newcomers 'don't want to have anything to do with old people.' They talk to you in the street but they shun you. You can notice it. People just don't seem to be so friendly. These youngsters have got no time for old people. People bemoaned the loss of familiar faces.

The range of neighbourhood views

Whatever the precise nature of the views reported, it can be argued that the expression of positive and/or negative views about the neighbourhood indicates a sense of older people's attachment to a particular locality. The extent of this attachment can be further illustrated by examining the proportions of respondents displaying diverse views about the neighbourhood (Table 3). By combining responses to the two questions examined above, people can be placed into one of four categories: those expressing only positive views about the neighbourhood, those expressing only negative views, those expressing both positive and negative views, and those who express neither positive nor negative views.

Table 3. Older people's expression of likes and dislikes about the neighbourhood

Overall, the proportion of people expressing only positive perceptions of the neighbourhood (35 per cent) was almost double that of those voicing only negative views (18 per cent). The majority of respondents (41 per cent) highlighted both positive and negative features of their local neighbourhood. By contrast, relatively few people could be deemed 'indifferent' to their neighbourhood. Just 7 per cent of those interviewed failed to identify either something that they liked or something that they disliked. These proportions varied significantly at the level of the three local authorities (p<0.001). In Liverpool, above average proportions of respondents identified both likes and dislikes, while significantly fewer people expressed neither likes nor dislikes. In Manchester, there were higher proportions of people expressing only likes, while the number expressing neither likes nor dislikes was almost double the average for the three cities (12 per cent).

Though data at ward level need to be treated with caution as a result of low expected cell counts, there is further evidence of significant variation between neighbourhoods (p<0.0001). More than two-fifths of respondents in both Longsight and Cheetham expressed only likes (48 per cent and 41 per cent respectively). The same wards accounted for the highest proportions of those indifferent to their surroundings - those expressing neither likes nor dislikes (20 per cent in Cheetham and 13 per cent in Longsight). In Clubmoor, Granby, Plashet and St Stephens the proportion of people expressing only dislikes was just over one-fifth (21 per cent in each ward). The expression of likes and dislikes did not significantly vary according to respondents' sex or age. However, older people's ethnic background appeared to have an impact in terms of the degree of attachment displayed towards the neighbourhood. Older people of Black Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani origin were much more likely to express only likes than did white or Somali respondents. By contrast, the expression only of concerns about the neighbourhood was much more pronounced amongst white respondents than people belonging to other groups.

* Conclusion

Evidence about inequality and segregation within and between urban areas has been routinely identified in government, as well as academic, reports. The Social Exclusion Unit (2001: 12), for example, highlights the fact that: 'in the ten per cent most deprived wards [in England] in 1998, 44 per cent lived on means tested benefits compared with a national average of 22 per cent'. Glennerster et al. (1999) identify 'clusters' of poor communities, these forming wider areas of poverty in large cities, and Richard Berthoud (2001), whilst arguing from his analysis of the Family Resources Survey that all areas contain 'a microcosm of the income distribution', nonetheless finds that 'area variations are real and significant'. But more research needs to be carried out on the experiences of older people living in areas of concentrated poverty. The current study was conducted in some of England's most deprived wards so it offers important data on this front. By linking central themes of current debates on the area-base of social exclusion with those from social and environmental gerontology, it is possible to identify three themes that warrant further attention. These relate to the question of older people's attachment to their neighbourhood, the issue of variation between areas, and, finally, the impact of place on the quality of older people's daily life.

On the first of these questions, the analysis supports the findings of earlier studies concerning the enduring importance of community to older people (Young & Willmott, 1957; Phillipson et al., 2001). The data presented here point to the existence of close attachments between older people and the places in which they live. Our research clearly demonstrates the presence of such an attachment in some of England's most socially deprived urban neighbourhoods. Evidence of the strength of older people's attachment to place can be found in the expression of both positive and negative views about the local neighbourhood. Many older people were highly positive about the community in which they live, and only a small minority appeared indifferent to their surroundings.

Of course, the negative views expressed are extremely important, and certainly (as we have noted) more common in some areas than in others. But such feelings (often expressed with considerable force by older residents) also reflect the considerable investment people have made in their locality, and their sense of frustration that the changes affecting their neighbourhoods seemed beyond their control. For those involved in urban regeneration schemes, there may be lessons here in how to harness this commitment to place, and for thinking about how best to redirect negative views towards constructive work around community redevelopment. The long-standing commitment of many older people to their communities - in part reflecting a need to maintain a sense of identity in a changing urban environment - suggests that there is considerable scope for involving this group in different aspects of community redevelopment. Older people, potentially, have much to offer in this respect, as well as a stake in ensuring that urban regeneration delivers enduring benefits to the community as a whole.

The second issue concerns the reported variations when comparing experiences and views from different geographic locations. Future analysis in this research will focus on identifying some of the reasons behind such variations. Despite similarities in the themes identified as sources of positive and negative perceptions across the different cities and wards, the research also showed that local conditions can vary greatly between economically deprived communities. This is significant insofar as it raises the issue of whether a mix of local variables (for example those associated with community-based social networks) can influence how people experience change within their area. Alternatively, industrial and economic factors may vary in how they are expressed within localities and in terms of their outcomes for older people. Whatever the factors involved, our research suggests that older people are highly sensitive to the changes around them, an aspect which may have become more pronounced given the greater 'geographical concentration' of poverty (Glennerster, et al., 1999).

Also, when exploring variations in respondents' views, we found that the variations across areas did not appear to be significantly related to factors such as age and sex. By contrast, older people's ethnic background had a more important influence on perceptions of the neighbourhood. In terms of policy, this raises a difficulty insofar as account has to be taken of the ethnically mediated, highly divergent views on positive features of the local area - and on the nature of social problems.

Finally, our research underlines the value of taking account of place and locality when exploring quality of life issues in old age. In this context, Powell et al. (2001: 247) draw out an important distinction between 'people poverty' and 'place poverty': '[The former] ...occurs where low-income people occupy certain parts of a city by virtue of their low income, but their money incomes are not low because of where they live. On the other hand, place poverty emerges when other benefits or penalties compound the advantages or disadvantages of particular groups by virtue of where they live'. Following this, much more needs to be known about how place-related inequalities influence daily life in old age. This type of deprivation will be related directly to welfare provision in various forms (e.g. social housing, health and social care services), modification of which could be open to different types of community intervention, including contributions from older people themselves.

To conclude, the issues discussed in this article point to an important research and policy agenda arising from the focus on neighbourhood and locality. The former concerns the need to develop research that explores the interaction between structural processes, and the way these are shaped and influenced by local communities. The latter reflects the need to insert issues affecting older people within policies concerned with combating area-based social exclusion.


The authors wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Economic and Social Research Council's Growing Older Programme (Grant No. L480254022). We are also grateful to Paul Kingston for his contribution to the research described in this article.


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