Social Exclusion and Ageing in Diverse Rural Communities
Baseline Research Study

Social Exclusion and Ageing in Diverse Rural Communities
This project is funded with a grant of €85,000 from the CARDI Call 3 grants programme.Social exclusion involves the lack or denial of rights, resources, goods and services, and a lack of ability or barriers to participate in normal relationships and activities. The intersecting elements of social exclusion, and their concentration in particular places, can impact on social, economic and health lives. However, there has been no research addressing social exclusion among older people living in diverse rural areas in Ireland. Aside from a lack of knowledge around age itself as a mediator of social exclusion, existing research on place typically concentrates on urban areas. Consequently, there is a dearth of knowledge on how rural places can facilitate or protect against social exclusion as people age. Additionally, findings from a cross-border base-line study on ‘Older People in Rural Communities’ conducted by the HARC research network have highlighted the need to understand social exclusion in terms of rural ageing and the diversity of rural communities. In this manner, this study on social exclusion serves as an extended investigation of the initial base-line study and marks a continued effort to address our current lack of understanding (both in Ireland and Northern Ireland) of rural ageing on the island of Ireland. This study aims to develop a framework that will improve understanding of social exclusion among rural older people. By exploring the role of rurality, defined in terms of a locality and social representation, in the construction of social exclusion among ageing adults in Ireland and Northern Ireland the study will assess the implications of such exclusion for health and well-being across diverse rural communities. The core research question is: how do age and rurality combine over the life-course to impact on the likelihood of social exclusion from material resources, social relations, and services in contrasting rural contexts (i.e. village rural, dispersed rural, island rural, remote rural and near-urban rural)? Adopting a qualitative case-study research design, the study will be structured around 6 central objectives:

To explore the meaning of social exclusion for older people in diverse rural settings: village, dispersed, island, remote and near-urban rural communities;
To investigate the relationship between ageing and rurality in the generation of social exclusion across each of the rural settings;
To assess the implications of social exclusion for health and well-being among rural older people living in these settings;
To compare the process of social exclusion in Scottish jurisdictions, thereby identifying similarities, differences and elements of best practice;
To establish a framework for improved understanding of social exclusion among rural older people that emphasises the role of factors relating to place and economic, social and cultural diversity in the construction of social exclusion;
To identify appropriate policy and practice responses to address social exclusion among rural older people.

The advantage of including a comparative dimension with Scotland includes looking at social exclusion processes and policy responses in an equivalent set of rural domains and where the socio-political context commands engagement on matters relevant to rural older people e.g. income, housing, accessibility, health and social care, social and community life, and quality of life.

Baseline Research Study

Information on rural dwelling older people in Ireland and Northern Ireland is sparse. This baseline study will serve as the first step in addressing these information deficits and in facilitating cross-border learning for groups working with and for older people in rural areas across the island of Ireland. The study will centre on a baseline analysis of the experiences of older people living in rural areas across Ireland and will identify projects/organisations that facilitate and empower older people’s contribution to rural communities. The research will also provide an analysis of current policy in this area and identify problematic gaps and potential areas for future development in the existing policy structures.

The methodology will be constructed around four principle components: a context and quantitative component; a qualitative component of three case study sites; a policy component and a feedback and learning component. This methodology will incorporate mixed method techniques and will facilitate a multi-level investigation. The strategy serves as an ecological approach to explore later life in rural areas and will ultimately strengthen the evidence base for analysis and interpretation.

There are a number of challenges associated with growing older in rural communities and while this study will inevitably cover many of these issues, the primary themes of the research will centre on the contribution of older people to rural communities and the sustainability of these communities into the future. There has been some research documented in the volunteering, rural development and rural ageing literatures that is relevant to this work. However, there have been few studies on the contribution of older people to the sustainability of rural places. It is this interaction between contribution and sustainability that is of particular interest and will help to identify the economic, socio-cultural and unpaid participation of older people in rural communities and the role of this participation in maintaining and enhancing such places.

From a philosophical standpoint too, it is worthwhile forming the research objectives/questions around the positive contributions of rural dwelling older people. This is not to say that the challenges, issues and problems that can influence growing older in rural areas will be ignored, but it does mean that we are setting aside notions of ‘burden’ and ‘crisis’ in our approach to this research. The approach is valuable in the context of wanting to facilitate cross-border learning and the empowerment of older people across the island of Ireland.


Conference to Explore Rural Ageing on the Island of Ireland
The Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway will host a seminar on ageing and the recession, in conjunction with the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), Irish Rural Link and the Rural Community Network Northern Ireland. The seminar will take place on Thursday the 9th of December and Friday the 10th of December in the Martin Ryan Institute (Annex) at NUI Galway. As a part of this conference the report on the HARC baseline study (link here), entitled ‘Older People in Rural Communities: Exploring Attachment, Contribution, and Diversity in Rural Ireland and Northern Ireland’, will be launched on Friday the 10th of December. This conference is co-funded by the HARC research network. For further information please click here

HARC Membership Meetings
HARC members will meet each quarter over the year. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss, identify and explore issues and questions surrounding rural healthy ageing across Ireland.

Dissemination Events
HARC dissemination events were focused on bring together academic and stakeholder groups interested in healthy rural ageing. The purpose of these seminars is to explore common themes and differences in growing older in Ireland and Northern Ireland and to disseminate the knowledge and findings of the HARC research network. The seminar dissemination events were integrated with the activities of the baseline project, in the form of a Feedback Forum held with participants of the baseline study, and the conference on rural ageing described above.