We are half way through the project now- Geoff and I have had conversations and workshops with over thirty older people who live in rural north Northumberland. Some live in villages, some live on farms. Many have grown up here, others have moved here for their love of the beautiful area. At the outset, we were anticipating that our conversations would reveal people’s love of the landscape or the sea or the wildlife or the natural world. Some people have articulated that in poetry, prose or just short phrases. Many don’t need to communicate their emotional connection, perhaps, because it’s in their DNA.
‘The Sea? Well I never really think about it. It’s always there. It belongs to you, doesn’t it?’ (Born and Lived in Seahouses for 82 years)
I’m not what you’d call countrified, but I love my Northumberland. I like to walk the lanes between the fields, sit on a bench. (Born in Northumberland 96 years ago)
Although older people’s isolation is highlighted in the press, we also wanted to explore people’s sense of belonging. We have found, as you would expect, mixed responses. To the outsider, an older person living with son or daughter or in residential care would have no reason to feel ‘isolated’. Yet we heard several say ‘There’s no one I connect with here.’
Yet most of the people are not unhappy ‘I can honestly say I’ve never been bored.’
Many lament the change in their local community where everyone knew each other, doors were never locked. Now neighbours don’t speak; the thirty two shops that lined one side of Belford have diminished. Butchers, bakers, sweet shops, drapers replaced with a charity shop, stove shop, mini-supermarket, holiday homes. This is not just nostalgia- it’s the practical reality of changes in social interactions, reduced community connections and limitations in daily living. Decisions that are made with little involvement of older people still living there.