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The Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy

The Hidden Store - the contributions of older people to rural communities

This report, written by Nick Le Mesurier, Research Fellow at Birmingham University, for Age Concern England, and which formed the basis of a paper presented to the Leveson Centre for the Study of Ageing, Spirituality and Social Policy in June 2003, considers the characteristics of older people in the English countryside and the experience of Age Concern in providing services for and with them. It reviews the literature on older people in rural communities, and finds that, where they are mentioned at all, it is usually between the lines and in the margins of most studies of rural society. This in spite of the fact that the English countryside contains a higher proportion of older people than urban areas, and that many voluntary services which help to maintain social capital in the countryside are run for and by older people themselves.

Age Concern is the largest voluntary organisation working with older people in the countryside. The report draws upon fieldwork with the organisation to discuss the experience of ageing in the countryside. It examines the challenges facing agencies in addressing problems of sparsity and distance, and presents some examples of innovative practice. It focuses particularly on the nature of social capital and its relevance to health, concluding that many voluntary services for older people have benefits that go beyond the immediate welfare of individuals to include the health and welfare of the whole community.

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