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Across the Tamar: Stories from women in Cornwall

Dr Kitrina Douglas (University of Bristol) and
Dr David Carless (Leeds Metropolitan University

across the tamar:old bus In October 2004 we were commissioned by The Women's Sports Foundation to explore the physical activity experiences and perceptions of older women living in Cornwall. Existing research suggests that many older women live sedentary lives and have expensive healthcare needs and the promotion of physical activity is often justified on these grounds – as a way of reducing illness, and subsequently healthcare expenditure. Along with the Women's Sports Foundation, we questioned, firstly, whether older women in Cornwall were as inactive as research suggests and, secondly, if so, were there important reasons for their inactivity? We believe these questions should be understood fully before health professionals attempt to cajole older women into gym sessions and aerobics groups.
The songs, poems and stories which make up the evening’s performance originated from interviews and focus groups with 29 women and are intended to provide answers to our research questions as well as an alternative perspective on the meaning, value, and place of physical activity in older women’s lives. The strength of songs, poems, and stories to provide these fresh insights is their potential to communicate emotional and personal issues which are often omitted from traditional research reports. As one participant told us, “emotion is part of our lives – we want that to be included.” Through creating and performing these alternative representations, we have come to see that it is only by understanding individual's behaviour and experiences in a broad sense that we can appreciate the big issues which affect women's lives, relationships, health and, therefore, physical activity and inactivity. across the tamar:sign
across the tamar:nose Like any research project the information communicated by the songs, poems, and stories is partial and situated – we cannot tell all the stories nor cover all of the issues. However, we have attempted to give a flavour of some key issues; the pain and the joy, the complexity and the simplicity. Our aim is not to suggest we have all the answers, but rather to share our experiences of coming to know and understand these open and caring women who allowed us into their lives.
Because the songs, poems, and stories are based on research into others’ lives we believe it is especially important to consider the ethical implications of our work. There have been many scientists over the years who have used and abused the subjects of their research, often resulting in unfair portrayals of these people. We believe that an essential element of the research process is giving back to those who give to us – our participants. Alternative representations of research findings, in the form of poems, songs, and stories, are likely to be more accessible to lay audiences than traditional scientific reports. In an effort to allow the participants (and other older women in Cornwall) to experience some benefit from the findings, we chose to perform and discuss the songs and poems with the participants and with other older women. Importantly, this process helped us to be confident that we are providing an accurate, trustworthy and authentic account of these women's lives. The overwhelming and positive feedback from these women has encouraged us to make these alternative representations available to other audiences. across the tamar:postbox
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