Uncovering participation in Manchester and Salford: preliminary interview findings

Catherine Bunting discusses the first wave of interviews in Manchester

We completed the first wave of in-depth interviews in Manchester in February and since then we’ve been pouring through the interview transcripts to find out what everyday participation looks like in Broughton and Cheetham Hill and how different forms of participation shape and are shaped by identities, social relationships and ‘place’.

Our interview team recruited participants by posting leaflets with information about the research to houses within a specific geographic area, and knocking on doors to explain more about the interview purpose and process and invite people to take part. We felt that this personal approach would be more effective in reaching a wide range of people than working through a professional recruitment agency, and give us a better chance of engaging people who may not normally participate in research. A total of 22 interviews were carried out; 14 with men and 8 with women, with ages ranging from 18 to 68.

The interviews themselves were long, detailed, exploratory and wide-ranging, covering many aspects of the interviewee’s life from weekly routines to childhood experiences to life trajectories to feelings about the local area. There is a wealth of material to mine and our starting point was to pull out some key themes and observations on participation to share with the project’s national partners at a meeting on 18th March.

The interviews convey a clear and consistent impression of the rhythm of day-to-day leisure. Some activities come up repeatedly: watching TV; having friends over or going to people’s houses; internet, social media and computer games. Shopping, going to the pub and eating out are popular pastimes, and for many people getting a takeaway is a significant weekly ritual. Football is a dominant interest (in this part of Manchester at least and for men in particular) and motivates a great deal of activity from watching matches on TV (at home or in the pub; alone or with friends or family) to going to the stadium to playing football informally in the park.

“Friday, Friday, the most thing I look forward to is a Friday night when I have a takeaway, all my diets go out the window and I have chips and fried rice.” (Male, 50, Broughton)

“I think, to be honest, my most important…aside maybe kids and family, just my personal interest, is go somewhere to relax and watch a football match” (Male, 33, Cheetham Hill)

In addition to this common pattern of relaxation and socialising, many people have their own personal hobbies that they pursue at home, in the local community or out and about in Manchester. Collectively interviewees described a rich range of interests from dressmaking, DIY and photography to cycling, karaoke and craft fairs.

“I do [photography] in the home…if I do outdoors it’s definitely landscape…and then printing them on to canvas and putting them round me home, that sort of thing” (Male, 48, Cheetham Hill)

With the project’s national partners in particular we were interested to explore experiences and perceptions of ‘formal’ culture such as theatre, classical music, museums and galleries. For many interviewees this sort of participation is ‘off the radar’ and not something it would occur to them to do; others expressed a concern about ‘not fitting in’ and were conscious of the class and status dynamics associated with cultural venues.

“…a lot of people round here wouldn’t even think of venturing round Salford Quays, because it’s not them.  They are very working class, they wouldn’t go to Salford Quays.  Salford Quays is for the posh.” (Female, 48, Broughton)

One attendee at the partners’ meeting described the disconnect between ‘formal’ culture and the pattern of day-to-day leisure as something of a ‘wake-up call’, and we discussed a range of ways in which the interviews could be analysed to address particular questions of policy interest, from understanding who the ‘organisers’ of participation are in a particular community to investigating the factors that lead people to intensify or formalise their involvements in activities over the time. So far we have only scratched the surface of the material being generated and we look forward to exploring these and other questions as the research continues.

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