Louise Ryan reflects on the recent co-authored article,

Ryan, L., Kilkey, M., Lőrinc, M., & Tawodzera, O. (2021). Analysing migrants’ ageing in place as embodied practices of embedding through time: ‘Kilburn is not Kilburn any more’. Population, Space and Place, e2420.

Click here to read the article

Professor Louise Ryan

There is growing attention to how people navigate and make sense of particular places through the ageing process. Against this backdrop, there is increasing research on ageing in contexts of migration. While much of this research focuses on retirement and return migration, comparatively less is known about migrants who remain in the destination society, especially in advanced old age.

In our recent paper, published in the journal Population, Space and Place (2021), we analyse the experiences of three groups of ageing migrants. We draw upon qualitative data gathered during 2018-2019 with older Caribbean, Irish and Polish people. Although less visible in research and policy, these three migrant groups were numerically significant amongst post-war arrivals to Britain and are now reaching advanced older age.

In total, 45 people took part in the interviews over two sites, London and Yorkshire. The average age of our participants was 80 years, with a few in their early 90s.  Most participants arrived in the 1940s-1960s, through different migration routes, largely differentiated by nationality: from Ireland as labour migrants, from the Caribbean as British subjects, many Polish interviewees were World War II refugees; a few arriving through marriage visas.

Passport control at airport

Using the concept of embedding (Ryan and Mulholland, 2015; Ryan, 2018), we analyse migrants’ identifications with and attachment to particular places over time. Drawing on our rich qualitative data, we illustrate the on-going efforts and negotiations of place-making over time. Upon arrival in the post-war era, our participants encountered new places as unfamiliar and unwelcoming. Ethnicity was usually the key marker of difference and even a site of discrimination. Over time, through the life-course, our participants developed strategies and drew upon networks including faith and ethnic associations, to create a sense of belonging. It would be misleading, however, to assume that once this level of belonging had been achieved it could be taken for granted. The concept of embedding highlights the dynamism of belonging and attachments in place, through the life-course. As discussed in this paper, as well as requiring on-going effort over time, embedding may be constrained by material obstacles, relational changes and broader socio-political contexts.

Our interviews took place against the backdrop of Brexit and the ‘Windrush scandal’. These potentially ‘unsettling events’ (Kilkey and Ryan, 2020) raised particular issues for migrants, including long term residents, like our participants, many of whom had secured British citizenship. We argue that feelings of belonging in place may be quite precarious and can be undermined by anti-immigration policies and associated hostility in wider society. Therefore, we contribute to understanding older migrants as active agents in place-making, while also paying attention to changing materialities and symbolic meanings of places through time as well as wider political processes that provoke unsettling events. Our analysis illustrates the dynamism of embedding and the ongoing efforts required to forge belonging and place-attachment through the life-course.

We wish to acknowledge the participants in London and Yorkshire who gave so generously of their time. We are indebted to the many community organisations who supported this research but whom we do not name because of risk of undermining the anonymity of our research participants.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the (UK) Economic and Social Research Council for the Sustainable Care: connecting people and systems programme, Grant reference: ES/P009255/1, 2017-21, Principal Investigator Sue Yeandle, University of Sheffield. We would also like to thank our colleagues at the University of Sheffield, Sue Yeandle and Julie Walsh for their helpful insights on an earlier draft on this paper, as well as the editors and reviewers of Population, Space and Place.

Professor Louise Ryan, FAcSS, formerly of the University of Sheffield, and work package co-leader on Sustainable Care Programme, is now Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities Research Centre at London Metropolitan University.

The research team ‘Care in and out of place – Majella KilkeyLouise RyanMagdolna Lőrinc and Obert Tawodzera – organised a dissemination and networking event in Sheffield on 11 March 2020, hosted in collaboration with the Sustainable Care Programme by Sadacca (Sheffield & District Afro Caribbean Community Association), one of the NGOs we worked with during our research with older migrants.

Read about this event and the research behind it here

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