1979 had been a notable year and almost everything that happened to my wife and I over the next 28 years reflected upon 2 important events that occurred. Firstly, my wife was confined to a wheelchair and was immediately referred to the local Day Centre. Secondly, as a result of that referral, I was asked to be a Carer on Social Services’ Quality Improvement programme being developed by Social Services. In consequence doors were opened to various voluntary organisations to include Locality Planning Groups, the Community Health Council and the short-lived Patient Forums. Government interference in locality work was of the kind that only Politicians could contrive and I found myself becoming far too cynical. Local Involvement Networks were definitely not for me! So much time was being wasted and cynicism definitely makes you wonder why you bothered.
As a result of that cynicism, I decided to become a member of The Public Involvement in Research Group (PIRg) at the University of Hertfordshire. My frustration had peaked and the PIRg was recruiting for members in late 2004. The PIRg was an unknown quantity but, it seemed to exist well enough outside the clutches of our Politicians.
The first study I was involved in taught me some valuable lessons in the ways of Researchers and I believe they are now well accustomed to and appreciate our presence as lay people. "We" are still here 10 years on and that must be significant.
The latest project for me to engage with is the Food provision in later life study, which, as you can tell instantly by its name, is about elderly people "food foraging". The subject of food seems to have stimulated considerable interest in the kitchen of most, if not all, female researchers I know if Facebook is anything to go by. Food, Food, Glorious Food! (And if you’re interested and want to get more involved in this project, there will be a facebook page being launched soon- where you will be able to upload your own stories and pictures)
You will be aware by now that Faith & Angela photographed me while I was doing my Sainsburys shop. One abiding memory is that of a stern looking security guard tackling them as he was not happy with what he thought was the purpose of their photography. Angela, trolley laden with camera equipment, explained what we were up to, and that she was only filming me and Faith not other shoppers and an accommodation developed. We then focused once again on the purpose of our visit.
Finding the sources of older people's food buying is important enough but in due time I believe it would be invaluable to establish where produce and ingredients originate from. I grew up in an era of shortages when we were encouraged to "grow your own": To grow the basic foodstuffs. A sack of potatoes would last the winter in my home. Today, with 70 years' progress under our belts, you can now buy potatoes that have been transported long distances, but, then have to used by tomorrow. Furthermore, fruit and vegetables, with strange sounding names, are appearing on supermarket shelves after long trips, but, at least they do not have to have return tickets.
There are so many aspects of food production and marketing that I do not understand but I would like to think that we, as a nation, could revisit basic foods and remind ourselves what we can grow, how we grow them and ensure we do not lose our expertise. A final thought is with regard to the tradition of people producing food on allotments. Some Councils now have their beady eyes fixed on selling such plots for housing.