Project Scope

The Gay and Pleasant Land? Project is a research project that took place as part of the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme (a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils—ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC) on ageing in 21st Century Britain. Our project at  Bournemouth University is one of the seven projects in The Grey and Pleasant Land? group of projects being funded by the NDA in south west England and Wales.   The Bournemouth project, “Gay and Pleasant Land?—a study about positioning, ageing and gay life in rural South West England and Wales” took place over three years.

Through an exploration of the recollections, perceptions and storied biographies of older lesbians and gay men and their rural experiences, the project focused on connectivity and the intersections between place, space, age and identity.

Connectivity and identity are central concepts within the project, developing an understanding of how sense of belonging may be negotiated within a rural context. Connectivity can be understood as the ways in which individuals identify and connect themselves with others and the ways in which this may be filtered by aspects of their age and sexuality.   Identity and the ways in which older lesbians and gay men choose to disclose their sexuality as part of their identity exerts an influence on the ways in which individuals make connections within the wider community.

The emerging recollections, perceptions and storied biographies of older lesbians and gay men and their rural experiences formed the bulk of the data studied and the basis for story and characterisation in a short professionally made film, Rufus Stone. The project aimed to empower older lesbians and gay men in rural areas through a collaborative multi-method participatory action research design which embraced the principles of a Performative Social Science in its dissemination plan. The main output of these efforts is the  short professionally made film which was made to encourage community dialogue and inform service providers.

The film renders poetically the way in which our memories morph and play with our histories, much as dappled sunlight reveals, then conceals, an idyllic landscape.  Josh Appignanesi, the film’s director, describes Rufus Stone:

Based on social research into the older gay experience in rural south west England and Wales by the Bournemouth University School of Health and Social Care, the story dramatises the old and continued prejudices of village life from three main perspectives. Chiefly it is the story of Rufus, an ‘out’ older gay man who was exiled from the village as a youth and reluctantly returns from London to sell his dead parents’ cottage, where he is forced to confront the faces of his estranged past.  Of these, Abigail is the tattle-tale who ‘outed’ Rufus 50 years ago when he spurned her interest.  She has become  a lonely deluded lush.  Flip, the boy Rufus adored, has also stayed in the village: a life wasted in celibacy (occasionally interrupted by anonymous sexual encounters) and denial (who is) looking after his elderly mother.  But Rufus too isn’t whole, saddled with an inability to return or forgive.