Research programme

Research programme 2009-12


jolly potter poster The location for this project is the Potteries, North Staffordshire: an area with a long history of heavy industry (ceramics, coal and steel) that, over the past fifty years, has undergone considerable social and economic change and decline. Local cultural institutions have both reflected and reconstructed these changes. In particular, the award-winning New Victoria Theatre pioneered a distinctive form of ‘social documentary theatre’ under artistic director Peter Cheeseman. These documentaries chart social, economic and political changes in the Potteries, reflect the community’s self-image at various points in recent history, and illustrate the roles and positions of different generations within the community.

Through the lens of older people’s recollections and involvements in the Potteries, linked with the social documentary work of the New Victoria Theatre, and from the 1960s to the present day, we aim to answer the following questions:

  1. How has age and ageing been constructed, represented and understood in the Victoria Theatre’s social documentaries from the 1960s to the present day?
  2. How have local older people been involved in the Victoria Theatre as a cultural institution since its creation; what part has it played in constructing individual and community identities; and what role has it had in creating and preserving community memory?
  3. What is the relationship between older people’s involvement in the theatre (as sources for the social documentaries; as volunteers; as ‘actors’; as audience members), and continuing social engagement in later life?
  4. What are the practical and policy implications for involving the theatre, and the arts in general, in promoting active ageing and intergenerational understanding?


photo  The project will run from October 2009 to July 2012. It will employ a mixed method approach organised around three strands: Representation, Recollection and Performance. Strand 1 explores historical representations of ageing through detailed literary and cultural analyses of materials held in the New Victoria Theatre Archive. Strand 2 focuses on recollections and contemporary representations of ageing through qualitative interview work with four groups of people who are now old and were: (i) sources for the Vic's ground-breaking social documentaries; (ii) volunteers with the theatre; (iii) audience members throughout their lives; (iv) actors and others who made their lives in the area and continue to be part of the local community. Material drawn from Strands 1 and 2 will then be used in Strand 3 to work with the Youth Theatre and older people to create a 'new' social documentary performance. The performance, together with an exhibition and a range of associated educational materials and outreach activities, will also be evaluated.


  • A new social documentary performance and associated exhibition
  • Materials and workshops for practitioners, primary and secondary school teachers, and other individuals and organisations wanting to engage in similar work.
  • Policy guidance, briefs and workshops targeted at those responsible for local, regional and national policy-making initiatives designed to improve the quality of older people’s lives and enhance community cohesion.
  • Contributions to knowledge in relation to theory, methodology and the substantive issues addressed by the research.
  • A major conference on the theme of ‘Theatre, Ageing and Community Memory’
  • The training of postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars in interdisciplinary and collaborative ageing research.

Policy implications

The project will be of interest and benefit to a range of individuals, groups and organisations. We anticipate that it will have potential policy and/or practice impacts on:

  • Older people;
  • Professionals working with older and younger people in various settings;
  • Policy-makers working at local, regional and national levels and in voluntary agencies;
  • The academic community.