Posts Tagged ‘Worcester’

I can’t believe it – it’s over two months since that last post … What’s happened?

Well, we’ve wound down our ethnographic fieldwork in Lancaster. It’s far from finished, but we need to move on … to Worcester. We’re lucky with Lancaster – we both live here, so although over the next seven or eight months we’ll be making frequent trips away – to Worcester, Leicester and Leeds – we’ll also keep coming home, and home is our ‘field’. In fact, Griet will soon be moving into our Lancaster ethnographic neighbourhood, so will be even more fully in the field than she’s been already.

Up until Christmas, Griet continued to do the majority of the ethnographic work with our households in Fairfield and Abraham Heights, whilst I continued conducting go-alongs and household interviews across the broader Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham district. We also started to do more ‘pure’ ethnographic observation. This arose out of a sense that really to understand walking and cycling (which is, after all, a key objective of our research project) we need to spend more time actually watching people engaged in the very doing of these practices.

So, for example, from cafe windows we have been watching how people on foot negotiate urban space. Yes, that’s a poncy way of saying ‘walking’, but simply saying ‘walking’ doesn’t quite capture what it is that people do. If you sit for an hour and watch a section of a pedestrianised city centre, as we have been doing in Lancaster, you start to understand the very different ways in which people move; how people walk alone, in groups, carefully, warily, briskly, boldly … You start to see how many different things people on foot do – talking, goofing around (the school kids, anyway!), texting, and how some people engage in the work of self-presentation as they move – checking their appearance through their reflections in shop windows. And you start to notice all the details which you might otherwise miss – the different ways in which people carry objects, and the range of objects they carry; the different kinds of clothes they wear, and what this might say about how they’ve arrived in the city centre (by car? by bus? by bike? on foot?); people’s footwear, and how this footwear seems to either help or hinder their movement; the different ways in which people deal with rain – using umbrellas, pulling up hoods, donning hats, or doing nothing …

We have also been positioning ourselves at junctions, in order to observe the flows and rhythms of different modes of mobility, as well as to talk to people moving on foot or by bike. We concentrated our ethnographic attention particularly on one junction, at Penny Street Bridge at the southern entry to Lancaster city centre. Under pressure from Cycling England arising from the District’s status as a Cycling Demonstration Town, this junction has recently been reconfigured in an attempt to make it better for people on bikes. Part of our mission was to try to understand how the changes have affected cycling, and – most particularly – whether there’s been any improvement in the experiences of people riding bikes through the junction.

It’s too complex to give any straightforward answer to that, so I’ll not try here (though obviously, I will try somewhere, at some point!), but will instead skip ahead …

Whilst we’ll keep coming back to Lancaster (and to that extent, it’s the roots of our qualitative inquiry), it’s time to move on, and we have … to Worcester. We’d already explored Worcester, and had some meetings with interested people there, last year. But our first ‘proper’ ethnographic foray, due for early January, got postponed by the snow. Griet’s plane back home from Christmas in Belgium was cancelled, as were trains between Lancaster and Birmingham, so we put our first entry into the field on, ermm, ice. We finally got going in Worcester a couple of weeks ago – spending a few days walking and cycling around, and particularly around our ethnographic neighbourhood in the south-west of the city, Lower Wick.

Don’ t worry, I’ve ordered a few more ‘Worcester – walking and cycling’ maps, as this one has now moved well beyond its last legs and into the recycling box.

Lower Wick was developed on an area of orchard land near where the Rivers Teme and Severn meet, at the end of the 1960s. The suburb has a parade of shops, along with a pub – The Maple Leaf – at its centre. (You might think that The Maple Leaf is a strange name for a pub, until you realise that all the street names in this part of Lower Wick have something to do with Canada.)

Starting from a position of almost complete ignorance, we’re very interested to see the mobility patterns among Lower Wick’s residents. Among my assumptions are that the local shops might service many people’s everyday needs, and that St John’s about a mile to the north, across from Worcester city centre on the west side of the River Severn, provides a few more options (such as a large and new Sainsburys), but that Worcester remains the main centre. That said, Lower Wick is located very close to the A4440, which runs around Worcester and provides good links to the M5, so for those with access to cars it’s relatively easy to get out and go elsewhere. And, if you want to go shopping but avoid potential congestion in Worcester city centre, and if you’ve got a car, you might chose to go about five miles south-west to Malvern. But they’re all assumptions, still to be tested. And also, although of course all modes of mobility are connected, we’re interested rather more in walking and cycling than we are in car travel.

One interesting feature of Lower Wick are two particularly long alleyways running through the area. These provide pretty direct walking corridors out of the neighbourhood, towards St John’s. But how do people use and experience them? We’ll be finding out, in the weeks to come.

We saw relatively few people moving around by bike in our three days exploring the area. But currently under construction, and due to be completed this summer, is a walking and cycling bridge over the River Severn at Diglis Bridge, a short distance to the east of Lower Wick. The soon-to-be-completed bridge also forms part of an expanding network of off-road cycling routes, connecting Lower Wick not only to Worcester city centre, but to other parts of the district too. So we’re also interested in the extent to which this improving local walking and cycling infrastructure might impact on people’s everyday mobilities.

So we’re back in Worcester again tomorrow, for another three days of fieldwork. With a video camera this time, so watch out!

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