The important role which older people play in rural community development through their various activities has become a substantive area of interest across social science disciplines, including gerontology, sociology, psychology and human geography. Reflecting the demographic shift of an ageing countryside within many parts of the global north, the future of rural social policy initiatives will increasingly depend on a nuanced appreciation of the social and voluntary activities undertaken by the growing older population. We seek to expand this focus to consider the social value of these practices for both the individual and the particular communities of which they are a part, and make a case for 'serious leisure theory' (Stebbins 1982) as a potentially rich seam for exploring these relations. This is put into practice through a case study involving the over 60s residents of a village in rural Wales, and through in-depth interviews we draw attention to their role in securing socio-economic sustainability in the locality through voluntary, hobby-based and amateur pursuits. In conclusion, we consider the analytical merits and limitations of serious leisure theory and, more broadly, the implications of the political fashioning of community-engaged older people as exemplar public citizens in the context of ongoing neoliberal welfare reforms.
Published: February 2013