Wellbeing, Support Networks and Expertise on the Seacroft Council Estate, Leeds, 1950s-90s

Project Details


The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a transformation in the homes, health and wellbeing of British working-class communities. The establishment of the Welfare State and the NHS led to an optimism about the ability of the state to end poverty and ill health, and council houses were constructed on an unprecedented scale, significantly widening access to high-quality housing. Many of these new homes were on large suburban council estates. Yet, in the following decades contemporary commentary about these communities was often critical. There was a concern in the 1950s-60s that suburbanisation had destroyed 'traditional' working-class community networks and caused 'suburban neurosis' amongst lonely housewives, and, from the 1970s, that a collapse in social responsibility had isolated residents through fear of their neighbours. Such sites were repeatedly stigmatised, represented as having low levels of wellbeing and poor access to practical and emotional support from the community.

This project examines these changes through co-produced research with residents of the Seacroft estate, Leeds. The small village of Seacroft was massively expanded in the 1950s when construction began on the new council estate. During this project, and in partnership with residents, I will examine how social networks developed, endured and changed in Seacroft from when the estate was first built to the 1990s. In doing so I will reconsider the nature of post-Second World War suburban communities. I will pay attention to complex identities as well as vernacular understandings of class, ethnicity and gender. I will investigate how social networks had a positive or detrimental effect on wellbeing, when support was available within the community and when it was absent. Alongside this, the project will trace changing understandings of mental health and wellbeing in Seacroft, and investigate the role of professional and lay expertise in informing these understandings.

The project will develop co-production methods for social historians, and I am working closely with a number of health discussion groups which represent a broad range of social groups on the Seacroft estate, many of which rarely have the chance to engage with the university. These groups are at the core of the project and we are collaboratively developing research questions and aims, analysis and interpretation, and project outputs. A radical reconsideration of ethical practices is at the centre of this project and I will develop new guidelines for participant care and self-care when working on sensitive topics with marginalised groups.

This work is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Effective start/end date5/10/204/10/22


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