LSA 2019: Conference Report from Chris Russell

LSA member, Chris Russell of Worcester University (recipient of an LSA grant) has provided us with his view on the highly successful 2019 conference hosted by Abertay University.

Leisure time for people affected by dementia: reflections on attending the Leisure Studies Association Conference in Dundee

Between July 9th and 11th I attended the Leisure Studies Association (LSA) conference hosted by Abertay University, in Dundee. Thank you to everyone who helped organise the event. It felt seamless and it was a pleasure to be there.

Participation enabled me to understand my subject better (people with dementia engaging in sport), and to enhance my academic practice. Leisure is important because so little attention is given to how people with dementia and family carers spend their free time. Societal preconceptions and expectations mean the notion of leisure time for people affected by dementia is seen as incredible and fanciful. As one speaker argued, leisure is where the structural context of inequality occurs and can be understood. Investigating the day to day interaction with leisure that people affected by dementia have is fundamental to my research. It is right to be able to enjoy what you choose to do in your spare time.

On the second day, I presented my research paper,‘Exploring the identity of people with dementia as they engage with the activities of community-based leisure and fitness centres. Implications for scholarship and practice’. Reaction indicated that there is a desire to understand the lived experience of dementia beyond the immediate contexts of care and health. I found the opportunity valuable, receiving suggestions on additional theoretical approaches, for example. It was also extremely useful to reflect on my research so far, and present key aspects of it to a discerning audience.

Other presentations provided insights to bolster my knowledge and scholarship. For example, Amanda Gard, a fellow PhD student, on exploring stigma in urinary incontinence in the physical activity environment. Her steer towards Goffman’s theory of stigma was particularly helpful. Later, it was interesting to hear Eilidh Macrae, from the University of the West of Scotland, present on ‘Changing lives through walking football’. Drawing on the sociology of Bourdieu she argued that social practice is simultaneously structured and structuring. Reflecting on this, and how participants in my research engage in physical activity in public, I noted how the attitudes of others towards them influence their experience, but also, by engaging publically in physical activity how they will influence such attitudes. This fits well with the lens of social citizenship, which I am using to help me understand my findings. It is a status often denied to people affected by dementia, and promotes the abilities and aspirations people have.

Michael Hall, architect, presented on, ‘Designing for activity in the city, and the role of design in the built environment in encouraging physical activity’. I found this fascinating, especially as I have seen in my research how towns have transformed disused railways into accessible, public, green spaces, allowing people to dwell and engage with nature yards from the high street. The issue remains, though, that however wonderful the redesigned environment is, people still have to be able to get there! The value of affordable community transport cannot be understated.

As a learned academic society the LSA has close links with the Leisure Studies journal. The Conference included a session hosted by members of its editorial board offering advice on writing, reviewing and editing publications. This was of interest as I develop my own approach. For example, the advice on a completing a good review, was that it must be holistic, extending right across the article. It must also identify key literature that will add to the article’s quality. It must judge the paper on its merits, and constructively lead the author towards improvement.

The conference gave me the chance to meet and reacquaint myself with many colleagues with diverse expertise in leisure from all over the world. I have established relationships that will be helpful to the progression of my practice and scholarship. It is an enabling and constructive community and I am looking forward to playing my part within it.

Finally, the location of the conference, Dundee, was wonderful and fascinating. I would recommend visiting the city, which is steeped in history, and surrounded by stunning scenery.  It also gave me the opportunity to visit Kirrieconnections, a meeting centre for people with dementia, located ten miles north of Dundee. The Association for Dementia Studies at the University of Worcester, where I am based, works closely with Kirrieconnections. When I visited, club members were enjoying their afternoon engaged in taking photographs of their local neighbourhood. That was a fabulous opportunity to reflect on my PhD, and what I had learned at the conference, as people with dementia enjoyed their leisure time in the Scottish sunshine.