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Tony Warnes - Professor of Social Gerontology, University of Sheffield
Tony Warnes

How did your interests in ageing begin, and why?

There could be several answers, but all are partial and retrospective tidying of a process with numerous steps, and some might be more imagined than actual. The most straightforward answer is that after working on historical population and urban change (my PhD was on the separation of homes from workplaces in Chorley, Lancashire, from around 1780 to 1850), and having to teach a staggering diversity courses for the Social Studies multidisciplinary degree at the then newly chartered University of Salford (single honours courses came later), Chris Law and I developed a strong interest in retirement migration. That attracted the encouragement and support of Mark Abrams, the Director of a short-lived SSRC Survey Research Unit, where Jonathan Barker also worked for a while, and that lead to connections with the Age Concern Research Unit and Janet Askham, and to involvement in the BSG – the members of which showed much more interest in our work than those of other societies whose meetings I attended. Quite soon after, if I remember right, I became Editor of the low-tech BSG Newsletter, and sometime after that Secretary of the BSG and Review Editor of Ageing & Society.

Another story that I like to tell is that I was raised in a three-generation household, almost as much by my grandmother as my parents. Nan was exceptionally nosey about and concerned for others in the neighbourhood.  She had worked ‘in service’ in Bexhill (not the only retirement resort I got to know well as a child), and was, I like to say, a pre-Beveridgean one-woman, social services department cum midwife cum layer out. I had several ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ of veiled parentage that as children Nan had taken charge of.  Mrs Brown and Mrs Cotter, two very frail, elderly ladies of no relation to the family came to live with us for the last months of their lives.  One vivid memory is being required to accompany Nan on occasional visits to an older lady with mild dementia who lived (I believe alone) in a run down farmworker’s cottage with an earthen kitchen floor – in the mid-1950s on the fringe of the Medway Towns – I kid you not. 


What are your key areas of interest, and why?

Since moving to the Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing (SISA), a consistent research and management interest has been in care services for frail older people, particularly the quality of residential care, and the challenges of dementia care. I am a Trustee of SheffCare, a non-profit that runs care homes in Sheffield.


What's been the biggest change in ageing research since you started?

Its expansion and increased diversity and, as a consequence, the impressive growth of systematically collected and authoritative information. 


What do you like best about your work?

Making a small contribution, partly as a researcher but more as an Editor, to the better communication of sounder understanding about the circumstances of frail and healthy older people.


What do you like least about your work?

Lazy authors who think their work is so splendid they don’t have to work at communication or the serviceability of their papers as a resource for others.


What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Don’t borrow. 


What is your favourite film, and why?

I am the opposite of a film buff, but a great lover of live theatre – a negative about not living in London.


What three things would you take to a desert island with you, and why?

   1. A clockwork radio and CD player.  To listen to the radio and to good music.

   2. As many books as I am allowed.  What an opportunity to read!

   3. A very good pair of binoculars.  To make records of migrant birds

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