Caring about the community : exploring place transformation through adopt a station

Hamilton, Kathy and Alexander, Matthew (2013) Caring about the community : exploring place transformation through adopt a station. In: European Conference for the Association for Consumer Research, 2013-07-04 - 2013-07-07.

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Age, gender, status, wealth and occupation are transcended by an unselfish attachment to and affection for the iron road which wraps residents and regular visitors alike in its ferroequinological thrall... people demonstrate an underlying need to be absorbed in the day to day welfare of their line… We want to be involved, whether it’s filling flower tubs, delivering leaflets, running tea rooms, bunk houses and excursion trains, or simply buying a ticket to ride. [The railway is] a vehicle for social integration, an endless topic of conversation, a force for good. (Pearson, 2009). Our research is based on the context of ‘Adopt A Station’ a partnership between First ScotRail (franchisee for rail services in Scotland) and groups who ‘adopt’ their local railway station. The scheme allows the utilization of space within the station to provide services or facility improvements that benefit the local community. Since its launch over 150 stations (from 343) have been adopted and projects include gardening, cafes, art galleries and heritage centres. Interpretive consumer research has followed Casey (1993, ix) and recognised that our lives are ‘place-oriented’ and ‘place-saturated.’ A space becomes a place when it is consumed (Sherry 1998), involving a process of appropriation that leads to a sense of belonging and symbolic meaning (Visconti et al. 2010). Places to which we develop strong emotional attachments become important to the extended self (Belk 1988). We contribute to this research stream by focusing on place transformation. We address the following research question: What role does the consumer play in transforming community places? In particular we consider consumer involvement in transforming stations from spaces of transit to places of community life. Research was conducted over 2.5 years using ethnographic methods. We visited 19 adopted stations, spending from 2.5 hours to a 2 night stay. More than 100 adopters participated in in-depth interviews and informal conversations. Data collected includes: 321 pages of interview transcriptions, 6 hours of video and 886 photos, comprehensive field notes from participant observation and archival material. We followed a hermeneutic approach to interpretation and present findings in relation to the following themes: Roots: Adoption affords communities the opportunity to take ownership and customise stations. Flexibility is a key attraction, reflected in the range of adopters’ activities. We distinguish between individual and group adoptions and those motivated by commercial and community interests. From ScotRail’s perspective, the provision of rent free space is justified as “if it’s lived in, it’s loved” and otherwise it would be “a no-man’s land.” Commitment: Adopters contribute significant time from several hours per week to, as one adopter specifies, “between one and three days a week, leaving home at 8.30am and returning about 8.30pm.” Another simply stated “it’s my life.” Adopters’ emotional and affective bonds provide strong evidence of place attachment (Altman & Low, 1992): “I could not stand seeing the stations going into decline.” The adopters might be described as “local heroes” (Cutcher, 2010, p. 79) whose regeneration efforts create an “ethical surplus” (Arvidsson, 2005, p. 241). Gateway: Participants recognized the station’s role as a gateway to the community that become “flags of identity” (Palmer, 2005) reflecting core community values: “To showcase the community for people passing by or people visiting for the first time.” A steady decline in manned stations was described negatively: “the place basically died.” Adopters’ physical presence at the station was therefore central in contributing to a welcoming spatial narrative. Aesthetics: Adoption has transformed stations. Pre-adoption stations were; “an embarrassment,” “unloved and uncared for,” “dismal,” and “uninviting”. In contrast, they are now “more cheerful,” “colourful,” and transformed with “the brightness and beauty of the flowers.” While floral displays are prominent, the regeneration of the station buildings also contribute to aesthetic appeal and activities can extend to other areas of the community: “It is like ripples on a pond…now everybody takes a part, individual businesses look stunning, residents’ gardens are beautiful… has a knock-on effect in the community.” Heritage: Adopt a Station plays an important role in the preservation and regeneration of railway buildings to make them fit for modern uses. Some projects have explicit links to heritage (heritage centres, historical murals) while others recreate a perceived authentic appearance (through floral displays). Alternatively, the work of adopters is seen as creating as much as preserving heritage: “the glory days of rail travel [can be] what and when you want them to be… the heritage is now if you like.” Benefits: The adopters mention a range of personal benefits including camaraderie and social contacts, the opportunity to engage with an activity that they enjoy such as gardening, satisfaction and pride in achievements, improvements to wellbeing and gaining respect from the local community. A sense of ownership empowers the community and legitimises their activities. For the firm, “adoption means that they have got other eyes looking after their stations,” an unofficial labour source, policing the station and alerting them to potential problems. Other benefits include positive public relations, charitable fund raising, and improved environments for station staff, passengers and tourists. In conclusion, our research reveals the latent potential residing in communities. The knowledge, skills, passion and expertise of local residents in the study suggests that the community role in place transformation may be far more extensive than previously acknowledged. While noting potential tensions and challenges, community members are willing to make significant efforts to improve, protect and preserve their local areas. We observe transformation at multiple levels offering both utilitarian and symbolic benefits where redundant spaces are resurrected and imbued with new meaning. Community involvement allows place distinctiveness to emerge and offers an alternative perspective to the growing homogenization of public places reported in the literature. Our research suggests that it is at the local level where place transformation might be best enacted whereby residents construct and maintain both individual and collective identities and regain control of their communities from within. References Altman, I., & Low, S. (1992). Place attachment: a conceptual inquiry in Altman, I and Low, S (eds). Place attachment, New York: Plenum, 1-12 Arvidsson, A. (2005). Brands: A critical perspective. Journal of Consumer Culture, 5(2), 235-258. Belk, R. W. (1988). Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (2), 139-168. Casey, E. S. (1993). Getting back into place: Toward a renewed understanding of the place-world: Indiana Univ Pr. Cutcher, L. (2010). Local heroes: Co‐producing history, “community” and the self. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 13(1), 79-90. Pearson, M. (2009). Iron Road to the Isles, London: Wayzgoose. Palmer, C. (2005). An ethnography of Englishness: Experiencing identity through tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 32(1), 7-27. Sherry, John F., Jr., ed. (1998), Servicescapes: The Concept of Place in Contemporary Markets, Chicago: NTC Business Books. Visconti, L. M., Sherry Jr, J. F., Borghini, S., & Anderson, L. (2010). Street Art, Sweet Art? Reclaiming the “Public” in Public Place. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 511-529.


Hamilton, Kathy ORCID logoORCID: and Alexander, Matthew ORCID logoORCID:;