Two Great British Obsessions – Tea and DIY
Tea drinking and DIY are key elements of the British heritage, inextricably bound together in the process of nestbuilding. The generations who have painted their own ceilings, hung their own wallpaper and built their own kitchen units have been fuelled in all aspects of their amateur endeavours by tea. In this sense they have traditionally reflected the image of their more professional counterparts, the bricklayers, joiners and plasterers who constitute the British Builder – a figure both reviled and revered but always imagined leaning on his shovel doing little else but enjoying his cuppa.
Such nostalgic and comforting scenes, however, are often found to have disappeared from contemporary British society, along with good neighbourliness and a sense of community. Does the new generation of DIYer still reflect these traditional values – achieving 'a job done well' through planning and moments of pause and reflection with a cup of tea near to hand? Or is a 'quick bodge' and a can of lager more typical of the new DIYers, more intent on having fun and a life outside the home than with old-fashioned nestbuilding?
At the Social Issues Research Centre we have a simple approach to finding answers to such questions – we go out and talk to people. And where better to find our informants than at those monolithic temples of the DIY movement – the Homebases, and DoItAlls, where new initiates agonise over infinite choices of light blue emulsion, load trolleys with rollers, dustsheets and shelving brackets, and always know that they have forgotten something quite essential.
Shopping at these places can be stressful. Having spent far too long searching for the right size of brass screw cup, the last thing you need is a researcher with a clipboard pestering you as you make your way home to get down the real business. Research Manager Joe McCann and his team, Simon Bradley and Bernadette Devlin, knew that they would have to put some special temptation in the way of potential informants to secure their co-operation. The answer was tea and doughnuts, offered free from a Renault Espace parked strategically in the car parks to those newcomers to DIY who were willing to spend a few moments talking about themselves and their views. The device worked well, and in place of the rather stilted interviews that often result from conventional research methods, the team were able to gain not only genuine insights into the contemporary role of tea in DIY, but also the motives, fears, stresses and joys of nestbuilding itself.
Researched and written by the Social Issues Research Centre, Oxford. Commissioned and sponsored by PG Tips.