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May 6, 2015

The value of ‘third places’

There’s a project in Govan that acts as a drop-in centre and a support for local women. At first glance, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Tea in the Pot (TITP) – at least nothing that sets it apart from the hundreds of other informal, volunteer run projects just like it elsewhere around the country. But an interesting collaboration between TITP, Oxfam and University of West of Scotland has highlighted the absolutely crucial contribution that these ‘third places’ – places beyond the home and workplace – play in building strong communities.



Oxfam, University of the West of Scotland

Appreciating Tea in the Pot

Note: These are the summary findings of a larger report which looked in some depth at the impact TITP has in its community. To see the full report click here

This report has looked at the activity of TITP in light of Oldenburg’s concept of the ‘third place’ as a ‘great good place’ in the life of a community. It is clear that there would be a good case for saying that TITP could be described as something like that – as a kind of a ‘great good place’ in Govan. Our research has enabled us to appreciate that the TITP volunteers have created, as we have seen described in the women’s own words, a place of social interaction, which engenders a sense of belonging, helps members feel less isolated and lonely, creates a sense of community and provides a political and intellectual forum in which members can grow, develop, become productively engaged in the broader life of their community, and bring about changes which impact both within and beyond their community. We have seen that members do not encounter problematic hierarchical structures within the group, and nor are there any class or ethnic barriers. The volunteers are viewed as ‘the characters’, who provide a warm welcome to new members in a neutral place where no individual feels they have to take on the role of ‘host’.

Having discussed the idea, the TITP women quickly recognised themselves very much as a ‘third place’ – a place beyond the ‘first’ and ‘second’ places of home and work which provides a space for people to meet, interact and to develop and feel a sense of belonging and community. That said, this is not straightforwardly a ‘third place’ in Oldenburg’s terms. It caters solely for women, most obviously. But clearly, it is providing to the members vital aspects of the ‘third place experience’ – and many of the benefits that go with that, both to the women, and to the wider community. Indeed, the raison d’etre of Tea in the Pot is in part that too few places like that exist in Govan, and for many women those that do exist are not easily accessible – either for financial reasons (£5 for a latte and a scone is not affordable for many) or for the kinds of personal reasons which have been outlined in the preceding sections of this report.

It might be appropriate to say that TITP could be seen as an attempt to improvise (creatively and empathetically) something like a third place which can be accessible to women who really need such a place. For that, its founders and its volunteers deserve immense credit. They don’t require that, of course, to continue with their efforts, but they will very much need to be resourced, and for that to happen it is vital that potential funders appreciate, as we have come to do through our research, the nature and importance of the contribution they are making and want to be able to continue to make.