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STAYin(g)Rural Project Team - Background

The STAYin(g)Rural Study team includes three Principal Investigators (one within each of the study areas), a full-time post-doctoral research assistant based in Northern Ireland, and four PhD students distributed across each of the study areas.

Principal Investigators

Professor Tialda Haartsen

Tialda Haartsen

Prof Haartsen is based in the Department of Cultural Geography at the University of Groningen (UoG)

Tialda's research expertise lie in the fields of cultural geography concepts of place meanings, attachment and belonging in relation to migration and mobility. She has a particualr interest in rural in-, out-, and return migration, especially at the young adult and union/ family formation life stages. Tialda has undertaken research into rural staying, rural representations and place meanings, the effects of depopulation on rural services, facilities and residents’ quality of life, and community participation and citizen initiatives.



  • Rural land use/landownership changes and consequences
  • Rural representations and identities
  • Place attachment
  • Spatial Behaviours

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Dr Annett Steinführer

Annett Steinführer

Dr Steinführer is based in the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, the German Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries in Braunschweig (TI).

Annett's research focuses on socio-spatial impacts of population decline and ageing in rural settlements. Her main interest is individual adaptation especially of the elderly and community coping strategies. Annett has analysed residential location decisions by considering moving and staying as equivalent household decisions.


  • Impacts of socio-demographioc change on small towns
  • Socio-spatial processes in rural areas and regional disparities
  • Socio-ecological studies
  • Research methodologies and transdisciplinarity 
  • Post-socialist transition in eastern Germany and Ease Central Europe 

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Gemma Catney

Dr Catney is based in Geography, in the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen's  University Belfast.

Gemma is a population and social geographer, and brings to the project research experience in demographic and neighbourhood change, place belonging and identity, and the patterns and processes of internal migration. She is fascinated by how  neighbourhoods both shape, and are shaped by, the experiences of those who live in them. 

Relevant research interests:

  • Place attachment
  • Migration and mobilities
  • Population change

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STAYin(g)Rural Researchers - PDRA and PhD Candidates

Dr Sara Ferguson

Sara Ferguson

Dr Ferguson is the postdoctoral research fellow employed on the project and is based at the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen's University Belfast.

Sara has engaged with a wide range of rural research throughout her years of study, including exploring how built, social and policy environments influence the behaviours, opportunities and decision-making processes of rural populations. Prior to her PhD, she undertook a reserach project entitled 'Escape the Country', which investigated young adults experiences of living in rural Northern Ireland, and the subsequent consequences this had on migration decision-making processes. 

Reflective of her personal interest in rural health and well-being, she then undertook the 'PASTORAL Study' in her PhD studies. This specifically explored physical actvity, settlement typologies and opportunities for rural active living.   

Research Interests: 

  • Rural Planning Policy
  • Environmental influences on rural population behaviours
  • Rural health and well-being

Franziska Lengerer

Franziska Lengerer

Franziska is based in Braunschweig (Germany) and is undertaking research in the south-east of Lower Saxony.

Her PhD thesis focuses on older people’s residential trajectories and how these relate to participation in the community and feelings of belonging. While some of her analyses concentrate on the data collected in Germany, others are based on the data from all three STAYin(g)Rural case study regions. 

Previous to her PhD studies, she conducted research on an intercultural integration project called “BikeBridge” in Freiburg (Germany), which aims at teaching female refugees how to cycle. Using interviews and mental maps, she looked at participants’ ways of appropriating space with a special focus on cycling.

Research interests:

  • Socio-spatial processes in rural areas
  • Research methodologies and international collaboration
  • Gender studies; gendered spaces and their production
  • Practice theory

Henk Hofstede

Henk Hofstede

Henk is based in Groningen (The Netherlands) and is undertaking research in East Groningen

Henk currently focuses on the staying processes of young adults in rural areas. Henk (30) studied human geography and planning at Utrecht University. Henk has an interdisciplinary research interest, but with a common interest in rural areas. He has conducted research in the fields of regional marketing, regional identities, community forestry and agricultural value chains in developing countries. In addition, he has a particular interest in education.

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Prof. Aileen Stockdale

Sadly Professor Aileen Stockdale suddenly passed away in March 2021. As a Principal Investigator on the project, Aileen was an integral part of our team and showed an unwavering enthusiasm and passion for STAYin(g)Rural, something which will be both fondly remembered and sadly missed. Alongside this, her vast research expertise which is summarised below proved to be a vital asset to the project.