Aelfthryth Gittings 1939-2012
Aelfthryth at SCPR
SCPR 1978-2000

Celebration, 9 February 2013
Trish Hedges: Memories of Aelfthryth at Social and Community Planning Research,

 John has asked me to give you some of my memories of Aelfthryth - we were colleagues at SCPR, now NatCen, a social survey research institute, for around 20 years. I was a member of the research team and Aelfthryth a member of the interviewing  staff.  As I was one of those who designed questionnaires and Aelfthryth was one of those who  had to implement them, we looked at research from different perspectives,  which of course to some extent colours my memories.


When  I circulated the news of her death to many of our ex-colleagues the remarks they made in reply however repeatedly shared my thoughts about her.


She came across as a unique, wonderful  and I think a truly good person. She made many friends among those whom she worked.


She was however not at all a retiring wallflower and right from the start of joining the interviewing team she made her views known about the quality of the surveys she worked on. And although one dreaded the inevitable pointing out at a survey briefing the very poor question that a client had insisted on being included,  all the researchers had great respect for her and thought her invaluable at the piloting stage of a questionnaire.  Someone also remarked how kind and helpful she had been to her when she was a new and green researcher.


When questionnaires stopped being pencil and  paper and were put onto computers, Aelfthryth was responsible for training interviewers on how to use computers for this purpose, many of whom had never used a computer at all. This somewhat amused me as early on in her career I asked her to tape record some pilot tests of a questionnaire. She replied she was quite incapable to using complicated things like a tape-recorder!  Some hidden agenda there I thought - but maybe she really was a technophobe and this helped her to understand how best to help those new to computing. She was certainly very successful in this respect.


It was on one of the surveys that I was responsible for that we were asked by the government to get everyone involved on it to sign the Official Secrets Act. As it was about housing, I failed to see what the Official Secrets Act had to do with it. But no amount of protest from me cut any ice, except that I did get an agreement that we could un-sign it at the end of the survey. The day came when I had to tell interviewers at a briefing that they would have to sign the OSA - the government representative was also present at the briefing. Aelfthryth got up and said that on principle she was not going to sign the OSA. Consternation and uproar!  To my amazement the government representative rushed outside, made a phone call, came back and said decision rescinded. Relief all round.


When Aelfthryth and John retired they came to live not far away from us.  I had recently started a Pensioner Group for ex-colleagues with the intention of producing a regular newsletter. But my good intentions were beginning to lapse. Aelfthryth leapt into action and joined me as editor, making sure that we never forgot to set about getting copy in time.  As a result, I got to know and appreciate her more than ever.  I admired enormously how she dealt with the return of her cancer and the courage she displayed.


Aelfthryth will live on in my memory as one of the very special people that I have known and I will miss her enormously.