The Government will be told today (4th March) that the long-term future of the countryside is in jeopardy because so many young people are being forced out of rural areas to find homes, jobs and support.
The alert comes from Dr Stuart Burgess − the Government’s Rural Advocate – based on evidence he has gathered from communities in all parts of rural England about the fears, aspirations, challenges and needs of young rural England.
In a report being delivered directly to the Prime Minister, Dr Burgess says: “Wherever I go, I hear deep concerns − that challenges with housing, work, transport, training and social exclusion are preventing young people from living in the countryside. Without young people to provide a work force, rural economies are unable to fulfil their full potential and rural communities can go into a decline.
“On top of this, lack of broadband and mobile phone coverage in many rural areas is hitting young people and businesses alike – be it through recruitment and employment, better access to learning and support services or enjoying the connectivity that has become an everyday feature of urban youth culture, such as joining a social network or getting internet help with homework.”
At the same time, the Commission for Rural Communities, which Dr Burgess chairs, will publish a ‘State of the countryside’ update, setting out the statistical facts of rural life for children and young people, including the current rate of outward migration.
Dr Burgess points out: “My clear message is that challenges for rural young people need addressing positively and urgently and that failure to act will put the future viability of our rural communities at risk. It is essential to break the cycle of low aspirations and, instead, inspire young people to fulfil their potential and play an active role in our society. My personal commitment is to seek ways of increasing the engagement of rural young people with these issues which so clearly affect their futures and find ways of harnessing their enthusiasm and creativity to find imaginative new solutions which will benefit us all.”
As well as calling on policymakers to demonstrate a better understanding of the challenges facing rural young people, Dr Burgess’s report puts forward practical solutions, including:
• flexible planning to create more affordable rural housing;
• new ways to meet employment and training needs in more isolated areas;
• greater efforts by schools and universities to raise young people’s aspirations;
• a renewed focus on providing integrated public transport; and
• a push to improve mobile phone coverage and broadband services in rural areas.