Most people, at some point in their lives, will consider the idea of living in the countryside. The idyllic image of the quaint little cottage, with a pastel coloured front door, wild garden and a thatched roof, will usually enter the minds of those looking to ‘settle down’. Thoughts of beautiful strolls through forests and along rivers, and the sense of community that comes with living in a small village prevail. Yet what may not be pictured is wondering how you’re going to afford the next month’s rent, or how you’re going to get to that job interview in your nearest town when the bus only runs once a week. For those from working class backgrounds who have grown up in rural communities, this ideal is often fraught with financial uncertainty and a lack of opportunities.
I know that this is the case in the village and surrounding area that I (and my family before me) have lived in my whole life. If you need a gauge of what sort of place my village is, just watch an episode of The Vicar of Dibley or This Country (ironically enough, filmed about 20 miles from where I live!) and it will tell you all you need to know. The area has seen drastic change throughout my childhood which can be attributed to many external factors, including the 2008 Financial Crash and Covid-19 pandemic.
As many ‘locals’ in the area will tell you, these two global events have led to an increased influx of a new type of ‘rural dweller’, who, with the flexibility of agile working, have given up their city flats in favour of country life. In essence, they want the ideal of living in the countryside, with a village community. However, they often aren't willing to put the work in to reap the benefits such a community offers. This sort of person has certainly infiltrated my childhood village to the extent that they are pushing people out, young people in particular.
A study by the BBC revealed that house prices have risen in Wales by 11 percent and in Cornwall by 15 percent in the last few years alone as a result of urban to rural migration. Thus, it is no wonder that the National Youth Agency found that over 2.25 million young people living in rural areas are at risk of falling into poverty. Naturally, this has been heightened by the current cost of living crisis, but the ‘pricing out’ of young people was taking place long before this. In 2018, The Prince’s Countryside Fund identified the movement of young people out of the countryside to be one of the top five issues across rural landscapes nationwide. Moreover, in their survey of over 1000 young people taken in 2021, The Countryside Charity assessed that 72 percent of young people want to leave rural areas because of unaffordable housing and 86 percent of young people who want to leave the countryside attribute the lack of public transport as a key factor. These factors have led to a shocking 84 percent of those surveyed feeling isolated or lonely, with only eight percent feeling their concerns are heard by those capable of making impactful change in rural areas. Thus, for rural communities, The Countryside Charity argues that areas are being bled dry of “vital skills and knowledge”.
As a young person, it is important to acknowledge the unacknowledged power we hold. However clichéd, we are the ‘future’. We can bring new ideas and ways to connect within rural communities, which can be vital to ensuring that a community not only survives, but thrives. New ways of thinking can work alongside existing methods to improve rural public services for everyone. Personally, I want to live in the countryside. I like seeing trees outside my bedroom window and not skyscrapers! But I am also aware that being able to have that choice is a privilege. I want to see rural communities that are currently floundering thrive and know there are methods that local and national governments could implement to achieve this. The perception that young people want to move to the city is often a result of those at the top not acknowledging there are ways they could incentivise young people migrating to urban areas to stay.
Unfortunately, this does not change the alarming figures found by both charities. Take my village as an example. Ten years ago, it was a thriving community, with a pub that hosted bi-annual, award-winning beer festivals; annual village fetes; a travelling fair; Christmas Bazaars; the Women’s Institute; a popular Chinese restaurant and a somewhat regular bus service. Yet ten years later, the bus service is driven by volunteers twice a week, the Chinese restaurant is closed and very few of the community events that took place still do. For those that relied on these events for a sense of belonging, there is now nothing. For young people, there is little attracting them to remain within the community. The people who ran these events feel stumped by the lack of support in running the events from local villagers. Why? Because those who did help have left due to financial insecurity and inspiration for new ideas has run dry. Thus, a once thriving countryside community has begun to fall apart.
However, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all those who move from urban to rural areas are bad, nor am I saying that rural poverty is more pressing than urban poverty. There are benefits to be found in the merging of two types of community, as ideas can be shared and new methods for the survival of a community can be found. Yet, as someone who has seen largely negative impacts result from this merging, it dulls in comparison. For young people especially, the countryside is not a friendly place, and when those at the top don’t listen – as they often profit from such change – very little can be done.
To end on a sobering yet significant note, The Countryside Charity have revealed that only 18 percent of young people surveyed from rural communities felt that the future looked good for them. If nothing is implemented at a national level to support these communities on a local level, the countryside will lose a fundamental part of their communities: young people, who have the power to make positive change, if it is given to them by those who are able to grant it. If not, the quintessential, cottage-core existence so many people idealise will be nothing more than a dream for them and a memory for those already in these communities.
Writer’s note: to find out more about the surveys discussed in this article, follow the links below:
Home Page - Rural Services Network (rsnonline.org.uk)