by Leslie Silverlock
For a long time, the issues facing rural young people have remained difficult and unattended to. Research tells us that this is now the worst it has been.
Young people are drifting away from Exmoor, not always because they want to see the world. Housing is unaffordable. The ‘affordable’ ones are largely unsuitable for agricultural and country work, even for young families in some cases, and rents are too high for local wages. Of the 5,000 houses on Exmoor, 1,000 are empty, others under occupied, yet rooms to rent are uncommon.
Many young people either live at home or leave. They face a limited choice – remain living with their parents, or move away. This distorts the economy of the National Park. Four Young Voices solutions are:
- student type starter accommodation
- starter flats for young workers
- self build
- homeshare (though they were unsuccessful with their Lottery bid for a National Park pilot)
Digital inclusion is emerging gradually, but until then delivery lorries get lost, online returns to Defra and HMRC are impossible in some areas, mobile phone communications for business and community life frequently drop out. Exmoor Young Voices are supporting the Park Authority in seeking full access for all, introducing innovative technical and planning solutions to overcome the blocks.
Transport for young people trying to get to work, college, social life, and develop relationships, is extremely sparse. Where it exists the schedules are rarely suitable for working, social or sporting hours.
West Somerset has the highest population of 60 to 74 year olds in the country. 60% of the population of Exmoor’s largest town are over 60. Schools are closing. Exmoor is the most isolated part of Britain with the poorest communications by road, rail, and digital options. This unbalances the Park’s economic stability. Looked at from young people’s perspective there is “No future for us here until we are wealthy or retired”.
In a fresh approach to tackling these continuing problems, an imaginative group of young people have formed Exmoor Young Voices, Chaired by young agricultural builder William Lock. Supported by Exmoor National Park Chief Nigel Stone, Chair Andrea Davis, and Consultative Forum Lead Steven Pugsley, they conducted research among young people from Lynton to Watchet, Porlock to Dulverton, Brompton Regis through Hawkridge to Bratton Fleming. With ages ranging from 15 to 30 they have been able to use local knowledge and experience to identify the negative issues and offer positive solutions.
More than 40 Young Voices have been talking, lobbying and listening to other young people, identifying their priorities for housing, renting, digital inclusion, transport, training and entrepreneurial initiatives. Their report can be found by searching online for ‘Exmoor National Park Young Voices’. Facebook is ‘Exmoor Young Voices’ and Twitter @ExmYoungVoices. They meet, hosted by Eric Norman at the Rest and Be Thankful, Wheddon Cross, to develop plans to help young people stay living and working in this National Park.
Exmoor is the first National Park to adopt and listen to its own consultative group of young people. Some of the other 13 Parks are considering following suit.
Tommy Lock, who works in land and property restoration, and Samantha Harris, an award-winning horse and Exmoor pony breeder, both young Exmoor entrepreneurs living and working in isolated villages, got the work started with Les and Marion Silverlock, a couple of retired villagers. Ben Cowling and Mike Julian, young agriculturalists, with Will Lock, have taken the work further, delivering seminars to the Houses of Commons and Lords for Hastoe Housing, educating decision makers about the problems in rural areas, and offering solutions. They have joined the Exmoor Consultative Forum and the Rural Housing Network to persuade Parishes and local housing interests to take action to halt the drift. Young Voices are challenging councils, charities, housing associations, and public services to listen to them, and pay special attention to maintaining a balanced population before it is too late.
Creating change is slow. The shelf life of the Young Voices members is limited. They work long hours, travel regular long journeys on tight roads, continue their education and training, and manage the usual range of family changes. They meet to champion Exmoor’s future before it becomes a retirement home and theme park without petrol stations, schools, and working farms. Finding the time and travel expenses even to do this is difficult.
They have a small fund and are seeking more. They would like to pay young entrepreneurs to develop and coordinate the Network, keep the advice and campaigning strong, and ensure the small voice of rural young people is heard in high places.
Please visit this link to find out more: www.facebook.com/ExmoorYoungVoices