‘Those of us working in rural counties are very aware that providing services has to be done very differently in the countryside from the towns. In Somerset’s most recent JSNA we took a particular focus on our rural areas – using the Defra/ONS definition of settlements smaller than 10,000 population. Analysing the data revealed that on almost all health indicators the countryside fares better than the towns, but that those statistics did not uncover the challenges faced, especially by younger people in the countryside.
We found that not only were the rural areas more elderly than the county as a whole, but that they continue to age and that the most remote parts had even seen an absolute fall in the number of young people living there. To get beneath the skin, as it were, we commissioned the Somerset Rural Youth Project to hold focus groups around the county where people from 16-24 could talk about the reality of country life.
The findings were striking, and best expressed in their own words. Young people strongly said how much they loved living in the countryside, but knew that staying there might prevent them ‘getting on’:
‘I’ll earn less money here - but it’s worth it, isn’t it?’
And considering the paucity and expense of rural accommodation, another said, sadly:
‘The only way I’ll own my own house is through inheritance’
Whilst digital technology is clearly opening up new opportunities all the time, the young people were conscious of how such progress was much slower in the countryside than in the towns:
‘I feel massively behind - it’s ridiculous how far behind I am all the time; so out of touch.’
‘I walk to the next village to get a phone signal & do everything from there’.
Most directly pertinent to us, of course, were their comments on health and health services. The difficulties faced by service providers were reflected in their own experiences. On young person told us:
‘I can’t get to the surgery in time before it closes - so I have to miss college.’
Given that the level of education is probably the most important predictor of someone’s health and wellbeing, this choice between healthcare and education is most certainly not one we want them to have to make.
That said, most of the young people were really aware of the benefits of rural life. As one put it:
‘Living in a city must be depressing - you just get to look at buildings’
This engagement with young people in Somerset, has enabled us to have a clearer view of what it is like to grow up in a rural area. Many young people wanted to stay in rural Somerset…..our challenge is to help them achieve this
Trudi Grant, Director of Public Health, Somerset