Somerset Rural Youth Project
Somerset is one of the most rural counties in England. When a population is widely dispersed across a large area it creates difficulties not only for people to travel to access services, but also for other service providers to reach people. Somerset Rural Youth Project (SRYP) is a registered charity which aims to engage and support young people in rural areas in a range of social, economic, educational and recreational opportunities.
Details of two key pieces of research undertaken by SRYP - looking at the attitudes, experiences, and expectations of young people in rural Somerset - are available below.
Rurality and Young People report (JSNA, 2015)
As part of a 2014/15 Somerset JSNA focus on rurality, SRYP engaged young people in focus groups to examine the quality of life for 16-24 year olds in rural communities. The key findings follow, grouped by discussion theme:
Education, employment and housing
- Young people were supportive of the concept of the County Ticket (costs £650 / year and gives almost unlimited access to the public bus network in Somerset) but thought that it was expensive and may not represent good value for young people in rural areas where bus services are poor.
- Information on the choice of study provided actively to young people is patchy and not individualised; it is focused on academic outcomes and progression and did not take a long-view for their circumstances. They would value greater access to 1:1 support.
- Young people have sound ideas of their future career - and wanted to remain in Somerset if possible, but were also spoke about the ‘need’ to move away at some point in their education / career development. Family was the primary factor for staying in the county. Some young people recognised the limitations of rural living - and wanted to experience more.
- Young people overwhelmingly had ambitions for owning their own home but know they will rent, and had an awareness of the expense of living independently. Many indicated that they received no coherent housing advice at school / college. Most spoke of receiving advice from parents primarily but knew of other sources.
- All young people had access to technology: primarily mobile phone, followed by laptops, then tablets. Young people use technology ‘daily’ at least, with some ‘constant’.
- Young people are massively affected by poor phone signal / broadband availability / speed - feeling out of touch with both their immediate lives (social life, friends) and the wider world. There is huge frustration at the assumption that everyone can get online.
- Most young people have access at school or college (filtered) and are using their devices to access any wifi signal they can find.
Risks of technology
- Young people are clear on the benefits of technology in their lives - and of the various risks that technology brings - including increased isolation, cyber-bullying and identity theft.
- Every young person indicated that they do not habitually (if ever) turn their phone off.
- Young people do not receive financial information and advice through school / college; they learnt most from parents, friends and personal experience; they lack confidence with money management - especially in the longer-term.
- Young people know that things are more expensive in the countryside and understand why (e.g.in terms of costs of transporting goods)
- Young people are debt-adverse. They feel that there is a lack of advice targeted at them around issues of debt.
- Young people understand risks around debt, including immediate and the longer-term. They know that sometimes debt is unavoidable (especially on low incomes).
- To avoid debt, young people are keen to work more, earn more, plan better and live at home for as long as possible. Some young people will not go to University because of the debt involved.
- Young people understood the value of volunteering but also see practical barriers to volunteering that arise from living in the countryside - travel to the volunteering placement can be impossible / costly and limiting to choice.
- Young people had ideas on promoting volunteering opportunities to young people - and not just focused on social media.
Health and wellbeing
- Young people feel healthy in the countryside and value the quieter life of rural living. Negative feelings around health and wellbeing were focused on lack of access, opportunity and linked to isolation.
- Young people take responsibility for looking after their own health and use multiple sources of information for this.
‘A Place to Hang Out’ report (1998 to 2011)
In partnership with the University of Exeter, Somerset Rural Youth Project completed a unique 15 year longitudinal study of rural youth in Somerset. The purpose of the research was to examine the attributes of rural Somerset and the leisure behaviour, experiences and expectations of rural youth. This project is the only longitudinal study of its kind worldwide and offers invaluable insight into the experiences of young people living in Somerset across generations.
The findings presented are based on data from the same questionnaire survey carried out in 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2011, examining the personal and household characteristics of participants, their leisure activity, perceived social and economic opportunities and attitudes towards living in the countryside. To augment the data and provide greater insight, during each research phase in depth discussion groups were held with local young people.
- To examine if and how the experiences of young people living in rural Somerset have changed since 1998;
- To identify young people’s barriers to social, cultural and economic participation in rural areas;
- To investigate the aspirations and leisure behaviour of rural youth.
1. Over the past decade, socio-economic and gender inequalities have widened in rural Somerset:
- The findings suggest that the number of women employed in professional or managerial roles has declined since 2007, while the number of men has increased.
- In general unemployment has risen in rural Somerset since 1998.
- The unemployment rate for men is below the national average, while the rate for women is above.
- Since 2003, rising numbers of young people between the ages of 13 and 16 have no income.
- Since 2007 there has been a decline in the availability of part-time work for under 16s.
2. Increasing young people have less freedom from adult supervision:
- The leisure activities of young people in rural Somerset have not altered significantly since 1998.
- However, gender differences are evident in the leisure behaviour of young people. Young men prefer formal and informal sports activities, young women prefer socialising and formal sports activities.
- Since the original research was carried out, provision of formal activities has increased, at the same time young people’s movements in informal spaces have been monitored and restricted. As a result, young people in rural Somerset still need places to ‘hang out’.
3. Increasingly young people do not feel a valued part of rural Society:
- The young people’s feelings towards living in the countryside were mixed.
- An increasing number of young people feel that they do not have a say in their village.
- At the same time there has been a decline in interest amongst young people to take part in local decision-making.
- Gender differences are evident however – a higher percentage of girls reported wanting a say and being involved in local decision-making than young men.
- Increasingly young people feel that there are limited opportunities in the countryside in regards to future occupation.
For more information on the Somerset Rural Youth Project, see their website.