Eden a bucolic paradise — or a prison for young people?

Date: Friday 15th February 2019
Oliver Talli
Oliver Talli

LAST week BBC News published an article online ranking Great Britain’s local authority areas as places to live for under-26s — and the news is rather bleak for the young people of Eden.

Askham Village, Eden Valle
Askham Village, Eden Valle

The study measured 11 different categories that a survey of young people considered important to them and gave them a score out of 10. These factors ranged from 4G coverage and the number of sports facilities to rental prices and employment rates.

With an average score of three out of 10 Eden ranked as one of the worst areas for young people to live in the UK. While I contest the validity of some of the categories for young people, for instance mental health care, the general conclusion holds true. Cumbria is just not an attractive place for young people to live.

Eden scored zero in three separate categories — bus services, sports facilities and going out. For many of us this comes as no surprise. An example of this is with my own village, Askham, which has only one bus service a week. On a Thursday.

For those in school or work this provides literally no access to town or the social and economic opportunities it represents. Therefore, while on the one hand living in such a village may seem like a bucolic paradise to many, on the other the isolation it can create for young people can make it seem more like a rural prison.

Having discussed this with other young people in the area, there seems to be a common image arising. The image of a lonely 16-year-old who can’t yet drive and whose friends live miles away in distant villages. This kind of community just isn’t sustainable.

Don’t even get me started on Penrith’s nightlife for younger people which is at best a novelty and at worst some kind of lager-fuelled Greek tragedy. Not to mention the £25 needed for the taxi home again afterwards.

These findings alone are worrying enough, but the wider implications are far more damning for our local area. For the past few decades London and other major cities have proven to be far more attractive places for young people to live than Cumbria has, thus leading to a mass exodus of young sters seeking pastures new.

This is especially noticeable among the highest attaining graduates, hence the phenomenon being titled the “brain drain”. Although youth employment is relatively high in Eden, the jobs are primarily limited to rural agriculture and tourism, which leaves those with other skills looking further afield for work.

The BBC’s figures show that 166 young people are moving out of the area and in fact I could count on my fingers the number of my school friends who have chosen to remain in Cumbria. This existing concentration of skilled jobs in southern metropolitan areas draws talented young people away from Eden and in doing so concentrates these industries more, ultimately perpetuating this cycle of youth migration. Clearly, this has a drastic effect in widening the pre-existing north/south economic divide, making all of us who remain poorer.

I may joke that the village stretch and tone class is more of a retch and moan class, but it does highlight the hugely ageing population of Eden and Cumbria as a whole. Shockingly, 16 to 25-year-olds make up only 10 per cent of Eden’s population, while over-65s account for almost triple that.

An older demographic means fewer people in the workforce with more people dependent on them. Consequently, this will ultimately require people like you and I to work for longer and longer than previous generations ever did to cope with the populace’s demands.

I am a proud Cumbrian who loves living here, but realistically economic forces are against me. We need more industries with skilled jobs, more social spaces for younger people, and more connectivity in order to build a better future for the young people of this county.

Call me a pessimist, but the fact remains that without more incentives for young people to stay in Cumbria we will see the continued degradation of our economy and our community.