GROWING up in a beautiful rural landscape is often pictured as a fairytale but for many of the younger people in our community the reality is far different.
Isolation, financial difficulties and a lack of opportunity are just some of the factors that can make Cumbria a very difficult place to make the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Statistics abound to illustrate just how tough it can be. For instance, in August two thirds of the increased claims for Job Seekers Allowance came from young people, not adults. Self harm and alcohol abuse among young people is also higher here than it is in other parts of the country.
With a lack of jobs and a lack of affordable housing, many young people are forced to leave – not because of the lure of the city – but simply because they cannot see a future here.
And their departure affects us all. There’s a real risk that small, rural communities will die out as businesses like local post offices and village pubs are unable to find either customers or staff.
There are many national incentives to help young people but I don’t believe they are designed for youngsters living in rural areas.
The prime providers tend to focus on young people who are easy to find.
Unfortunately, due to our rurality, our young people aren’t easy to find and they often miss out on the benefits of these nationally-funded schemes.
This is where grass roots organisations like us and our network come in – we reach out to these small communities and create a support network designed to help young people get on the right track in life.
One of our successful projects is the Big White Van, which drives into the heart of remote communities where there are limited facilities for younger residents. Our youth workers offer advice, support and a range of activities for young people to engage in.
It’s proved a winning formula and following our first van in Allerdale we have introduced a second in Copeland. Our next goal is to secure funding for a third van in the Eden Valley.
We also launched a new tool kit to help young people stay safe in all aspects of their lives from relationships to cyberspace.
The Staying Safe education programme is now available to schools and youth groups across the county to provide practical advice and help on how to tackle bullying, look after health and wellbeing and how to make the right decisions in difficult situations.
Our next big project is looking at how we can support young people to create their own opportunities and help them to become entrepreneurs in whatever field they choose.
Thanks to the endless possibilities the internet offers there is no reason why young people have to leave Cumbria to create new opportunities or set up a successful business.
And that’s where we need help – from individuals and businesses across Cumbria who are willing to give our young people a helping hand so they can carve out their own success here and not be forced to take their talents elsewhere. It can be anything from advice to work experience, from skills sharing to funding.
We’re really keen to work in partnership with the business sector to provide fresh opportunities for the talented young people who live in Cumbria and are looking at innovative ways to make this happen.
I believe we all need to work together to help make Cumbria a viable place for young people to live, work and grow.
The challenges facing rural young people need addressing positively and immediately - a failure to act will put the future viability of our rural communities at risk.
For more information about Young Cumbria and how you can get involved visit www.youngcumbria.orglllh
- Kathleen Newson, CEO of Young Cumbria