Connecting young people to their rural communities

A spotlight on Great Place Lakes and Dales from Maya Sharma.

I interviewed my colleague, Consultancy Director Penny Mills, who has been leading on our research project with Great Place Lakes and Dales. The programme has provided some interesting insight about place-making and engaging young adults with arts and culture in rural communities, so I was keen to share some learning from the project.

What is Great Place Lakes and Dales?

The Great Place Lakes and Dales project is a partnership project, delivered by the Craven and South Lakeland District Councils, the Lake District National Park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s funded by the Great Place Scheme, funded in turn by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, which seeks to explore how putting cultural engagement at the heart of place-shaping can have social and economic impacts at a local level.

Exploring the experiences of younger people aged 16 – 34

The population of South Lakeland and Craven Districts is ageing: 15-19 year olds leave the area in high proportions and there are fewer 16 – 34 year olds in this area than the England national average. This raises understandable concerns about an increasing imbalance in the population and this project seeks to understand how to retain and attract more of this younger age range. The Audience Agency, with partners MB Associates and DOINK (part of the Beatfreeks collective), was commissioned to investigate what it’s like for 16 – 34 year olds to live, work and play in this area.

Young people haven’t been centre to local culture and communities

We discovered lots of great things about the area – access to the outdoors and connection to the environment, good levels of wellbeing, a strong sense of community and pockets of innovation and activity at a local level. The local built, natural and cultural heritage is highly valued and there are many opportunities to engage with the arts and creativity. However, many of these opportunities are organised by (and therefore better serve) an older demographic. Younger people, their needs and motivations were not central to local culture and communities and there was limited space for younger people to express themselves, be represented and thrive.

It must also be remembered that to live and work in a place requires an infrastructure that enables thriving. It is for the local authorities to take on the responsibility to enable younger people to get a good start, particularly in relation to affordable homes and effective local connectivity (transport and broadband).

Potential to catch a rising tide

Despite this, we noted an increasing number of creative businesses setting up in the area, mostly run by younger people. We also saw signs that younger people are looking to stay or move to the area, given the opportunities that remote working now offers. So, there is potential to catch the spirit of a rising tide, to establish the area as a place to do business, be creative and enjoy a quality of life.

The importance of affordable space for self-led creativity

The commissioners of the project have set out to use cultural activity and creativity as a good platform for dialogue and actioning change in the area. Part of the intention is to engage with younger people growing up in the area, to find out what kinds of arts and heritage they are excited by, how they can be better supported to get involved in it and show them what it looks like to have a career in the cultural sector. The findings suggest that providing an affordable space to develop their own creative enterprises and giving them a voice and agency in cultural policy-making and planning will allow them to become active and invested in local cultural ecologies.

This, in turn, should result in a body of younger people who feel excited by their area so that, even if they do move away, they continue to champion their cultural roots and may return later in life. It should also result in attracting younger people from outside the area, who see it as a place where they will be valued and given space.

Great Place projects are three year projects that run until 2020, so watch this space.

The full highlights report and some videos of the younger people we interviewed are here.


Photo credit: Stephen Garnet

Written by Maya Sharma, Learning and Participation Consultant
Featured in the December edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.