Young people are the life-blood of our rural places

13 Mar 2018

Just over a year ago I employed a ‘millennial’, the term used to describe anyone born between 1981 and 1996. I was warned that millennials can have short attention spans and a poor work ethic, in my experience, this simply isn’t the case, taking on ‘my’ millennial has been one of the highlights of my working life.

Young people bring vibrancy, ideas and energy and, are therefore feel, are vital for the future of rural communities and the wider rural economy.

But what do we really know about how the rural youth is feeling and what they need to make their lives in our rural places? My reading around the subject suggests that we know very little, other than the hearsay that we pick up in conversation and around kitchen tables.

This lack of knowledge spurred me and ‘my’ millennial to start a voyage of discovery; we came up with a simple plan, to survey rural young people in Scotland, England, Wales, and further afield in Australia, Canada, Sweden and the USA.

We called it the Rural Youth Project, and it is now live. We will repeat it annually until 2022, to discover what youngsters think about rural housing, transport and connectivity, as well as their job prospects and local services.

We’re targeting youngsters aged 18-28 and we plan to record in-depth video logs (vlogs) of around 20 rural young people to hear their stories first-hand.

In July, we will hold a Rural Youth Ideas Festival, on a farm in Kinross. Our aim is to bring together 80 under 28-year-olds with the desire to lead and develop change in their local communities.

In the autumn, we plan to head to Holyrood, armed with our results, and accompanied by some of these young leaders, to report our findings to MSPs.

We’re a month into the online survey, which closes at the end of April, and already the findings have been so enlightening.

Many are grumbling about connectivity and transport, however, their desire to remain in their rural places is strong, with the majority suggesting that they feel mildly, or very, optimistic about their futures.

We’re also learning about what is happening in other countries – for example, in Sweden, rural youth scouts are nominated and entrusted with funds to invest into projects to benefit young people in their local communities.

The project seems to have struck a chord with many others, including the media, youth organisations and the research community.

We’re very grateful to our partners for the support they’ve given us – LANTRA Scotland, the Scottish Association of Young Farmers (SAYFC), Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Rural Action, Scottish Rural Network and YouthLink Scotland.

This year is the Year of Young People in Scotland, and with so much emphasis on youth this year, we want to make sure that rural young people have a voice that will be heard.

The survey can be reached via the Project website

Jane Craigie is a Chartered Marketer with over 25 years’ experience in marketing within the agri-food sector. She is a member of the executive board of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists and the council of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists. Jane is a graduate of the IAgrM and Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programmes, is a Windsor Leadership Alumna and a Waitangi Scholar.