Over recent years, authorities have warned, rural communities across swathes of North Yorkshire and the Lake District have seen a decline in the number of young people and families living in the area. There are 44 per cent fewer people aged 16 to 34 years here than the country-wide average, official figures show, with the national park authority warning earlier this year it is now facing the biggest crisis in its 64-year history, partly as a result. As moves are made by authorities to tackle fears, funding has been secured for research towards reversing this cycle of decline, impacting on the vitality and resilience of rural communities.
The Great Place: Lakes and Dales (GDLP) project, backed by £1.34m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, aims to persuade more young people to stay or move to the area.
In its first move, it has launched a new research project which will work to understand what the key challenges are, and what can be done to tackle it.
“We live in a beautiful part of the country which has an incredible amount to offer, but the shortage of younger people in the area will be harmful for the local economy unless we can persuade more to stay or move here,” said Lindsey Hebden, programme manager. “Retaining and attracting younger people and new businesses to the area is vital to influence and support our future economy.”
The project, led by Craven District Council in partnership with South Lakeland District Council and the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national park authorities, will focus its research on the cultural and heritage offering of the rural corridor linking Skipton and Grasmere, with findings to be released in October.
“Developing and supporting the creative economy will follow on from defining our cultural distinctiveness by putting arts and heritage at the heart of local policies,” said Mrs Hebden. “Unless we can make the Lakes and Dales realistically appealing for younger people the future vibrancy is at stake. Our research will help identify what needs to be done and what younger people actually want to see.”
Coun Simon Myers, Craven District Council’s lead member for Enterprising Craven, said: “Our Great Place has outstanding countryside and a wealth of culture which has inspired creativity for generations. However, with an ageing population we need to take action to attract and retain more young people. Only young people and families will ensure the survival of our village schools, provide a skilled workforce for local businesses, and keep our districts vibrant and attractive for visitors. We want to make a step change in the perception of our place – finding and piloting new ways of working and new partnerships to retain and attract younger people to our Great Place.”
And Kathryn Beardmore, director of park services for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Association (YDNPA), said the goal is to gain an understanding of what more can be done.
“We need to understand it from a young person’s perspective,” she said. “We need young families, we need young people. It impacts on schools, which are closing, the working age population, on those running the shops, and cafes, and pubs. Everybody understands, with an ageing population, come additional demands. We know we have a gap. This is about understanding how we can address that.”