‘Beautiful’ but ‘isolated’: What Somerset life is really like

PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 June 2015

Rural Somerset - pretty, but lacking in opportunity for young people?

Rural Somerset - pretty, but lacking in opportunity for young people?

Archant

SOMERSET has been described as a ‘friendly’ county with ‘beautiful scenery’ in a new report – however, rural isolation and a lack of affordable housing have been identified as significant problems.

An overview of life expectancies in Somerset. Photo by ONS.An overview of life expectancies in Somerset. Photo by ONS.

The findings emerged from 
Somerset County Council’s latest Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), which provides an overview of health and wellbeing across the county.

The JSNA also revealed people in Somerset villages, like Brent Knoll and Shipham, can on average expect to live more than two years longer than those in towns, while more than 25 per cent of the county’s population is expected to be aged 65 or older by 2033.

According to the survey, one of the best things about life in Somerset is its rural environment. Respondents say the county is blessed with ‘beautiful scenery’ and add they love the peace, quiet and tranquillity of life in the countryside.

The survey also found men who lived in rural parts of Somerset – which are defined as having a population of less than 10,000 people – are likely to live until the age of 81.7, compared to only 79.4 in urban areas. Women can expect to live until 85.8 years of age in villages, compared to 82.9 in towns.

Rural Somerset - pretty, but lacking in opportunity for young people?Rural Somerset - pretty, but lacking in opportunity for young people?

A statement issued by Somerset County Council said: “This year’s summary document Somerset: Our County 2014/2015, has a particular focus on our rural life and differences concerning health, wellbeing and social care for people living in the countryside.

“It looks at the assets the county is fortunate to have and considers longer-term issues and strategic priorities within a rural context.”

Despite revealing an ‘appreciation’ for the countryside among the county’s young people, the JSNA does not paint such a positive picture for those aged between 16 and 24.

The survey revealed young people living in the county’s villages feel ‘digitally isolated’ from their peers and would like improved advice services on a range of topics, ranging from money management to housing.

Somerset rural life in numbers

n 48 per cent of Somerset’s population is classified as rural, making it England’s ninth most rural county.

n One in five women aged 65 or over, living in a rural area, has no 
access to a car or van.

n Somerset house prices are 30 per cent higher in rural villages than in urban areas.

n Crime rates in rural villages are less than half of those in urban areas – but are falling less sharply.

n One in three people in Somerset’s rural hamlets is self-employed – more than twice the national average.

The Somerset Rural Youth Project is a charity which works to ‘advise’ and ‘empower’ young people, through teaching them new skills and boosting their self confidence.

Its director Nik Harwood believes one of the key challenges facing the county’s young is a lack of information and advice.

He said: “One of the biggest things facing young people at the moment, with public services as they are, is that there isn’t an easily accessible source of advice and guidance for them.

“They might ask their form tutor or someone at work about things – but that person is not an expert on housing or finance. There’s a real gap in terms of who young people can talk to and I think we try and provide that support in a proactive manner.”

Young people in Somerset: the facts

n There are 23,000 people aged between 16 and 24 living in 
Somerset.

n 16 to 34-year-olds comprise 24 per cent of urban residents but only 16 per cent of the rural population.

n 66 per cent of pupils living in rural villages achieved at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C (including maths and English), compared with 54 per cent of those in urban areas.

n Children living in rural Somerset are less likely to live with both parents, and are more likely to be young carers than their urban counterparts.

Mr Harwood also stressed young people who live in villages and hamlets are blighted by ‘digital isolation’. According to the JSNA, digital isolation is where a person feels cut off from their peers as a result of poor mobile phone signal, slow broadband speeds or a lack of internet access.

Mr Harwood added: “All of the young people we spoke to in 
our focus groups had access to a smartphone, but many felt isolated due to a lack of connectivity.

“One young man who took part said he would walk a mile and a half daily to the next village to access Facebook on his phone, simply because there was no internet access in his village.”

However, Mr Harwood was keen to add that despite these issues, the majority of young people who contributed to the JSNA were happy with life in the countryside.

He said: “Overall, the report gave us a real sense of positivity. Although they can be isolated, many young people in rural areas enjoy the peace and quiet and tranquillity of the countryside.

“We try to encourage young people to stay in the countryside if that is what they want, but for others, it is about going away and coming back. We always try to work with the individual.”

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