1. It’s not all about deprivation. West Somerset has the lowest social mobility in England. This does not mean it is the most deprived place in the country, although it is down there in the rankings. No, what it means is that disadvantaged kids living here have less chance than kids living anywhere else in the country to change their future in a positive way.
2. Just because not everyone is struggling, doesn’t mean no one is. Lots of young people will, of course, overcome the problems of living in a rural, isolated, low-skilled place all by themselves if they are especially tenacious, or with the help of their families or a boost from a supportive youth worker or myriad of other role models. Plenty of kids here have confidence in bucket loads and will do just fine. But some won’t. And if you are one of the ones who doesn’t have a strong supportive family or a particular drive, it will be harder here than anywhere.
3. Not everyone can just ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’. We have heard this so much recently: ‘Well, my boy is doing well, he goes to college everyday’. ‘Well, I grew up here and I have started my own business.’ This not only misses the point, it trivialises it. Just because some people are fine without help, doesn’t mean everyone is. And here, in this place at the bottom of the list, a response which expects everyone to just be able to deal with immense challenges for themselves when they are 15 or 16 years old is downright unfair.
4. Many of the young people most affected are not lazy, they are facing enormous difficulties. They are the kids who are caring for a parent or sibling every day, they are the kids who don’t have a stable family-life, they are the kids who see alcoholism or drug use in their houses, they are the kids in homes without a regular income (in a place where anyway average wages are the lowest of anywhere in the country at just £16k). They are the ones we need to help the most.
5. Education is not enough. Education is crucial, but alone is insufficient. For some young people going to university and using that as a launch pad to what they can do will be life changing. But plenty of kids won't be able to or won't want to go to university. Encouraging a brain drain of the smartest kids out of the area will not help the rest. There must be ways in which staying here also offers a decent, full-filling, challenging future for our young people.
6. Opportunities don’t grow on trees. A look at the evidence as it pertains to West Somerset makes it obvious that the main issue is not education it is enterprise. There are simply not enough decent, well-paying, purposeful jobs available here. But how do we get them? The public sector can’t magic them up and the market won’t without heavy incentives. But the social-purpose and community business sector can create new jobs, choices, pathways to a better future, if there is the will to do it. In West Somerset there is.
7. Government still has a major role to play. That means money. But not the small sums that are being dribbled in over the next few years. It means enough to change the playing field. As we have said in previous blogs , £72 million from one department across the 12 worst areas in the country is tinkering. This year alone the City of London contributed £72 billion to the Exchequer. We need a proper injection of cash if we want to solve a problem that has been ignored and reinforced by generations in Westminster. But we’re not asking government to solve our problems, we’re asking it to enable us to solve them ourselves.
8. It will take collective aspiration, not collective denial, to solve these problems. It is all of our responsibility if we live in community like this to find a way to build better futures for our kids. The schools can’t do it alone. Businesses can’t take it all on. The public sector doesn’t have the capacity, and the community can only do so much without meaningful partnerships. But together, with community-led, council-supported, business-orientated solutions underpinned by a decent education, we can make a huge difference. We can put all our collective compassion to good use.
9. The time is now. There is no quick fix. The challenges facing young people in a place like West Somerset are decades in the making - expecting young people to solve them alone in a generation is naïve. But we will not sit back and wait for another generation to be wasted. The time to act is now.
10. Young people should expect more of us if we are going to expect more of them. There is no doubt that one of the major challenges in West Somerset is that expectations are too low. They should be high. We should expect more of our young people, because they deserve better than we have expected to now. But we need to live up to their expectations too.* As a community we can find a way to deliver a decent education, worthwhile, skilled job opportunities, an aspiration towards enterprise and a belief that we can all do better.
*There is a famous scene in Dirty Dancing that is lodged hard into my memory. A tearful 'Baby' turns to her traditionalist father having failed despite trying to do the right thing, and says 'I am sorry I let you down, Daddy. But you let me down too'. It is a crushing and accurate challenge that goes to the heart of what we owe our young people.
The government has launched it's Social Mobility Action Plan today. Read more here
Onion Collective CIC is a not-for-profit social enterprise working in West Somerset to build a stronger future. It was established five years ago by four young women who believe that business with social purpose can be a powerful force for social change. Today, they are submitting a planning application for a major enterprise and cultural development on the East Quay in Watchet, West Somerset. It aims to transform aspiration [read more here]. They are also working on a powerful scheme to create a new Industry for Watchet that will provide more than 170 high-skilled, purposeful jobs for the next generation [read more here].