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Press release

  • 18 March 2005
  • Why rural life is not so great for kids

    The traditional view that a rural upbringing is idyllic for children is challenged in a report by a University of Sussex social psychologist.


    Rosie Meek, who carried out the research for the Howard League for Penal Reform, says that far from having a sense of belonging in their communities, young people living in the country feel isolated and marginalised, with many that are labelled as "troublemakers" unable to shake off the tag.


    She goes on to point out that anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) raise, rather than solve, tensions in rural communities and should be replaced by community projects.


    Meek focused on young people in the rural communities of the South West (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset). One group was surveyed in their community and a second group was interviewed while serving prison sentences. They were asked about their experiences of growing up, the problems they encountered, how they felt and what they would like to change.


    She found out:


    ·  They were bored. Anti-social behaviour was a direct result of having nothing to do. Young people wanted leisure facilities and somewhere to go and be with their friends. Such facilities are often only available in larger towns that are inaccessible due to poor public transport.


    ·  Visibility of young people increases their problems. Being recognised in a local community for many would seem a good thing, but many marginalised young people feel it makes their problems worse and find it hard to lose the tag of troublemaker.


    ·   Moving to rural locations at an early age can lead to being seen as an outsider. Many young people who had got into trouble had moved with their families to rural locations when they were young to improve their quality of life.


    The report recommends that:


    ·     Rural communities should think about the needs of children and young people when planning or improving services and facilities. The young people surveyed repeatedly said they wanted to be involved in this process. 


    ·    Improvements in drug, alcohol and sexual health services, leisure facilities and local infrastructure, in particular transport, should be a priority.


    ·    Young people in rural communities should not be viewed as a threatening presence.


    ·    ASBOs should be replaced with community projects.  The use of anti-social behaviour legislation has only heightened tension in rural communities.


    Meek, who is completing a DPhil funded by the Economic and Social  Research Council, says: "This research explodes the myth that growing up in a rural location is nothing but beneficial for children and young people. They want to be valued and active members of their communities but at the moment they don't feel that anyone is listening, let alone taking any notice of their problems."


    Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform says: "The only way to improve anti-social and low-level offending is to embrace young people and start including them and involving them in rural communities."


    Notes for editors 

    Once Upon a Time in the West was written for the Howard League for Penal Reform by Rosie Meek, a DPhil student at the University of Sussex, who was awarded a Howard League for Penal Reform Sunley Fellowship.


    University of Sussex press office contacts: Jacqui Bealing or Maggie Clune, tel: 01273 678888 or email or





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