What’s Discouraging Young Professionals?
by Freya Ashmore Environmental Consultant in Gloucestershire
I’ve worked as an Environmental Consultant in Gloucestershire since graduating from Durham four years ago. Since then, I’ve lived in Newent, Gloucester and Cheltenham, and have worked in locations around the county.
I’m glad the declining younger population is being taken seriously as part of the Big Conversation; it’s certainly not a sustainable flight path for the county. It doesn’t feel like there’s a thriving population of a similar age to me, compared with other cities/areas. As a young professional, I don’t feel there’s much to incentivise me to stay in the area, which is a sign of a big problem for Gloucestershire.
What’s Discouraging Young Professionals?
While this might be a broad-brush statement, I think that generally young adults are looking for experience and opportunity.
Cities are attractive when they offer experience: culture, entertainment, the cuisine of 50 countries, great bars, live music, museums and galleries, independent shops, character. Compared with Birmingham and Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham are missing out on a lot of these things.
Opportunity is equally important, and I don’t just mean the opportunity of immediate employment. A great place to live also surrounds us with people doing things we want to be doing in the future: it’s aspirational. That’s especially important to the type of highly-skilled, highly-motivated young people who are going to bring ideas and energy to the county.
The biggest problem with the net loss of young people is that it’s self-sustaining. The more you lose, the less pull there is for those that remain. Without a concerted and focused effort, I don’t feel confident that the county would make the changes necessary to point us in a new direction.
That’s what’s great about the concept behind Gloucestershire 2050 – careful, integrated, community-focused planning is what’s needed to tackle many of the county’s sticky points.
My Thoughts on the Glos 2050 Ideas
To me, the Super City idea represents much-needed strategic thinking around the growth and interaction of our key urban areas. I’m not quite sure I like the idea of the county becoming a big conurbation (coming from the West Midlands I understand how that turns out), but for better or worse it’s very probable that the gap between Gloucester and Cheltenham will eventually be swallowed up. That can either be bit-by-bit by housing estates until it’s nothing but suburban sprawl, or it can be designed and planned to also offer the experiences and opportunities that make a city great.
That said, I hope plans would be based around the principle that sustainable redevelopment of existing urban areas is preferable to creating new ones. The rejuvenation at Gloucester Docks is a great example of how old structures can be re-used and new life brought back into unlikely areas. It would be wrong to neglect areas of Gloucester and Cheltenham in favour of a new third centre; building a new hub will not automatically make its effects trickle outwards, rather, nice new areas often have the effect of pulling investment from older ones that really need it.
If there were to be a new centre, I’d love to see renewable energy, resource-efficiency, biodiversity and low-carbon strategies take centre stage in its design. Starting from scratch is the perfect opportunity to integrate new technologies and ambitious ideas to create a better environment.
For young professionals specifically, I think the idea of growing a Cyber Park is a great. A developing national centre of excellence would be a big draw for skilled individuals, and it’s a growing industry that many young adults are entering. But to attract and keep young professionals this needs to be paired with the ‘experience’ offering, and also provision of good-quality, genuinely affordable starter homes, something that’s lacking from the county at the moment.
A key need will be greatly improved transport infrastructure. One of the Glos 2050 Ideas is for an international Cotswolds Airport, but I would say that of more immediate concern are the county’s internal roads and public transport. I would like to see world-leading transport infrastructure with grow-in room as part of Glos 2050, both in terms of adequate roads and top-notch public transport. I suspect the benefits would far outweigh the costs of development.
This Big Conversation is just what the county needs, and it comes not a moment too soon. I would encourage anyone to get involved in the discussion, particularly younger people, so that their voices are heard and the whole community can feed into building the Gloucestershire they want to see.