What This Country Gets Right About Growing Up In The Middle Of Nowhere

This Country's jokes are obviously hilarious – but there's an interesting and important message in there, too.

this country bbc three

by Mollie Goodfellow |
Updated on

‘Can I just ask you an honest question: why would you want to leave the village when we’ve got a pub and a shop?’ This is what Kerry says to her cousin Kurtan when he tells her he’s planning on leaving the village they both live in to go to college.

In BBC3 mockumentary This Country, back tonight for a third and final series, Kerry and Kurtan are two young people living in a rural village near the Cotswolds. The premise of the mockumentary is that young people living in rural areas of Britain feel more marginalised than ever, so the BBC are spending six months with some young people to explore the problem.

Kerry and Kurtan are both jobless and living with relatives, having never moved on to college or university after leaving school. And I grew up in a village just like them.

My village is small, picture-postcard looking and half an hour drive to any of the big towns. Everybody knows each other, many of the big families are related by blood or marriage. There are three pubs, two garages, two tea rooms and one post office.

It was a wonderful place to grow up as a child. I grew up just as dial-up was coming in, so still had some semblance of wanting to play outside in the fresh air and on old-fashioned things such as bicycles. I had a small group of friends and we’d play in the street, on the fields or even in the wooded area - Ghost Wood as we called it - of the village that I promised my mum I wouldn’t go to. (Sorry Mum. If it helps I never went on the homemade swing across the rocky stream.)

My village primary school had about 70 students maximum. There were about 12-13 pupils in my year group. We had to walk across the village to do PE on the sports field and swimming lessons were a half hour coach ride away. One of the most exciting times in the school year was when the mobile library came to the village and a few students from each class would get to climb aboard and choose new books for the small school library/computer room/coatroom.

It's a wonderful place to grow up as a child. But to be a teenager or young adult? Not so great.

In the last episode of series one of This Country, Kerry and her small band of Year 7 friends called the Dump Gang are building a den using old bits of scrap they found. We did similar, though not in a scrap yard. And we weren’t called the Dump Gang. We made a den in some trees at that bit at back of the church which backed onto a man’s house. He had a swimming pool and whenever we heard noise in his garden we had to evacuate the den so we wouldn’t be told off.

As I said, a wonderful place to grow up as a child. But to be a teenager or young adult? Not so great. The remoteness of the place made it feel very claustrophobic. As I went into year 7, I went to a different school than many of my primary school friends. I commuted 45 minutes to secondary and most of my new friends lived a half an hour bus ride away from that.

By this time the Internet was in full swing. After school I’d rush back from the village green where the bus would drop us off and log in to MSN to talk to the pals I’d just been hanging out with. I no longer played outside, but would just badger my parents to pick me up from friends’ houses or let me sleepover at the weekend.

The claustrophobia only got worse as I got older. When we got to 17 it was a race to get a driving license and car. A race I lost. Apparently they automatically fail you if you run through a red light - the audacity! Me and one of my oldest friends celebrated when we snagged boyfriends who could drive. It meant freedom, it meant escape, it meant late night trips to Tescos - a luxury in a village where the one shop closes at 5pm

A report released by the Commission for Rural Communities (which was abolished in 2013, lol) it said that young people living in rural areas face a number of uniquely rural barriers, particularly concerning access to transport, careers advice, employment and training support, and youth services.

This felt particularly true in the village I grew up in. If you don’t drive, it’s a long bus ride to the nearest town. Local businesses are small with few opportunities for full-time work and little more opportunity to build careers.

In statistics published by the government in 2014, 14.7% of the rural population were made up of 15-29 year olds. Obviously, that includes the ages of 15-18 year olds, which will include school aged people, however the gap of 19-29 year olds is still worth considering.

At 20 years old, I moved to the bright lights of London (other major UK cities are available and encouraged) to undertake a journalism apprenticeship. Other friends of mine from the village went to universities in local towns and London. Some, like me, didn’t go to university at all and went straight into work. Some still live in the village and have started families.

I think it’s easy to get trapped or left behind in villages like these, like mine. They are cosy in the sense that your entire life has been there, your family and friends. You know everyone and there is a sense of community. But there also aren’t the opportunities there are in larger towns, nor are there the outreach schemes in place for young people - which are being cut in bigger towns also.

In Essex alone, the county council cut youth spending by 44% from 2011-12 and 2013-14. Not all young people have their own Reverend Seaton to attempt to keep them on the straight and narrow.

So, while we laugh at Kerry and Kurtan’s small village lifestyle - I almost died when they started celebrating teacher Mr Perkins’ death by blowing whistles as they chanted through the village - it’s important to remember that the story this mockumentary tells is rooted in real life, and young people around the country may be being left behind.

Follow Mollie on Twitter @hansmollman

This article originally appeared on The Debrief and has been updated.

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