Limited transport drives rural youth isolation – report

Limited public transport is still one of the biggest challenges facing rural youth, hindering access to a wide range of necessary services.

That’s according to new research published recently by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

The qualitative study ‘Youth Work in Rural Ireland’ explores the experiences of youth workers and young people.

The research highlights that one of the key obstacles facing young people living in rural areas is limited public transport which hinders contact with others, impedes access to services available in urban settings and reinforces a sense of social isolation.

The report by the NYCI, which represents organisations working with over 380,000 young people, highlights the hurdles facing young people and those working with them, and recommends measures to enhance the provision of youth services outside urban settings and to address the needs of rural youth.

Officially launching the report, Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring said that the research report provides a valuable insight into the views of youth workers and young people living in rural Ireland.

“The publication is extremely timely given my department is in the process of developing a new whole-of-government rural development policy for Ireland,” he said.

Massive Implications

Speaking at the launch of the study, Marie-Claire McAleer, head of research and policy at the NYCI, said that limited public transport has massive implications for young people in terms of access to education, training and employment opportunities, and availing of mental health or sexual health services in urban settings.

“Without public transport, accessing services in urban settings is not feasible and this, coupled with the poor broadband infrastructure, inhibits young people’s access to vital supports and information available online,” she said.

Youth workers and young people spoke about some of the key issues in the research findings. As well as the limited transport difficulty, other problems include lack of access to mental health, counselling and other specialised services in the countryside.

“I usually get a lift here, because even if you could, say get a bus, then I would have to get a lift to the bus; I’m that ruraI. I couldn’t walk to the bus stop or anything like that,” said a young person from Mayo.

One Mayo youth worker put the issue of support services under the spotlight.

If you’re a young person who is LGBTI+ living in rural Ireland, where do you access the support?

“We do have a Chairde network night of LGBTI+ groups, one in Ballina, Ballinrobe and Castlebar – but if it’s not in your local area you may still struggle to access this support,” the Mayo worker added.

A Waterford youth worker chimed in, noting: “A lot of our young people come in with issues around anxiety and trying to find services to work with that, more than information. They would all be based in the city.”

The need for investment in youth services was underlined by the speakers including one young person from Mayo. “I have to come here – Castlebar – which is about 40 minutes’ drive from my home to go to a bowling alley or to the cinema or anything like that,” they said.

Access to online information was also pinpointed as an issue. “There was a stage where my WiFI was going down the whole time. If you need to be on the internet you have to go into town,” said a young person from Mayo.

A youth worker from Waterford agreed: “There would be certain pockets of Waterford that would have this very challenging internet and that is very isolating when the rest of the world is out there.”

The research report by the NYCI provides detailed policy recommendations to address the challenges facing rural youth and the youth workers who support them.

New rural development policy

Concluding the launch, Marie-Claire McAleer said that ensuring rural Ireland is an attractive place for young people to live is integral to the revitalisation of the countryside.

We welcome the development of the new rural development policy and hope the findings and recommendations of this report contribute to actions and measures to support as many young people as possible to live and thrive in our rural communities, villages and towns.

The study is the result of six focus groups and six in-depth interviews with youth workers in counties Mayo, Waterford and Tipperary, with youth work volunteers in Co. Wicklow and with young people from counties Mayo and Wicklow on their experiences of growing up in rural Ireland and their views on engaging and participating in youth work.

The complete report is available at: www.youth.ie/ruralyouthwork