Rural Comfort Zones Aren’t Always Comfortable

There is, despite modern technology and communications, a huge divide in understandings between rural and urban communities. Those in isolated locations are in some ways particularly vulnerable, as their young people leave and they resist change. Perhaps in this they have more in common with inner-city living than they appreciate, but the real risk is that these isolated communities may simply disappear.
What proportion of the UK population, I wonder, has ever been to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, or the very tip of Cornwall, or even to Pembrokeshire or Holy Island? Not that many, I’d guess, despite the fame and slightly mysterious aura of such locations.
But there again, I doubt that most people who live in these beguiling places have much knowledge, or even perhaps an accurate image, of what happens in our great cities, or in Britain’s busy market towns and ports. And of those folk who are well acquainted with urban society, I’d guess most don’t much like it, if they’ve chosen to live in the more far-flung of our wilder or more isolated places.
Does it matter if people stay in their comfort zones?
Most of the time, it’s none of anyone else’s business whether people in given locations are aware of other ways of life. None of us has the template for the ideal lifestyle, and none of us can claim we’ve got it sorted.
There is however a difficulty with the laisser faire approach to lifestyle at the point where it constrains and even threatens the very style we may have chosen. Things are never at a standstill; and this means that with denial of change may actually come the destruction of the way of life preferred.
Small communities become unviable without change
My musings on this subject arise from a recent conversation about an isolated community in north-west Scotland where a new arrival had the bright idea of developing a ‘sanctury’ to which wealthy paying visitors would come. This idea so shocked the more established residents, despite the promise of more jobs and increased investment in their community, that it had to be dropped.
Yet at the same time, here was a rapidly dwindling and aging population who constantly bemoan the way their youngsters have deserted the fold for places urban, or at least more ‘exciting’. What a surprise.
The local perspective isn’t all the story
So, on the one hand we have an enthusiastic newcomer who wants to attract new work and interests into the area, and on the other we have a group of villagers who resent and are highly suspicious of all things new.
The idea that visitors might seriously want to pay to come and enjoy what is there every day for locals doesn’t come into it, because the locals appreciate in a very different way the wonderful commodities (clean air, peaceful and stunning beauty, calm and quiet) they routinely experience. For local people, this ‘experience’ is not a ‘resource’ to invest in reviving their village.
Visitors of course bring with them a certain amount of disruption – but the very topography of these isolated locations means that this cannot be huge. There is absolutely no risk of motorways or hideous ten storey hotels! The problem, it seems to me, is that familiarity – the comfort zone as ever – is often dangerous. If you can’t adapt to new opportunities, you are in danger of losing those you already have.
Fear of the unknown
Perhaps the underlying problem is fear of the unknown – a strange and puzzling phenomenon in these days of instant-fix communication, but one which can afflict people anywhere, urban or rural.
But there’s a special urgency here for some isolated communities. In modern society a culture which doesn’t adapt is likely to be one which contains the seeds of its own destruction. Ironically, without some acceptance of change there is the prospect of a tragic scenario for numbers of small rural communities which until recent times may have existed relatively unchanged for centuries.

Posted on December 4, 2005, in Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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