Is anybody out there? Why the rural/city divide is still a problem

Image credit: Richard Croft

My home, Lincolnshire, is the second-largest county in England, home to an extensive, vibrant history – it is the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, Margaret Thatcher, and Sheridan Smith, amongst others.

But its most impressive achievement is the fact that nobody knows where it is.

Lincolnshire seems to be England’s forgotten county: wearing an invisibility cloak of ploughed fields and potato shreddings, it exists pretty much on the periphery of life itself, sustained in the imaginations of the rest of the country only by the vaguest of mentions on Antiques Roadtrip and Bargain Hunt. It is one of the least ethnically diverse counties, with merely a brief glimpse of a motorway on its northern border, and holding only one smidgeon of an airport which boasts a breath-taking 15 flight destinations, most of which are just seasonal.

I am always consumed with jealousy when my friends from London mention their hour-long train journeys home; their direct Tube links to culture; their vibrant living spaces.

But the country/urban divide is not only noticeable in Lincolnshire. There is such a vast gulf of difference between living in any rural environment and living in a city. Unfortunately, this is a gulf most perceptible to those who are constricted by the miles of agrestic silence that can only be escaped with a three hour trundle down a single-track road. Though those who are lucky enough to reside in a bustling town or city do sometimes yearn for the pastoral, but they quash these desires with the many opportunities they have on their doorstep. For those living in a rural environment, however, the prospects are not so good.

Statistics have shown that, in a sparsely populated location, the driving time to services takes longer; annual wages are lower; and happiness levels are poorer when compared to urban regions. Indeed, the rural/city divide is blatant in terms of Oxbridge applications: four years ago, The Independent released data showing that the majority of applicants to Cambridge and Oxford were from the south-east: nearly 50% more, in fact, than the national average. In 2012, The Guardian reported that “Surrey sent almost as many young people to study at Cambridge and Oxford last year as Wales and the north-east region of England combined.” And, examining the most recent Cambridge applicant data reveals that, aside from overseas candidates, Greater London had the largest number of applicants by far than any other region.

Of course, living rural is not all doom and gloom. I am able to escape civilisation easily; I can go for walks with my dog and see no other signs of humanity; I can work in the most noiseless of environments. The silence of the countryside isn’t so oppressive when it can be forged into an asset.

But walking across a field to visit – you guessed it – another field just doesn’t do it for me when I want to be immersed in a hectic technicolour of art, culture, and history. When I desire experiences and opportunities and excitement, I have only antiques centres, boarded-up shops, and a depleted town market. When I need life, I am faced with a void.

Urbanity, it seems to me, is sadly the only way forward.

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