An officer at Choose Cumbria partners Invest in South Lakeland has been awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship to travel to the US and Canada to explore strategies aimed at increasing the number of young people living and working in rural areas.
Ruth Leahy, who lives in Bowston near Kendal, was one of 150 people out of 1,800 entrants across the UK whose application was successful.
She will spend six weeks in the US and Canada, including travelling the length of the Rockies, visiting rural mountain communities that offer an eclectic mix of culture, outdoor lifestyles and economic prospects.
She plans to meet elected officials, destination management boards, government officers and community leaders along her route.
Ruth said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from colleagues in rural communities on an international scale and represent my work and home in new destinations.
“South Lakeland is a stunning part of the world with many economic and cultural benefits though there are challenges in the form of availability of affordable housing, unemployment, lower than average wages and a perceived lack of opportunity for young people.
“Innovative action is needed to ensure that our communities are sustainable, vibrant and resilient, and attracting young people to move and stay here is a crucial part of this.
“There is a global trend of young people migrating to cities, to the detriment of wonderful rural communities, however, the Rockies experience some of the youngest demographics globally.
“I’m hoping to capture the spirit of these young, thriving communities and bring some fantastic ideas back home so that our communities are more inclusive and sustainable.”
Invest in South Lakeland is part of South Lakeland District Council (SLDC).
Gareth Candlin, economic development programme manager at SLDC, said: “We are immensely proud of Ruth’s achievement in being awarded this fellowship.
“It has involved a lot of hard work on her part on an issue she is passionate about. What she discovers and learns on her trip has great potential to influence decision and policy making in South Lakeland – making a real difference to people.”
South Lakeland’s new council plan seeks to put young people at the heart of the community.
The Great Place: Lakes and Dales Lottery-funded pilot project, initiated by Craven and South Lakeland District Councils, is currently working on how arts, heritage and culture can be used as a catalyst for economic, social and environmental change for younger people.
On her return, Ruth plans to hold a series of presentations to county and region-wide stakeholders, policy makers and communities to inspire new ways to tackle long-standing issues. She also plans to make a documentary along the route, focusing on rural living and community spirit.
Born and raised in Kendal, Ruth studied politics at undergraduate level and sustainable development for her postgraduate qualification at the University of Leeds, before returning to South Lakeland.
Ruth joined SLDC in 2015 and has worked on a number of town and village regeneration projects across the district and Morecambe Bay.
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