Norfolk firms want to attract more young people to rural areas - but how?

Norfolk Rural Development Strategy meeting at Barnham Broom. Left to right, Richard Powell OBE, Clar

Norfolk Rural Development Strategy meeting at Barnham Broom. Left to right, Richard Powell OBE, Clarke Willis, Pat Holtom and Martin Collison.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Attracting young people to Norfolk is crucial if it is to release the economic and social potential of its countryside, according to the region's biggest rural strategy conference.

More than 100 representatives from business, education, agriculture and the public sector gathered at the second annual Norfolk Rural Development Strategy meeting on Friday.

Speakers and guests at Barnham Broom Hotel stressed that enhancing opportunities for young people and expanding the use of digital technologies were key to thriving communities.

Martin Collison, director of rural consultancy firm Collison Associates, said the renewable energy sector was a good example of areas where young people were needed in Norfolk.

'Great Yarmouth is having to recruit from abroad because there are not enough skilled young engineers. We can make those opportunities for them by training them up,' he said.

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'One of the best examples of this is Edge Apprenticeships, which helps young people get into food and farming – one of Norfolk's biggest areas for employment.'

Training through apprenticeship schemes would also give young people the technological skills they need to work with the increasingly-sophisticated machinery coming into farming, said Mr Collison.

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'We will see driverless tractors in the coming years,' he said. 'We need people who understand technology. Many young people have better digital skills than we do.'

Better mobile and broadband connectivity across the region were also identified as important factors which would attract young people and empower aspiring entrepreneurs.

Clarke Willis, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, said a joint venture by Vodafone and 02 called Project Beacon was transforming the accessibility of 3G and 4G for rural areas in Norfolk.

'Not many people are aware this is going on,' he said. 'It's going to really help start-up enterprises in the region, lots of which are by the under-25s.'

More young people in the region would also diversify the predominantly older population of the region, added John Stenhouse, manager at Ipswich-based New Anglia Growth Hub.

'Young people are part of the answer to the social care problem and ageing population here,' he said. 'And if we get broadband and so on we will keep those young people.'

Afforable housing in the region would go a long way in integrating younger people into established communities, said Pat Holtorn, chair of Waveney Valley Local Action Group.

'It's an implementable goal and we must work towards it,' she said. 'This is a low-wage economy, and we need affordable housing if we are to attract graduates and trainees away from cities with higher salaries.'

The Rural Development Strategy steering group said a range of practices in research, technology and education would keep Norfolk thriving, but added it would like to see greater connectivity with young people by the next annual conference.

Do you have a view on young people and Norfolk's future? Contact Jess Staufenberg at or call 01603772531.

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