A few weekends ago, people flocked to the Cotswold village of Chadlington and queued for three hours to get into Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘Diddly Squat’ farm shop, popularised by the new Amazon Prime series, ‘Clarkson’s Farm’.
Clarkson bought the farm 11 years ago and it has been run by a contract farmer since. He freely admitted he knew nothing about farming and this lack of knowledge led to his new series as it follows the presenter as he attempts to run a working farm.
There is no doubt that the series has spotlighted the complexities, inner-workings and injustices of farming a modern-day food chain. There is also no denying that the series has brought farming to a younger audience and enlightened an older one on farm management.
But what the show does not reveal is a hidden rural problem faced by many young farm workers in the countryside who cannot afford a home in the community where they work.
The unforeseen stars of the show are Kaleb and Ellen, young self-employed farm contractors on who Jeremy learns to depend, along with Head of Security, Gerald. Employment website Indeed lists the average UK annual farm workers salary as around £19,000. By contrast, average UK house prices are £256,000 – around 13.5 times these average salaries.
Just as people flocked to the Cotswolds to buy Clarkson’s produce, many more are flocking to buy homes. It is a desirable place to live – rolling hills and outstanding natural beauty – but it comes at a cost. House prices in rural areas have risen by 21% in the last five years and are now rising twice as fast as in urban areas, putting an affordable home out of reach for many young rural workers.
So, what is the solution?
We need to build more affordable homes in rural areas. It is as simple as that.
And we are not talking hundreds of homes that turn picturesque Cotswold villages into urban sprawls. A handful of beautiful homes – six to eight – on a small piece of land, secure significant value for rural communities.
Building those homes allows young rural workers to remain in the villages they grew up in, close to their agricultural workplaces, family and friends. Not only do the workers themselves benefit, the rural community benefits too. Building just ten affordable rural homes supports 26 local jobs, provides a £1.4m boost to disadvantaged economies and generates a 3.5% annual return for the Government.
But you cannot build without land and the willingness of a local landowner to make a site for affordable homes available. Just a small corner of a field close to, or adjoining, the existing village developed in partnership with the community and housing association, like English Rural, is all it takes. This Rural Exceptions approach works when other options can’t, by securing planning permission for affordable homes that benefit local people and the community.
For centuries, local farmers and landowners like Jeremy Clarkson have been custodians of the countryside, and their role in helping rural communities thrive is just as critical now.