Here in my village in the centre of Devon, we are undergoing a significant shift in our society. In this, we are behind much of England, where this shift has already taken place, but in southern Europe there is little sign of it yet. I wonder where the boundary lies?
It is called rural gentrification and it has reversed the rural population decline that led to Winkleigh’s population falling to 881 in the 1931 census, and now recovered to over 1300. The peak, 1554 was in 1851, and new estates may well mean that we have now exceeded that.
Needless to say the families who have been here for generations, and who are now closely inter-married, may rather resent the newcomers, although very glad that the shops and the Post Office thereby have enough custom to survive. Some of the newcomers are young families looking for comparatively cheap housing and prepared to drive many miles to work. Then there are the retirees, some like me from Exeter (40km away) but many more from the Home Counties. They tend to be well educated professional people. Often they have retired early and so need to occupy their time by organising clubs and societies and generally ‘running the village’. Local families are more concerned with their nearby family members.
The older properties in the village, notably in the Square are now frequently owned by the newcomers (or blow-ins as they are called around here). There is little doubt that their arrival has tidied the appearance of the village considerably. Properties within the Conservation Area are now well maintained, but the improvement to the material fabric has been accompanied by a more divided social fabric. The new estates are occupied, surprisingly often by the offspring of local families now returning here.
This situation appears to be the norm in southern England, with much of the south-east and the Cotswolds now being unaffordable for most local families. Cornwall and the Devon coastal areas are the same. Is the process something we should prevent, even if we could? How far across Europe has it spread. It certainly seems fairly common in much of France (with many of the incomers being foreigners, often English or Dutch), but equally Greek friends tell me that there people who can leave the rural areas still do so and head for the cities. What’s the situation elsewhere?
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