By Emily Bolger, a recent university graduate who grew up in the Yorkshire Dales

GROWING in the Yorkshire Dales is a unique privilege. I can see that now. But returning to this area has not been without its challenges.

As a child I did not think anything of travelling for an hour to watch the new Harry Potter film in Skipton. Taking the train to Leeds for a pre-Trinity Centre shopping trip with school friends took even longer. But these journeys from our family home in Selside, near Settle, were merely part of the adventure.

It was only when I met people outside of our Dales bubble that I realised where I lived was relatively remote. Being out in the sticks definitely had its advantages. Doors were left unlocked. Outfits were unconsidered.

I would wake up and race my brother out the door to make our own fun. It was a childhood not many people are able to have these days. Being close to nature, we relished the outdoors life.

However, I admit that by the age of 18 I was ready to fly the nest and head beyond the Yorkshire borders.

Independence was a steep learning curve. I left school to go and run a chalet in the French Alps for six months and then to study at the University of Edinburgh for four years, including a return to France to become fluent in the language. Yet, throughout this time I was constantly drawn back to the countryside.

At every opportunity I would venture out to explore the hills and coastline surrounding Scotland’s capital. However, it was not long before I returned to the area in northern England that I still call home.

So as a returner rather than a remainer, referring to the Dales not to our national political position (we will avoid that debate here), I now find myself in a predicament that mirrors the situation of many local young people. Can I sustain a viable career and fulfilled lifestyle in these stunning surroundings? Or will I have to head down to the big smoke in order to progress professionally?

These questions drove me to join over 100 other attendees at the Great Places: Lakes and Dales (GPLD) conference in Settle recently. The project aims to better understand the reasons for there being fewer 16 to 34-year-olds living and working in the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales than the national average and, most importantly, to propose workable solutions.

As a 23-year-old Dales girl, I clearly have a vested interest in the results and their aftermath.

Many of the causes that GPLD attributed to the drain of young people from these areas matched my own concerns.

A lack of affordable housing could see me living with my parents for far too long. And few graduate level jobs in our beautiful surroundings means a daily commute may be required.

However, after all the train tickets and petrol costs, the prospects of me buying that Dales cottage are becoming more and more unlikely.

Could I work from home? Not likely with our agonisingly slow Internet speed and non-existent mobile coverage. Even when I’m not working, is there enough going on around here for young people like me?

Perhaps moving away would be a more realistic option. Many local young people like myself have to accept that relocation may be the only answer.

So we come to the crux of the issue. It is all well and good discussing the problems facing young people in the Lakes and Dales. However, will any real action be taken from the GPLD project to ensure that we can retain and attract young people to these rural areas?

I believe the key to success is representation where it matters. There were suggestions at the conference that young people need to be more politically engaged. Young people are not apolitical. Ask any person under the age of 34 on Skipton High Street what they think about Trump, Brexit, Corbyn and May. Believe me, we all have an opinion.

Ask the same people who our local MP is, what the local council does in the area, and how you would go about getting a chair at their table. They may be less certain of their answers.

If we are looking for substantial action that will plug the leak of young people into surrounding cities and beyond, we need to allow those young voices to have integral roles in policy making and implementation.

This could aptly begin at the beginning with school competitions to allow pupils to help with local council projects, or to spend a day proposing new ideas to our MP.

We need improved careers advice that represents the opportunities, both political and otherwise, that are out there. We need a better network of local businesses that will offer work experience, internships or apprenticeships.

This expansion of perceived opportunity will allow young people to start to visualize a future for themselves in our rural communities. We can then persuade the powers that be that the demand from young people for reasonable train links to Manchester and decent Internet speeds is not unfounded.

We need to work together. Creative collaboration across generations is essential.

Reinventing the endangered local library into a vital co-working hub where young entrepreneurs and local communities can thrive could be a start. Building a calendar of events targeted at a younger audience, unified by a single online platform, could be the initial agenda on the new library’s to-do list.

These are relatively small things that could make a significant difference in my own decision about whether to stay or to leave.

If we want to maintain the unique landscape that we all hold dear, then progressive plans must be made. It is integral for the survival of our rural communities.