Census names Richmondshire fastest-ageing area in England and Wales

Fans of Channel 5’s Our Yorkshire Farm could be forgiven for thinking Richmondshire is overrun with young people, as they follow the adventures of shepherd Amanda Owen and her nine rosy-cheeked children.

But this particularly idyllic part of North Yorkshire – famed for wensleydale cheese and Swaledale sheep – has actually experienced the highest percentage growth in the share of over-65s in the last 10 years, the census data shows.

Close to one in four people in Richmondshire are now of pension age (23.5%), compared with 17.5% a decade ago, a 34% increase in population share. That’s a rise from 9,076 to 11,700 people and double the 5,481 pension-aged people who lived there in 1981.

Since 2011, there has been a decrease of 10.9% in the population share of those aged between 15 and 64 years, and a decrease of 12.3% in children aged under 15 years.

Having so many older people is expensive for the council, said Stuart Parsons, a councillor who leads the North Yorkshire Independents. “We already spend 60% of our entire council budget on adult social care. It’s huge,” he said. But he stressed that the area would be lost without their retired people: “We’d have no volunteers without them. They tend to get stuck into their new communities and tend to be financially doing quite well.”

Though life expectancy has increased, having a disproportionately old population means more people (especially the very old) living with ongoing conditions such as arthritis, dementia, heart problems or osteoporosis.

North Yorkshire has long been a popular place for older people, many of whom are army veterans with fond memories of their time at Catterick Garrison, said Parsons. Some buy second homes that become first homes, pricing out younger people.

House prices across the local authority are cheaper than the England average – the median home cost £242,500 in December 2021, compared with the England median of £280,000. But properties in the Yorkshire Dales national park, which covers two-thirds of the district, are much more expensive and hard to come by.

“If you’re a young family and you want to buy in the national park, you just can’t. We don’t have enough well paid jobs to support them, so what happens is people go 12 miles out of Richmondshire to Darlington, where you can still buy a house for under £100,000,” said Parsons.

As a result, various schools have closed or amalgamated – regular Our Yorkshire Farm viewers will know that Owen’s brood have to travel an hour and half each way to their school from their farm at Ravenseat in Swaledale. There are few secondary schools in Richmondshire. One of them, in Leyburn, has only 316 pupils, significantly under its 492 capacity.

Women in Richmond of childbearing age seem reluctant to have children. The prescription rate for long-acting reversible contraception in the area is 68.7 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, significantly higher than the rate seen in England as a whole (49.5), according to the North Yorkshire Joint Strategic Needs Assessment 2021.

In the last 10 years more people have left Richmondshire – either in a coffin or a removals van – than been born or moved to the area. While England’s population grew by 6.6%, Richmondshire’s population decreased by 4.4%, from about 52,000 in 2011 to 49,800 in 2021.

It now ranks 306th for total population out of 309 local authority areas in England, which is a fall of two places in a decade.

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