One of the themes that has emerged strongly from the research into Brecon (aided by StatsWales, perhaps my new favourite website) is that the population aged 16-24 is lower than any other group, and falling. This table shows net migration in Powys from 2001 to 2009, sorted by age group:
The out-flow of young people from the county is stunning. Given the numbers I can see why many of my peers are gearing their programmes to cater to young people – providing facilities, activities, training, education…
But. The population overall is stable, and there’s a shortage of housing. Educational attainment is pretty good in the context of Wales overall, and significantly better than just to the south in Rhondda Cynon Taff. The out-migration of young people is balanced by the inflow of families and older people who choose to move to the Beacons. The place is relatively prosperous and reasonably comfortable with its market-town identity.
So is the outflow a problem? Not necessarily. If the whole population were in freefall I would say otherwise, but that isn’t the case. There’s a high proportion of people working part-time and of self-employed people, which suggests that the economic gap left by the 16-24s is being filled by older people working more flexibly – if anything, the kind of thing we need to see more in a society with an ageing population.
Young people choose to leave Brecon. There’s a lot it doesn’t offer and will never offer, simply because it’s a small town in mid-Wales. An 18-year-old who wants to go to university or live in a city or work a different kind of job will move away, and that’s ok. Young adults wanting to go out and learn and explore the world for themselves is no bad thing. Painting it as such is just lazy – a failure to really interrogate what Brecon is and how it works.
No architectural proposal within the scope of this project can seriously expect to change the demographics of Brecon. Offering some kind of programme which might draw young adults from elsewhere to the town is reasonable, and catering to those young people who choose to stay isn’t a bad thing, but the idea that an architectural project can and should re-engineer the population pyramid of the town is a massive misconception.