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A Journey to the South

Home | Funding | Case Studies | A Journey to the South

The South of scotland story

July 2023 The Essentia Foundation


The Essentia Foundation, in partnership with Foundation Scotland is embarking on a journey across Scotland through a series of exploratory reports and blog posts which will examine the regional issues that young people across Scotland are facing and the ways in which Essentia grants are tackling them.

The South of Scotland

The South of Scotland is a varied region made up of countless coastal communities, small market towns and rural uplands. The region encompasses several local authorities including Dumfries and Galloway, Scottish Borders, East Lothian, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. The primary outposts in this region are considered to be Dumfries, Stranraer, Ayr, Girvan, Peebles, Galashiels and Dunbar. According to government statistics, this region has a population of 682,329. Within the context of young people, it is estimated that young people make up around 20% of the region’s total population.

Like many rural areas of Scotland, growing up in the South can offer plentiful access to picturesque coastline and varied natural spaces. In tandem, the presence of key roads and highways in the region means that this area also enjoys access to the larger metropolitan hubs of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carlisle and Newcastle. Areas like South Lanarkshire and East Lothian have a rich history of mining with a tightknit sense of community and the Scottish Borders have a distinct cultural identity and geographical character that sets them apart from the rest of Scotland. Yet in spite of these positives, the region poses a number of obstacles for children and young people.

Access to schools and higher education can be particularly challenging, especially in authorities like Dumfries and Galloway where over a quarter of the population (28.6%) lives in an area considered to be remote (further than 30 minutes’ drive away from a large town of population 10,000 or greater). In this region, 7 secondary schools have fewer than 500 pupils; 45% of primary schools have fewer than 50, thereby demonstrating the rurality of the South. The need for young people to travel further afield to achieve their aspirational education and employment goals is having a knock-on effect when it comes to outward migration. According to Dumfries and Galloway’s Children’s Services Plan for 2022-23, 55% of young people polled said they intended to leave Dumfries and Galloway in future for work, study or travel.

As a result, it is clear that areas of the South can pose significant barriers and inequalities for young people.


The Essentia Foundation can demonstrate a long history of supporting key initiatives within this region with an interesting variety of youth projects that touch upon sport and well being to alleviating poverty and supporting young mothers. Let’s take a look at some key facts below:


Since 2020, the following organisations in the South of Scotland have been supported by The Essentia Foundation:

The following sections will examine some of the regional priorities that The Essentia Foundation has supported through its grant making.

Cost of living crisis

The ‘cost of living crisis’ refers to the fall in ‘real’ disposable incomes (that is, adjusted for inflation and after taxes and benefits) that the UK has experienced since late 2021. Scotland, is currently witnessing rates of inflation not seen in the last forty years. According to a recent report from The Scottish Government, Scotland saw a 108% rise in the number of emergency food parcels distributed in July 2020 compared with July 2019, and one in five households in Scotland with dependent children reported that they were “in serious financial difficulty”.

Within the context of the South, the Scottish Borders currently has 12,000 households who are in receipt of government assistance and 15,000 households in South Ayrshire are being supported by the scheme. When it comes to young people, evidence suggests that families are amongst the hardest hit. According to a recent Barnados UK Report, researchers found that 10% of parents were skipping meals weekly, and a further 10% reduced their portion size so that their children would have enough to eat. As a result, feeding, housing and clothing a child has become significantly more challenging in the last 12 months.


Since 2020, this Fund has supported several initiaves across the region which are attempting to alleviate the financial burden that families with young children are facing.

In Berwickshire, Berwickshire Swap SCIO was supported with a grant of £3,000.00 to assist in the delivery of a practical project that hosts regional ‘swap events’ where families can donate and swap their children’s clothes for larger sizes and newer items.  The project was started by Catherine Goldsmith in 2019 from her dining room in the village of Reston in Berwickshire. She, alongside a handful of other mums from the local primary school, had the bright idea to swap their children’s clothing. So, they set up a few tables in the village hall and swapped their kids’ jumpers, trousers and jackets. This gave them the chance to find clothes that fitted their children while getting rid of the clothes that no longer fitted them, keeping costs to a bare minimum and also recycling clothes which may have otherwise ended up as landfill.

This project is going some way not only in helping families with the current cost of living crisis but it is also sustainable behaviour changes and promoting ideas like ‘reduce, re-use and recycle’. This project has been so successful that it has been covered by BBC News and led to further funding opportunities for the organisation.


In Ayrshire, community group, Hillhouse has been undertaking similar activities that specifically target young mothers living in poverty. In 2020, funding from the Essentia Foundation helped to support Hillhouse’s ‘Mother and Baby’ initiative. This project distributed basic hygiene products, clothing and essential goods to new mothers and families in the local area. Demand for the project was identified through consultation with local midwives who saw a trend in expectant mothers enter the labour ward without basic items.

Hillhouse wanted to address this issue and provide women with a stress-free start to motherhood and a secure environment in which local families could thrive. Since April 2020, Hillhouse has worked hard to ensure that every expectant mother can be supported through birth and the post-natal process.

Youth Unemployment

Access to employment opportunities can be varied across the South of Scotland. Tourist hot spots on the coast and in the borders can provide seasonal work over the Summer months, however the provision of more long term, stable jobs can prove more challenging. According to the Scottish Government’s statistics from its Annual Population Survey 2021, some of the highest rates of unemployment can be seen in the South of Scotland as evidenced by the map below:


In 2021, Scottish Borders Council published a response to the Employability Challenge in the Scottish Borders which outlined that unemployment is affecting all age groups but especially the 16-24 age group. The numbers unemployed in this group in December 2020 were 765 – 22% of the total. The increase in unemployment is spread across the Scottish Borders with the largest increases in Jedburgh and District (3.4 percentage points), Hawick and Denholm (3.2 percentage points), Tweeddale West (2.7 percentage points), Galashiels and District (2.7 percentage points), East Berwickshire (2.6 percentage points), and Melrose (2.6 percentage points) local authority wards. This area is working hard to reverse this trend for the future and a number of Essentia funded projects are contributing to this.

Once such example which has been supported by the Foundation is Works+. The charity is a Scottish Borders based employability organisation, working to help to change the lives of some of the most disadvantaged, unemployed young people in the area. They provide workshops in CV skills, effective job search, writing applications, interview skills and job sustainability. The organisation also aims to help young people improve their confidence, achieve better mental health, and develop a more positive attitude to life.

In 2021, the organisation received funding to undertake an employability project that would target 10 young people living in the Scottish Borders. Grant monies would be used to cover the staffing costs of a specialist development worker who will work with the group on a one-to-one basis. The employability project will be structured into a 10-week block. During this time, young people will receive tailored support three days a week. The employability worker will assist the young people in a range of activities including CV workshops, confidence building exercises, pre-interview employability support and work experience opportunities.

Access to recreational activities

Parts of the South are considered to be highly rural. According to the Scottish Government, rural Scotland accounts for 98% of the land mass of Scotland and 17% of the population are resident there. In terms of travel and access to services, more people in rural areas are out with a reasonable drive time to key services (e.g. GPs and shops) compared to the rest of Scotland and fewer people are satisfied with the quality of the public transport services delivered. This also means that access to recreational activities and clubs are compromised and for young people this can be an obstacle to an active and healthy social life.

Since its inception, The Essentia Foundation has been committed to supporting access to extra-curricular and sporting activities. Within the context of the South of Scotland, mixed group activities as well as those that focus on either gender have been supported. In South Ayrshire, Carrick Rugby Football Club was supported with a grant of £2,850.00. Grant monies went towards the costs of providing transport to weekly rugby training sessions and the cost of attending rugby training courses for young people between the age of 18 – 25 years. The club itself is based in Maybole, which is in the top 20% of Scotland’s most deprived areas (SIMD), with many limited opportunities particularly in education, employment and leisure activities. It is hoped that this project will relieve the burden that young people face in engaging in team activities.

Further South in Dumfries, Dumfries Y Gymnastics Club has been supported by several grants over the years. In 2022, the charity was supported to cover the cost of putting eleven girls aged 16 and 17 years through a number of courses that will develop their coaching and leaderships skills. In 2023, an Essentia trustee visited the project to see first-hand the additional opportunities for young women who are interested in pursuing a career in the sport.

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