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South of Scotland
South of Scotland

The Essentia Foundation - A Journey to the South: South of Scotland

The Essentia Foundation, in partnership with Foundation Scotland is embarking on a journey across Scotland through a series of exploratory reports and blogposts 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 coastlines 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.

Places like South Lanarkshire and East Lothian have a rich mining history with a tight-knit sense of community. The Scottish Borders have a distinct cultural identity and geographical character that sets them apart from the rest of Scotland. Yet, despite these positives, the region poses several 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, demonstrating the South's rurality. 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, areas of the South can pose significant barriers and inequalities for young people.

Farmers and their cows


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 alleviate poverty and help 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 will examine some regional priorities that The Essentia Foundation has supported through grant making.

Cost of living crisis

The 'cost of living crisis' refers to the fall in 'real' disposable incomes (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 in receipt of government assistance, and the scheme supports 15,000 households in South Ayrshire.

Regarding young people, evidence suggests that families are amongst the hardest hit. According to a recent Barnardos 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.

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Since 2020, this Fund has supported several regional initiatives attempting to alleviate the financial burden families with young children face. In Berwickshire, Berwickshire Swap SCIO was supported with a grant of £3,000.00 to assist in delivering 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 allowed them to find clothes that fit their children while removing the clothes that no longer fit them, keeping costs to a bare minimum and recycling clothes that may have otherwise ended up in landfill. This project is going some way in helping families with the current price of living crisis. It also promotes sustainable behaviour changes and ideas like 'reduce, reuse 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, the Essentia Foundation's funding helped 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 entering 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 where local families could thrive. Since April 2020, Hillhouse has worked hard to ensure that every pregnant 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 hotspots on the coast and in the borders can provide seasonal work over the Summer months; however, providing more long-term, stable jobs can prove more challenging. According to the Scottish Government's Annual Population Survey 2021 statistics, some of the highest unemployment rates can be seen in the South of Scotland.

In 2021, Scottish Borders Council published a response to the Employability Challenge in the Scottish Borders, which outlined that unemployment affects all age groups, especially the 16-24 age group.

The unemployed in this group in December 2020 were 765 - 22%. The increase in unemployment is spread across the Scottish Borders, with the most significant 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 several Essentia-funded projects are contributing to this.

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One such example which the Foundation has supported is Works+. The charity is a Scottish Borders-based employability organisation working to help change the lives of some of the area's most disadvantaged, unemployed young people. They provide workshops on 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 for an employability project targeting ten 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. Young people will receive tailored support three days a week during this time. The employability worker will assist the young people in various 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 is resident there. Regarding 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 is compromised, and for young people, this can be an obstacle to an active and healthy social life.

Since its inception, The Essentia Foundation has supported access to extra-curricular and sporting activities. Within the context of the South of Scotland, varied 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 providing transport to weekly rugby training sessions and the cost of attending rugby training courses for young people between the ages of 18 – 25 years. The club is based in Maybole, 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 young people's burden in engaging in team activities.

Several grants have supported further South in Dumfries, Dumfries Y Gymnastics Club. In 2022, the charity was supported to cover the cost of putting eleven girls aged 16 and 17 through several courses that will develop their coaching and leadership skills. In 2023, an Essentia trustee visited the project to see the additional opportunities for young women interested in pursuing a career in the sport.

Play centre

The Essentia Foundation is a charity that once operated Health and Social Welfare telephone counselling and information services supported by data processing and analysis in the field of public information. Their clients included HEBS, the Scottish Government, the Department of Health, the Central Office of Information, and pharmaceutical companies. When the company was sold, the Essentia Foundation was established.