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Academic explores the challenges facing rural Peak District businesses

Dr Susan Kirk was involved in the study "Exploring Identity, Place and Worker Attraction and Retention in Rural Businesses."

21 March 2024

Rural businesses in the Derbyshire Peak District are facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining staff due to a combination of global and national influences, and place-specific factors.

A recent study, Exploring Identity, Place and Worker Attraction and Retention in Rural Businesses explores how these businesses can be supported. The study was funded by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE), of which Newcastle University Business School is a founding academic partner. It was led by Carley Foster, Professor of Services Marketing and Head of the Centre for Business Improvement at the University of Derby, working with Susan Kirk, Reader in International Human Resource Management at Newcastle University Business School and Pip Kyle, Research Assistant at Newcastle University Business School.

Undertaken with employers and employees in the Derbyshire Peak District, the study has led to the researchers making a number of key recommendations for changes to policy that need to take place to support rural businesses in the region and encourage people to work in the area.

Professor Foster explained: “The Peak District has so much to offer in the way of ‘natural capital’ – it’s a beautiful place to live and work, which is something that isn’t exploited enough.

"We think there is lots more to do to promote the Peak District as a place to work as a way of encouraging people to move to the region to work and enjoy these lovely surroundings.”

A quaint village street in Edale, Peak District. Stone houses and shops line the street. In the background, green hills rise up.

Despite being located in the middle of England, surrounded by large cities like Derby, Sheffield and Manchester, the region’s businesses face a number of challenges in recruiting and retaining skilled staff. These include:

  • the impacts of Covid and Brexit, with people opting for hybrid or work-at-home arrangements, and reduced availability of workers from Europe
  • lack of skills in certain sectors, including hospitality, the visitor economy and in specialist roles
  • demographic challenges, with young people tending to move out of the area, reducing the size of the local labour market
  • cost and availability of public transport, and the cost of housing in areas where there is a lot of second home ownership

Dr Kirk said:

“Some employers are implementing initiatives to mitigate the challenges. For example, they adapt their employment packages to appeal to different people at different life stages and this is something we would encourage. But there’s much more that needs to be done to address the challenges, at a regional and national level.”

Other recommendations as a result of the research include the positive promotion of the Derbyshire Peak District as a place to work and highlighting the value of occupational sectors such as hospitality. The benefit of apprenticeships was addressed as a tool for small businesses to reduce skill gaps and retain young workers. Transport and affordable housing issues were also a concern; employers and business support organisations were encouraged to work together to tackle these issues.

The research aims to reduce the Peak Districts competitive disadvantage to their urban counterparts. One early positive outcome has seen the research being used in a successful £15 million Levelling Up ‘Ashbourne Reborn’ bid, led by Derbyshire Dales District Council. This two-year development project will transform Ashbourne town centre.


Press release adapted with thanks to the University of Derby.