A FORMER gardener has set off on a nationwide trip in an effort to highlight the problems of rural unemployment.

Tony Lakeland, aged 50, set off last week from Weston Park in Shropshire, where he currently lives, to all the stately homes and country estates that he and his family lived on when he was a youngster. He has been unemployed for more than 18 months now, and he hopes to raise awareness about rural unemployment issues and to seek work along the way.

Tony has previously worked as a gardener and labourer, and despite being a former member of Mensa, now has hearing difficulties which affect his concentration and contribute to his inability to drive. He wishes to highlight how difficult it is to seek work in isolated rural areas without transport, and wants to see the issues more widely discussed in the public forum. Tony does not feel it is an appropriate solution for rural inhabitants to move into towns and cities, when what is really needed is an initial leg up onto the working ladder.

Having set out thumbing for lifts on early last week, Tony has already visited the Glanusk estate near Abergavenny, and Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where he was born.

He aims to return to Weston Park in less than 14 days. However, Tony draws attention to the difficulties in getting about under your own steam in rural areas, particularly at the border areas between different councils, where outreach help for the unemployed might be more difficult to access.

He has met with like-minded people along the way, who share his concerns for the rural elderly and for the breakdown of rural family structures when job seekers have to leave home. Tony points out that some families have lived in the country for generations. He and his family have lived in the village of Weston Under Lizard for 35 years. Tony challenges the myth that rural life is a bed of roses, and reminds us that the rural working classes frequently moved to and settled in country areas following jobs and housing opportunities.