New rural commission confident of 'significant' work as it launches in North Yorkshire

Embattled rural communities have “tremendous” potential to overcome threats to their very sustainability if they get the right support, a member of a new countryside commission has said.

Members of the new Rural Commission, set up by North Yorkshire County Council, were at the George and Dragon community-owned pub at Hudswell near Richmond yesterday. Pictured are (left to right) Councillor Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, the Reverend John Dobson, Dean of Ripon Cathedral, and Martin Booth, a community worker and social entrepreneur. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Following a launch event in the village of Hudswell in Richmondshire yesterday, North Yorkshire County Council’s new Rural Commission meets for the first time today, with an ambition to make “significant” recommendations that can help the county council address a wide range of economic and social problems.

According to the council, its deeply rural communities “stand at a crossroads”. England’s largest county faces “unprecedented challenges” due to its scattered populations, lack of affordable housing, a school closure rate of eight in the last three years and uncertainty facing farmers ahead of the industry’s post-Brexit shake-up, it warned.

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Despite those challenges, some of the newly appointed commissioners, said they are confident of devising meaningful proposals that can make a difference.

(Left to right) Coun Carl Les, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, community worker Martin Booth, and the Reverend John Dobson, Dean of Ripon Cathedral, on the steps of the George and Dragon community owned pub at Hudswell near Richmond. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Community worker Martin Booth is one of the commissioners, having helped to launch Yorkshire’s first community-owned pub, The George and the Dragon in Hudswell, which has gone on to offer a shop, library, community allotments and free internet access, and hosted yesterday’s launch event.

“There is tremendous capacity out there in communities all over Yorkshire with the right help and support,” said Mr Booth, who backed the commission to make an impact. “It’s all to play for and I think it’s a good idea to bring people from different backgrounds together to bring some fresh thinking.

“How effective the commission is, is up to us and the county council and other bodies that we make our recommendations to.”

The Dean of Ripon, the Rev John Dobson, who chairs the commission, said its members will listen to people and identify the “presenting symptoms” of struggling communities in order to make its recommendations. He said he would not have signed up as a commissioner if he did not think it could have a tangible impact.

“I have confidence there are people on the commission with the wisdom to make significant recommendations that can have significant impacts,” he said.

The commission meets for the first time today to begin what the Dean said would be nine months of “scoping out work” to identify the root causes of problems facing communities.

Those problems are familiar with Community First Yorkshire, a charity working with rural communities and voluntary and community groups across North, South and West Yorkshire.

Leah Swain, its chief executive, believes new ideas are needed, saying: “In the absence of a government rural strategy, we need to be ambitious for our own rural economy, think differently about how we provide affordable housing, innovate in health and social care services and ensure our young people can actually travel to education and jobs.”

A new push to help farmers make their businesses more profitable is being led by the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership’s Grow Yorkshire project, and David Kerfoot, who chairs the enterprise partnership, said: “Collaboration is key, not only in reaching a true understanding of the challenges that rural communities and economies face, but also identifying future opportunities.”

Dorothy Fairburn, northern director of the Country Land and Business Association, said she hoped the commission finds “new and creative solutions to long existing challenges in Yorkshire’s sparsely populated rural areas”.