Infrastructure action is vital to build on rural spirit, report warns

A groundswell of grass roots action to inject fresh life and spirit into rural villages cannot sustain countryside communities long-term, policy-makers are being warned.

More than 3,000 people responded to a survey assessing rural life in 2018, carried out by The Prince's Countryside Fund and Scotland's Rural College.

Despite a can-do attitude which is resulting in hundreds of community-led projects that are boosting local confidence, pride and togetherness, big infrastructure issues are undermining the experiences of people who live in the countryside, the authors of a new report said.

More than 3,000 people responded to a survey by The Prince’s Countryside Fund and Scotland’s Rural College and it found that feelings of remoteness have risen over the past 10 years, with some rural residents suggesting that this was making them feel “invisible”.

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The findings have prompted a series of recommendations aimed at Whitehall decision-makers, rural stakeholders, countryside communities and The Prince’s Countryside Fund itself.

The Recharging Rural report, published today, urges the Government to review funding for rural areas and how it ‘rural proofs’ new policies so that it acts on evidence to “tailor national policies to rural realities”.

It calls on rural stakeholders to foster an improved exchange of knowledge between remote rural communities, to raise awareness of how those communities contribute to the UK as a whole and to identify ‘remote rural’ champions to build up a talent pool of individuals across the UK.

Among the recommendations for The Prince’s Countryside Fund is to bring together rural stakeholders and policy makers in a UK-wide forum to examine the challenges facing rural areas and to prioritise action areas.

Meanwhile, rural communities can improve their resilience by actively sharing with other remote communities their achievements in tackling issues such as isolation and loneliness, and by including young people in community decisions.

Claire Saunders, director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, said she was buoyed by the response to the survey but intimated that community confidence was fragile.

“Respondents told us of more than 500 community-led projects happening across the UK. These projects address feelings of isolation in rural areas and foster a sense of community spirit and pride,” she said. “However, rural respondents told us that their lived experience is too often and too easily overlooked, and that living in rural areas can make them feel invisible.”

Prof Sarah Skerratt, director of policy engagement from Scotland’s Rural College, said: “An overwhelming majority of respondents told us that the biggest barriers faced by people living in a remote rural area is a forced reliance on private transport to access anything; limited or poor infrastructure in rural areas, including a lack of access to shops and services; and the ongoing issue of poor digital connectivity.

“The most significant challenge for the future is affordable rural housing.”

The centralisation of services such as schools, libraries, health and leisure facilities, coupled with the effect of commuting and mass housing developments, are also seen as contributing to community breakdown, she said.