Plunkett Foundation fully supports Rural Services Network (RSN) call on Government to ‘rural proof’ policies before Brexit.

The RSN, of which Plunkett Foundation is a member, have today (1 March 2019) launched a campaign calling on the Government to take urgent action to support and sustain the delivery of key services in rural areas. Plunkett Foundation supports the call for future policies and decisions about the distribution of funding to be ‘rural proofed’ for those living in the countryside; as this will address the loss of funding for rural businesses from 2020, ensure rural transport is sustained and support the older rural demographic to live independently.

Plunkett has been a member of the RSN since 2017 and enjoys a strong working partnership relationship through our membership of the Rural Coalition. This report resonates with our experience of working with rural communities, and outlines a number of key areas which we are working toward as part of our five-year strategy for 2018-2022. James Alcock, Executive Director at Plunkett Foundation, said:

“Today’s call to Government by the Rural Services Network resonates with our own experience of supporting rural communities for the last 100 years. For too long, the needs of rural communities have been under considered by policy makers and they have been neglected by the policies and initiatives coming out of central and local government. The RSN’s call for a rural strategy will ensure government recognise the unique challenges faced by rural areas, and take their needs into account when national policy or funding decisions are made. Plunkett represents the interests of almost 600 rural community businesses who are tackling issues relating to poor service provision, inadequate public transport, lack of affordable housing, limited opportunity for work, training or social interaction. They have, in the main, been set up largely independently with little support or involvement from government. Our experience demonstrates that the community business has potential to grow to the benefit of even more rural communities. We are working with a further 400 groups in the process of setting up their business, and whose journey could be accelerated with greater national leadership and supportive policies and funding strategies. We believe a national Rural Strategy would help to achieve this.“

We are proud to have supported almost 600 community businesses to reach trading stage across the UK.  In addition to developing and safeguarding valuable assets and services, these community businesses address a range of issues including isolation, loneliness, wellbeing, work and training. Below are a number of case studies we have selected highlighting the importance of today’s call to Government:

Winners of our 2018 ‘The Little Things’ Award, Talking Shop in Sandford are a tremendous example of how community shops support those feeling lonely or isolated in rural areas. Talking Shop was established in 2016 with the intention of bringing people together. They have taken steps to ensure everyone feels welcome and included, no matter their age, background or circumstance. Doors are open at the shop and café from Monday to Saturday, providing the community a local hub with activities from gardening, knit and stitch and a Saturday Market on offer to customers.

The Harrow is a small traditional pub in the village of Stockbury, a parish of about 700 people located on the rural North Downs in Kent. The nearest town is approximately four miles from the village, with many residents from families that have been established there for generations. The residents tend to need more village-based services and activities, compared to a community with a younger population. Opened as a community pub in 2017, The Harrow received a level of support and funding from the More Than a Pub programme supporting the community ownership of pubs in both rural and urban communities in England. The older population, especially those in outlying parts of the village, benefit both socially and nutritionally from the pub’s lunch club, particularly when combined with the use of the village minibus. Residents are collected and returned home reducing their social isolation, and keeping them in touch with what is happening in the village. This pub is making a big impact and offers a friendly drop-in centre for anyone who feels lonely or isolated, or just needs to get out for a chat and see a friendly face. Watch their case study video here

Vert Woods Community Woodland in East Sussex is a 171 acre woodland that is owned and managed for community and wildlife benefit. Much of the woodland is recovering woodland, substantially affected by the Great Storm of 1987 and includes mature tall pines, oak and beech, as well as under-managed chestnut coppice, and unmanaged birch and willow. With support from Making Local Woods Work, Vert Community Woodland has registered as a Community Benefit Society (CBS) and is looking to widen its community membership and issue shares to enable the community to collectively own the woodland. Watch their case study video here 

The full Rural Services Network report can be found on their website here.