Rural communities are vital – now more than ever

Martin Collett, 09 April 2020

The response to coronavirus in rural communities has been exceptional, with residents coming together in unprecedented circumstances to help and protect each other.

Over the last few weeks, all of us working in the housing association sector have joined the communities and households we serve on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus.

The well-rehearsed case for supporting new affordable rural housing is that we build homes for essential workers on low incomes, we support traders working in the local economy, we keep family and support networks together, and we provide services for people who need extra support to live independently.

This is not always a message that lands well or one in which everyone has seen value – but the importance of why we do this is now clearer than ever.

New rural housing keeps communities alive, and now those communities are supporting people in our country’s hour of need.

Without the homes we have built through local partnerships, many nurses, teachers, carers, engineers, delivery drivers, farmers and all other essential workers would not be living in their local rural community. They would not have a safe and affordable home. Rural communities would be lacking at this most critical time.

Rural housing residents have continued to inspire staff here at English Rural. We’ve heard countless stories of people rallying to support vulnerable neighbours, collecting shopping, medicine or simply making sure people don’t feel lonely. Residents have been leading local community support groups and, importantly, residents have been helping family and friends in need.

Country pubs that have closed are instead now offering takeaway services or have turned into response and distribution hubs for villages not lucky enough to have a local shop. New supply chains have developed, with a reliance on previously over-looked local sources such as butchers and farms.

In return, our staff have risen to the challenge, responding to the unprecedented changes many residents are facing if their jobs have been lost or paused. They are rallying to support residents and helping to keep people safe in their homes.

Frontline housing staff have been prioritising contacting older and vulnerable households, to see how they are coping and connecting them to local community supports groups that have sprung up in villages across the country.

The strength of our organisation, the housing association sector, and our staff enables us to be resilient for residents and communities when they need us most.

The reaction in rural communities has been exceptional, as they have come together in unprecedented circumstances to protect each other against an invisible foe. We’ve all seen this each Thursday evening at 8pm when households emerge to clap and bang pans in support of those working in the NHS. For many, it is the only time each week they glimpse the faces of those living around them.

Talking to my own elderly mother last Thursday evening she remarked that she needed to get ready to go outside and clap. My parents are retired farmers, living in relative isolation a mile away from their village, so I asked her why. Her response was simple, “I am part of a community and we all clap together, even if nobody else can hear me”.

Our rural communities are vital – now more than ever.