How coronavirus crisis is affecting rural areas - and what experts say needs to be done

The Government is being urged to review how effective its coronavirus support measures are in rural areas, as well as creating a package to help reboot rural businesses in the medium term.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 1:21 pm
Picture c/o Pixabay

The Centre for Rural Economy is a research centre at Newcastle University, which specialises in research that aims to achieve sustainable development in rural areas.

It has recently published a new briefing note, which considers the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on rural economies and communities.

The report’s summary states: ‘The disease is affecting all aspects of rural society, both directly when people from rural communities fall ill, but also because of the social-distancing restrictions that are in place to limit the progress of the disease.

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‘It is impacting household incomes and rural businesses in every sector within our diverse rural economies, as well as charitable and community organisations. Some of these impacts will also be medium or long-term.’

It notes that past crises – such as the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 and the most recent financial crisis and recession ‘have highlighted the resilience and adaptability of rural economies’.

It goes on: ‘Some of the structural features of rural areas, notably their more dispersed population base and their already established tradition of home-based working could well serve to act as a source of resilience during this crisis.

‘On the other hand, more severe restrictions placed in this crisis on personal travel for non-essential purposes may impact more heavily on rural areas, due to the greater dispersal of workplaces, consumer and business services, and the importance of visitor economies to many rural areas.’

The briefing notes sets out a range of recommendations for the Government, which includes the introduction of support measures for social and community enterprises active in rural areas, and to ‘put in motion plans for a medium term-package of measures to help reboot and build capacity among rural businesses, social enterprises and their networks’.

This should include a micro grant scheme distributed via a bottom-up approach, according to local needs and opportunities, in a similar vein to the successful Leader programmes which handed out EU cash.

The Government should also explore ‘support for collaborative or collective efforts by ‘non-essential’ businesses to find new ways to market and deliver their produce and services to consumers’ and ‘ways of rural land-dependant businesses to swiftly access additional labour for farm and horticultural produce’.

The briefing notes also calls for reviews and monitoring of the effectiveness ‘in rural contexts’ of the measures to support household incomes and businesses, and the pandemic restrictions.

The report notes that ‘phased relaxation of travel and community meetings will have different impacts and potentially pose less challenges to deeply rural areas than those highly dependent on commuting to urban workplaces or upon visitor economies’.

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