DEVON Communities Together is urging candidates standing in the general election across Devon not to forget the needs and circumstances of people living and working in the countryside. 

The independent charity, along with other members of the ACRE Network (Action with Communities in Rural England) claims that for too long the government has overlooked the challenges that rural residents face, including diminishing public services, inadequate infrastructure and the shortage of affordable housing, resulting in hidden poverty and ageing communities. 

James Blake, Chair of ACRE said: “We know from our experience of managing recent grant funds for village halls that even a modest amount of government investment targeted at rural communities can spur on some impressive initiatives that respond to local needs.

“So, we hope the next government will recognise the value of proactively rural proofing policy so that even more opportunities are afforded to the people who live and work there, whether that be investing in services, infrastructure and affordable housing, or backing projects that contribute to Net Zero.

“We stand ready to help those in Westminster to ensure that no rural community is left behind.” 

ACRE, which represents the national network of Rural Community Councils, of which Devon Communities Together is a member, has set out a suite of policy recommendations for the next government which it hopes will trigger a debate about what it means and will take to adequately meet the needs of rural communities from 2024. 

Nora Corkery.
Nora Corkery. (DCT)

Nora Corkery, CEO of Devon Communities Together, added: “As the Rural Community Council for Devon we have over 60 years’ experience in supporting and working alongside our rural communities and we see first-hand the challenges they face on a daily basis. 

“Because of this we’re joining with our national body ACRE and other rural charities across England to say more needs to be done to support these communities.

“The good news is that there are lots of amazing organisations, groups and people out there who are passionate and innovative in overcoming these challenges.

“This includes the Committees and Trustees that are keeping our precious Village Halls and Community Shops running in the face of decreasing rural Post Offices, banks, transport and other vital services.

“We recently undertook an audit of 80 per cent of Devon’s Village Halls to create a first-ever Community Asset Map of these vital community facilities across the whole county.

“Among other things, our data shows that 67 per cent of halls are empty for more than half the time, demonstrating that these amazing spaces are currently underused and have the potential to provide even more services to the rural communities they serve, with the right levels of support.   

“This is just one example of why we need better rural proofing of policies, greater funding and a deeper understanding by those in power of the unique challenges of life in a rural county.

“We hope to work with whoever is elected to represent rural communities across Devon to support policy development and address inequalities across all areas of rural life.”