Digital comms will offset rural isolation – charity survey

Poll by Prince’s Countryside Fund and Scotland’s Rural College reveals key concerns for rural communities concerned about becoming cut-off due to substandard mobile and broadband connectivity.

James Hayes | 7th Aug 18
Scene of rural isolation. A poll by Prince’s Countryside Fund and Scotland’s Rural College reveals key concerns for rural communities concerned about becoming cut-off due to substandard mobile and broadband connectivity.

The isolating effects of poor digital connectivity are among top concerns of rural communities, new research has uncovered.

A public survey looking in to how life is experienced in rural areas of the UK for the Recharging Rural report, from charities The Prince’s Countryside Fund and Scotland’s Rural College, received five times as many responses as expected, the organsations say.

More than 3,000 people expressed their praise and concerns for the quality of life in rural communities, their thoughts on how life had changed over the past decade, and how they could make the most of future opportunities.

Investment in digital connectivity is a key concern for the survey’s respondents. They also repeatedly expressed their desire for improved communications and other infrastructure in the countryside, which they feel will help them to encourage young people and businesses to stay in, or move to, rural areas.

“It is encouraging to hear how communities are taking action to address the challenges they face – respondents told us of more than 500 community-led projects happening across the UK,” said Claire Saunders, Director at The Prince’s Countryside Fund. “These projects address feelings of isolation in rural areas, and foster a sense of community spirit and pride. Many of these projects typically deliver multiple outcomes… 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.”

Findings from the research show that rural remoteness is a process, and that feelings of remoteness have increased over the past 10 years. More detailed descriptions also show that the ‘disabling’ characteristics of remoteness are then combined with geographical and physical aspects, particularly on the UK’s islands.

A minority of respondents have seen improvements in broadband and mobile coverage, they report, and in opportunities for community empowerment through asset and land purchase, but the majority feel that remoteness is happening to them through the increased unaffordability of housing, the decline in the number of rural businesses and employment prospects, and the out-migration of young people.