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Changes in UK Rural Areas: Part 2

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In this pod, we’ll further discuss how rural
areas in the UK are changing. We’ll look at the impacts of this on local
communities and how rural areas are being supported.

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There are many instances of village services
closing in rural areas.  In 2016, over 600 bank branches closed in Britain, with
parts of Wales, Scotland and the south west being worst affected.  The banks said the closures were the result
of more people choosing online banking and not using High Street branches.  This hasn’t gone down well with local
residents and businesses, who now have to travel if they need to visit a
branch.  Age UK are concerned that the
people most affected by closures are the elderly, as they are less mobile and
less fluent with technology. 

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It’s not just banks. There is also a similar
picture with post offices. Hundreds of small town and village post offices in
the UK are being closed.  Over 1000 post
offices have been moved into supermarkets and petrol stations, meaning
villagers may well have to travel for postal services. This is the post
office’s preferred business model, as the postmaster runs another business
alongside the post office. Though it should be noted that not every postmaster
wants to operate in this way.

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Village GP surgeries are also
threatened from the Government’s promotion of “polyclinics”. These are larger
centres,
where patients can have access to a wider range of NHS services.  Primary schools and village pubs are also
being lost. Think about the short and long-term effects of not being able to
see a doctor easily and having to travel long distances for school or to
socialise.

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So, what can be done to keep rural communities
strong and well-supported?

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When the last shop closed in the village of
Cobham in Surrey, the residents took matters into their own hands.  Knowing that a village shop was unlikely to
make enough money to be viable, they realised the only way they could have one
was to volunteer to run it, for free, themselves.  So that’s what they did.  They raised 85,000 pounds to take on the
lease and now 62 volunteers run the store. 
Cobham is not alone, there are over 300 village stores run by the
community in the UK. There are similar schemes where local people run pubs so
that they can stay open.

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Let’s look at another inspiring example of rural
support. ‘The Villager’ is a community bus service that operates in
Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.  
Their aim is to serve communities in which other means of transport are
difficult or non-existent.  The scheme is
managed and run entirely by volunteers.

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But what can the government do to help rural
communities?  In 2017, the Minister for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that 120 million pounds of
funding would be made available to support farmers, grow businesses, and generate thousands of
jobs in rural communities. We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out in the
future!

 

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