Last Saturday, as I sat watching BBC Breakfast news I was interested to listen to a Doctor from rural Derbyshire being interviewed in relation to the recently released LGA Report ‘Health and wellbeing in rural areas’. The clear message being conveyed was that those living in rural communities experience greater difficulties accessing health services compared to urban areas and that more needs to be done to bridge the gap.
The Independent newspaper also covered the same story and led with the headline “Beautiful countryside hides ugly truth of social isolation, poor health and poverty, report says” but behind this “ugly truth” it is also important to recognise and pay tribute to the initiatives, projects, organisations and volunteers which go part of the way to bridging this gap. The ACRE Network has, since its earliest members were established in the 1920s, supported rural communities through times of change. Whether by helping to keep the village hall going through providing expertise or advice, or by supporting a community group to run a local service sustainably, the Network has experience of being involved in keeping communities alive and thriving. Identifying issues relating to rural health at a community level and then helping residents to consider measures to address some of these needs becomes an absolute priority if rural areas are to remain accessible for all.
ACRE Network members have a wealth of experience when it comes to local level engagement and consultations. These often lead to the development of community action plans or, more recently, formal documents such as Neighbourhood Development Plans. This type of activity, which encourages local conversations within villages and market towns across rural England helps to identify the needs of local residents as well as engaging the most vulnerable who might otherwise become isolated within the community. This grassroots evidence gathering is important because it adds the human element to reports, such as the one released by the LGA. ACRE regularly utilises case studies and local information to good effect in its communications and reports to government departments, such as DEFRA and DCLG; ensuring that the ‘local voice’ is represented in national debate.
Across England there are also a number of projects, run, managed or supported by ACRE Network members which provide preventative services to support the independent living of rural residents. For example in Gloucestershire, the Village and Community Agents project has, for the past 10 years, ensured that older residents are not socially excluded and are supported in making informed health related decisions. The Talk, Eat and Drink (TED) project in East Lindsey, Lincolnshire, aims to improve and maintain the health of older people through physical and social activities. Residents in Wiltshire can use the Wiltshire Link scheme, to access services, thanks to a huge bank of volunteers across the county. To find out what is happening in your local area and how your ACRE Network member can help your community to become more health aware and inclusive please get in touch with your local member.