Efforts to coordinate organisations supporting rural development initiatives in England date back to the beginning of the twentieth century. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that a view was taken to create an independent charitable entity charged with progressing the interests of rural communities.
Under the direction of ACRE’s first Chief Executive, Dr Malcolm Moseley, we worked to raise the profile of rural issues such as access to housing, services and employment – policy concerns that continue to characterise much of our work today.
Over the years, ACRE has been instrumental in developing new approaches to rural development, always placing people and communities at the heart of change. For example, we worked with the University of Gloucestershire to set in motion a long history of community-led planning that has supported several thousand rural communities to research and develop plans for the improvement of their local area – a legacy which continues today in the form of neighbourhood plans. Similarly, ACRE was promoting teleworking in the early 1990s (an early form of remote working) and supporting rural environmental community initiatives through the delivery of a £4m grant fund in the late 90s.
A constant has been our support for England’s 10,000+ village halls. Since the get go, ACRE has provided advice and information to help volunteer committees manage these buildings, as well as managing several capital investment grant and loan schemes.
Research has also been a big part of what we do. In 1988, ACRE conducted the first ever national survey of village halls – evidence about the health and impact of these small charities which we continue to capture to this day. In the early 2010s, we worked with Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) to map out rural deprivation and provide locality reports that could be used to inform community action. And through our more recent relationship with Defra, we continue to supply information from ACRE Network members on rural issues – most recently that of Coronavirus.