Row of cows at farm in Shropshire

Impact of the pandemic on rural areas

11/04/22Impact of the pandemic on rural areas

As land agents and surveyors, with many of our clients being farmers and landowners, we know that rural living can often feel isolated, particularly in remote areas. A sense of community is probably the most important aspect of rural life. Even when you are located fairly close to the nearest town, limited public transport options, or even a complete lack of them, can increase the feeling of isolation, which COVID-19 brought into really sharp relief. Rural England’s report, the State of Rural Services 2021: the Impact of the Pandemic, highlighted this in exploring the impact and restrictions of the pandemic on service provision in England’s rural areas. Three particular examples were:

Use of local retail outlets and centres

Small and local food stores, including farm shops, were highly valued during the pandemic when we all relied less on large supermarkets. High streets in rural areas have been impacted by shop closures but all in all, appear to have demonstrated more resilience than may have been initially anticipated.

Upturn in online services

There was a reported uptake of usage but out of those surveyed, 44% indicated they would return to ‘normal’ offline services as soon as possible. Poor internet and broadband access in some areas has led to some rural communities being very isolated.

Community spaces

These traditional buildings, village and community halls, which often provide the lifeblood of rural communities, had to close temporarily when the pandemic struck. There is still a lack of ability to go back into some of these spaces. Currently we don’t know what numbers will return to using these venues regularly, which is having an impact on income streams. Rural pubs were also dramatically impacted. While large numbers of country pubs have been in decline for many years, there is clear evidence of permanent closures as a direct result of COVID-19.

What can be done for rural communities, post-pandemic?

The report suggested various policy actions, ranging from ensuring everyone can access help to acquire basic digital skills to improving provision of public open spaces in small settlements and helping groups that manage village halls. The report also noted that close monitoring of rural poverty trends is necessary as the implications of the long-term effect of the pandemic continue to play out.

What has happened to rural house prices during the pandemic?

Rural house prices have soared between 10-12%, outstripping urban price increases. This has coincided with an increase in rural unemployment.

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