rural services

Communities stepping up to maintain key rural services

Cambridgeshire ACRE, the County’s rural development charity, has just published the results from its latest Rural Services Survey.

The charity undertakes the countywide Rural Services Survey periodically to track the change in provision of key services such as shops, pubs, libraries and bus services in the County’s rural communities. The last survey was undertaken in 2010 and this latest survey shows that the County’s rural communities haven’t fared too badly over the intervening seven years.

For the majority of key services featured in the survey (including the provision of a post office service; a cashpoint; a general store; a pub; a GP surgery; a place of worship; a community meeting place; and a scheduled bus service), only a very small decline in the number of communities with local access to these services was found. Whilst any loss in service provision is regrettable, the survey did not uncover the wholesale loss of services that sometimes feature in news headlines.

The latest survey did, however, highlight three services where significant change has occurred over the last 7 years:

  • Broadband coverage across the County has been improved, with the percentage of communities reporting broadband coverage rising from 73% in 2010 to 83% in 2016. This was to be expected following the successful Connecting Cambridgeshire project which has rolled out superfast broadband to thousands of homes and businesses across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. However, at Cambridgeshire ACRE we do know that some communities still suffer from broadband ‘not spots’ and we will be looking to work with Connecting Cambridgeshire to see how these can be addressed over the coming months.
  • Library services in rural communities have seen a significant decline. The 2016 survey revealed that 82% of communities have a library service in operation, either by way of a permanent library, visits from a mobile library, through a library access point or in some cases where the community has stepped in to run a library service. In 2010, the comparable figure was 94% suggesting a significant loss of library services.
  • A Police Presence in a community (through a Police Community Support Officer or PCSO) also appears to have suffered significant decline since 2010. In response to the 2016 survey, 63% of communities across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough reported a police presence, whereas the comparable figure in 2010 was 82%. The local reason for this has not been investigated yet but it is known that, at national level, many police forces have chosen to retain warranted police officers in preference to PCSOs when faced with budget cuts.

Speaking about the Survey results, Cambridgeshire ACRE’s Chief Executive, Kirsten Bennett, said:

“Cambridgeshire’s rural communities continue to be resilient in the face of austerity. Rural residents are supporting their local shops, pubs and post offices enabling them to thrive. These services are sometimes now provided in non-traditional ways, for example through community-run ventures, but they are still being maintained as a vital asset for their community.”

“Cambridgeshire has an extensive network of community meeting places and places of worship that provide places for people to gather and socialise, supporting each other from cradle to grave. Alongside these traditional hubs for activity, better, faster, broadband is allowing people to do more online, such as staying in touch with friends and family who don’t live as near, learning new skills and finding new ways of accessing entertainment and learning.”

“Even where services are facing decline, for example library services provided by the local authority, we see examples of communities stepping up, in a voluntary capacity, to ensure they aren’t lost. For example, a growing number of communities reported that they have adopted their village telephone box and converted it into a library.”

“As a charity we are proud of the work we do to support rural communities to run local community assets, build affordable homes, manage their village hall, organise community groups and run their parish councils. The survey tells us that this support is vitally important to enable rural services to thrive and be maintained in the future.”

The full results report from the survey can be found on Cambridgeshire ACRE’s website.

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