Research conducted by Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) shows how its members were needed more than ever due to Covid-19 – putting pressure on their finances.
100 years of supporting rural community action could not have prepared the 38 county-based charities that make up the ACRE Network for the dramatic events that began this time last year.
In the space of a few weeks, staff began working from home, information and advice was hurriedly prepared and issued to groups, and services traditionally provided face to face were moved online. At the same time, there was an unprecedented increase in demand for support by groups wanting to know how to respond to lockdown restrictions and look after vulnerable residents.
The report they have published shines a light on the way the ACRE Network has provided a lifeline to rural communities during the pandemic, as well as valuable information about their size, reach and services provided. Their members have much to be proud of as they celebrate a centenary of rural community action.
In a survey conducted last year, 86% of ACRE members reported a significant increase in demand for support from village halls forced to close their doors. Together they reached an estimated 8,000 voluntary committees, helping them apply for emergency grant funding and make sense of rules on social distancing once activities could resume.
More than two-thirds of members also reported an increase in demand for volunteer support and initiatives relating to health and wellbeing – much of which can be attributed to the sudden surge of interest in good neighbour schemes and mutual aid groups which played a crucial role in making sure vulnerable residents received essential food and supplies during the first lockdown, whilst reducing isolation.
But the increased provision of support for rural communities came at a cost. When surveyed, 21 members said they expected their finances to suffer as result of Covid-19, representing a loss of £3m across the network.
The research shows how ACRE members reached over 35,000 groups between 2019 and 2020, levering in approximately £34 million worth of funding to rural communities. Between them they employed over 1,000 staff who supported a wide range of initiatives including community planning and consultation, social prescribing, fuel buying groups, community business and affordable housing schemes.
Richard Quallington, ACRE’s Executive Director said, “The report we are publishing today shines a light on the way the ACRE Network has provided a lifeline to rural communities during the pandemic, as well as valuable information about their size, reach and services provided. Our members have much to be proud of as they celebrate a centenary of rural community action”.
The oldest charity in the network, Oxfordshire Community First celebrated its centenary last year.
ACRE expects to repeat the survey of its members every year so it can track their capacity to deliver services for the benefit of rural communities.