County Council strengthens support for rural Hampshire
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
A successful 'village agent' scheme in Hampshire could be expanded as the County Council strengthens its commitment to supporting rural communities in the most cost-effective and innovative ways.
Delivered in partnership with Age Concern Hampshire, the County Council-funded scheme covers 23 villages where volunteer agents help older and vulnerable residents to access advice and support services.
The scheme is part of a rural delivery strategy to address issues such as isolation and loneliness, transportation, community resilience, economic development and communications.
At their latest meeting, on Monday 24 March, the County Council's Cabinet discussed priorities prior to consultation with district councils and key partner organisations.
Further support for rural communities to tailor their existing transport options to better meet the needs of residents without cars, is also high on the agenda, with additional support for self-help and volunteering. It is also proposed to strengthen ties with the Church and other religious organisations, whose valuable role is recognised.
County Council Leader, Councillor Roy Perry said: "With 85 per cent of Hampshire being rural, we need a strategy that helps rural areas thrive and flourish.
"The population in rural Hampshire is ageing faster than the county as a whole, creating higher demand for our services. Through effective collaboration with our partners, we are ensuring that resource is targeted to where it is needed the most and delivered in the most cost-effective way. The County Council provides support to rural communities in various ways; from grants to make village halls more accessible, to helping village shops to expand their businesses, and the invaluable support of village agents in helping more vulnerable residents in our communities."
Cabinet agreed a budget of £400,000 for 2014/2015 for rural initiatives to be used to maximise partnership working and provide match-funding where appropriate. This includes support for small community grants in the next financial year.
Recognising the impact that access to superfast broadband has in rural Hampshire, the County Council has already made available a total of up to £15 million to enable the market to be extended to 95 per cent of premises by the end of 2017. Cllr Perry said that even though broadband roll out is the responsibility of commercial providers, the County Council wants to do all it can to ensure provision is available.
Recent flooding events have also highlighted the ability of communities to identify and deliver solutions to challenges where they were given basic support and the freedom to co-ordinate resources. The County Council wants to build on these skills, expertise and goodwill to strengthen community resilience. Talks with energy suppliers are also taking place to see what can be done to increase resilience against power failures in adverse weather.
- The Village Agent Programme