The Universities of Newcastle and Gloucestershire have been commissioned by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Power to Change to undertake a project on rural community development.

The Rural England: Local Perspectives on Community and Economy project aims to improve understanding of rural community development through exploring the ‘lived experience’ in terms of relationships between economy, society, local context, and service delivery, and in terms of the drivers of local action and engagement to address local problems and realise ambitions. 

The aim of this study is to explore what it is like to live in a rural community in England. The project is seeking to gain a detailed understanding of the day-to-day experiences of people living and working in rural communities. Within the eight selected study communities we would like to understand people’s hopes and fears for the future, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. By creating a robust and up-to-date evidence base policy discussion and processes will be able to better support rural communities in their development and Covid-19 recovery.

The research will focus on the following eight diverse rural communities across England:

  • Pershore, Worcestershire
  • Barnard Castle, County Durham
  • Minehead, Somerset
  • Keswick, Cumbria
  • Bridgnorth, Shropshire
  • Alnwick, Northumberland
  • Thrapston, Northamptonshire  
  • Shildon, County Durham

The project will use numerous methodologies, including an expert panel, a residents’ telephone survey, a business survey, public and third sector interviews, community workshops and community visits/observations. This will enable researchers to understand some of the key issues and policy priorities for the different areas. 

Pershore High Street

“The work is a really exciting opportunity to understand what issues our rural communities are facing” says Dr Paul Cowie, Research Fellow, Centre for Rural Economy. “This is even more important as rural communities and their businesses seek to deal with impact of the Covid-19 pandemic” he notes.

“Whilst we know rural communities face a number of common challenges, there are also issues that may be specific to particular rural communities. What might be seen as a key issue for Keswick and its residents, might be very different to what residents in Bridgnorth might be concerned about” Dr Cowie states. “By deploying a range of methods, we hope to be able to try to understand these differences and ultimately inform and improve government policy and its impacts on rural communities and businesses”.

A key output of the work will be a ‘roadmap’ of practical, action-based steps based on each community’s vision for their community. “We are committed to giving something back to the communities, businesses and public sector organisations in recognition of their involvement in the research” says Dr John Powell, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Gloucestershire. “The roadmaps will provide guidance of next steps and actions that each community can take to achieve its shared vision”.

Current project activities

Expert panel (Delphi) survey

Experts from range of sectors including government, policy, business, non-government organisations (NGOs) and academia with specialist knowledge of and experience in territorial governance have been invited to take part in a Delphi survey.

The survey – which is made up of three rounds – will seek experts’ knowledge in understanding the key drivers for change that will have the most significant effect on rural communities as they start to return to some form of normality following the Covid-19 pandemic. These drivers will include specific themes directly related to the Coronavirus crisis and pre-existing themes that may have been recently pushed to the background despite continuing to have a significant impact.

The final results from this survey will then be used to generate up to three future scenarios. These will include an optimistic future, a pessimistic future and an optimal future.

Residents’ (telephone) survey

In October 2020 we will launch a Residents’ Survey across the eight study areas with our partners Watermelon Research. Residents in the eight areas will be randomly selected and contacted to participate in the short (10-minute survey). The survey will cover key areas such as transport, employment, housing, education, services, healthcare and leisure, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

Business Survey

A short business survey will also be launched in October 2020. The survey will seek to engage with a selection of business interests including large employers, SMEs, retailers, micro-enterprises and agri-businesses. It will focus on relevant local issues, inter-relationships within the community and factors driving business development and sustainability.

Public Sector & Third Sector, and Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (telephone) Interviews

As well as the Residents’ and Business Survey, we will be seeking to talk to those involved in Public & Third Sector and Voluntary Community and Social Enterprises (VCSE).

Community Workshops

As part of the research we will be running online workshops in the eight communities. The workshops will build on the findings of the surveys and interviews. By interacting with community residents and stakeholders, researchers hope to understand some of the key issues and priorities for the different areas. Participants will be offered a £20 Amazon voucher to attend.

All survey, interview and workshop participants will be invited to participate on an anonymous basis and all responses will be kept confidentially.

If you have any questions or would like further information about this research, please contact:

Dr Paul Cowie:

or Dr John Powell:

Pershore Abbey Park