Hinterland - 08 April

In Hinterland this week - Our own report on health and well-being in rural settings, what’s happening on the High Street in rural England, Big Data, Facebook, the return of “UKIP”? and the rise of the short story…. Read on...

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Charities call for urgent support to tackle rural health issues

Jessica and I were thrilled to see this report we had worked on has generated some wider attention. This report tells us:

The modern-day challenges facing Britain’s farming families need urgent recognition backed up by a robust system of support, a rural health and well-being report has concluded.

The report by the University of Lincoln and rural economic consultants Rose Regeneration highlighted concerns including mental health, long working hours and rural isolation.

It also found farming families were increasingly worried by changing weather patterns, uncertain global markets and volatile commodity prices.

Wide-ranging changes in government policies for agriculture due to Brexit will add to these pressures – requiring many farm businesses to rethink the way they operate, added the Worshipful Company of Farmers-commissioned report.


  • Establish a national programme to promote well-being among farming families and rural communities
  • Provide support group workers with more help to cope with extra demands
  • Collate evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of support groups
  • Improve networking between support groups and other service providers
  • Promote the work of support networks more effectively with government, statutory funders and charities


What's happening on the UK High Street?

This story is ostensibly about Northampton but it has a far wider resonance. It makes me ponder on the need for the recently opened Stronger Towns Fund to be open to places below 30,000 population. In its more general analysis it tells us:
Each year, more shops close than open in the UK and the gap is getting wider.

According to figures from PWC and the Local Data Company, 2,692 shops shut in the first half of 2018 - about 14 per day - while 1,569 opened, a net loss of 1,123.

That compared with a net loss of 222 in the same six months of 2017. Clothes shops and pubs were the biggest casualties.

In January 2008 the internet accounted for 5p in every £1 of retail sales. By August 2018, it was 18p in every pound.

In 2018, 43 retailers with multiple stores either closed or went into administration, affecting 2,594 shops and 46,000 jobs according to the Centre for Retail Research.

A further 15, with 266 stores and 2,706 employees, did so by the end of February 2019.


Does the future of big data mean Big Brother politics?

Shropshire Council is a good example of many local authorities using data imaginatively to predict demand for adult social care. This article paints in a bigger context for all organisations in the public sector. It tells us:

Data specialists Gartner predict data volumes will sky-rocket by 800 per cent over the next five years and up to 80 per cent of it will be unstructured. That means a vast collection of web pages, legal documents, medical records, images and the like churned out by individuals, institutions and businesses every second that nobody ever bothers to look at. IDC estimates that less than 1 per cent of the world’s data is ever analysed.

In the big data universe of the future, the biggest threat to traditional democratic values is the collapse of truthful political discourse Futurologist, Dr James Bellini

And herein lies the danger: as French law professor Jean-Sylvestre Bergé puts it, the DataSphere is offered up as a benign, politically neutral “holistic comprehension of all the information existing on Earth”. But it is nothing of the sort; it is a new space that invades every corner of daily life, poses challenges to good governance and increasingly conflicts with public administration. It is the world’s newest frontier, without formal controls, management or regulation: Big Brother meets the Wild West.


'We can protect rural people' - Facebook acts to cease harassment of British farmers

This article flags up the increasing practice of social media being used to target people who seek to earn a living in the countryside. It tells us:

Farmers Guardian last week reported on the post, which showed a map of farms and encouraged activists to descend on them.

Countryside Alliance (CA) chief executive Tim Bonner thanked those who had reported the post to the social media giant.

“Rural businesses and livelihoods have enough challenges to contend with without having to deal with intimidation and potential attacks from extremists,” said Mr Bonner.

“By working together, we can protect rural people and their businesses from these threats.”


Tories on course to lose control of councils across country as Ukip 'returns from dead' in Brexit backlash

It looks like rural communities might be seeing more of UKIP. This article tells us….

The Conservatives are on course to lose control of councils across the country next month, Theresa May has been warned, as Ukip returns from the “dead” on the back of mounting anger over delay to Brexit.

Council leaders have told The Sunday Telegraph they are preparing for heavy losses in the local elections, amid fears voters are turning on the party for failing to take the UK out of the European Union on time.

They warn that Tory councils in Leave-voting heartlands, including Peterborough and Southend-on-Sea, will be fighting for “survival” and could see their majorities wiped out in May.


Free short story vending machines delight commuters

We need an audio version of this innovation for people in rural settings who have long drives to work. This story tells us:

 “Every single day,” says Paresh Raichura, “I’m on the lookout for something new to read.” On his hour-long commute to Canary Wharf, where he works for the Financial Ombudsman, he picks up Time Out or a local paper or the freesheet Metro, but says: “I’ve stopped reading all the long novels I used to read.”


He shrugs. “Too long. Lack of time. Once you start, you can’t stop.”

And so he is delighted by a new initiative close to his workplace where, at the push of a button, he is delivered a bitesize short story, printed on to a long spool of paper, that takes no more than a few minutes to read.

 “I’m old-fashioned, I like something to hold in my hands,” he says approvingly, looking at the scrolls. He has printed off one each of the one-, three- and five-minute stories offered by the new fiction vending machine, “just to test them out”.

There can’t be many people who feel they need more things to command their time and attention. But for those who do feel insufficiently entertained, distracted or assailed, the Canary Wharf estate has installed three “short story stations” in the shopping malls and green spaces around the commercial district.

Books are too long, the development offers by way of explanation, citing research that more than a third of Britons have abandoned a novel or nonfiction work in the past year. Give us a something that we can read in the time it takes to hum a pop song, goes the logic, and we might actually make it to the end.

And to judge by the reaction of early morning commuters this week, they might be on to something – though the fact that the stories are free and print off in a few seconds undoubtedly helps.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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