Hinterland - 1 September 2020

This time in Hinterland: a worrying report on the mental health challenges facing young people in rural areas, a personal testimony about the challenges of poor broadband access in rural areas, too much litter, too few buses and the growing threat of a truly miserable winter. All rounded off by the obituary for David Bryant – remember him…..??

*         *          *

Children in remote areas ‘face insecurity due to lack of transport and internet’

Andy Bell gave the development of this report a preview last week at the Parliamentary Inquiry into Rural Health and Care. We usually equate challenges for older people with living in rural England. This report reminds us that there is at least one other group with pressing challenges.

Lack of access to public transport and the internet is leaving children in remote, rural communities facing “prolonged isolation, exclusion and insecurity”, a report warns.

Children in remote rural and coastal communities “have been overlooked for too long”, according to the Centre for Mental Health.

Its report, funded by BBC Children in Need, found that eight to 13-year-olds are struggling to get mental health support because of poor transport, digital connectivity and a lack of safe spaces to meet.

We need to take action now to ensure no child’s mental health is put at risk because of where they live.

Rural areas often appear to be “poorly served” by specialist services, the report entitled The Space Between Us found.

It is calling for more funding for local councils to invest in digital infrastructure for places with limited connectivity, to develop peer support services and invest in parks, schools and community centres.

Centre for Mental Health deputy chief executive Andy Bell said: “Children in remote rural and coastal communities have been overlooked for too long.

“While rural life can be good for mental health, children growing up in poverty, with disability or in a marginalised or oppressed community face a high risk of poor mental health with little support close to home.

“Without access to public transport or digital connection, children face prolonged isolation, exclusion and insecurity.

Internet access for Whitby and rural Yorkshire is a national infrastructure priority – GP Taylor

This personal testimony provides more grist to a well worn Hinterland mill. I quote it as a reminder that there are millions of personal testimonies of relevance in the debate about naff broadband in rural areas rather than just a general “moan”!

The annoying thing for me is that I can actually see the telephone exchange from my house and yet the four-week wait for connection turned into eight, even though the previous owners had telephone and internet.

Three years later, the problem is getting worse. Slow speeds and drop outs happen every day. As a writer working from home, this can be very annoying if you have an eleven o’clock deadline and the service goes down in central Whitby.

It is a shame that so many areas of our county fall into areas that even the Government admits are forgotten and neglected. Statistics from ?Ofcom showed that while broadband in urban areas of England has an average speed of 35.3Mb, in rural areas that speed is just 17.5Mb. That’s not enough to provide any business or householder with a decent connection.

Few users over a wide area are not financially attractive to the internet line providers, due to the economic challenges of building expensive new networks.

The Government’s gigabit voucher scheme allows individuals and groups in rural areas to apply for money to get them connected to broadband, which according to Digital Minister Matt Warman still has £70m “there for the taking”.

Having looked at the scheme, it is very complicated and needs to be clearer and more widely advertised. The money would be better allocated if it was just given to the line providers with the demand that every rural home is connected by 2025.

It is important that connections should be hard wired and not supplied through 5g wifi. What Yorkshire doesn’t need is more electronic smog covering the countryside. We are still in early days in our understanding of electro-magnetic fields (EMF) and their effect on the human body.

In the race to get better rural and urban internet connection, it is important to take into consideration what the effects of new technologies can have on individuals and the environment.

Littering epidemic in England as government spends just £2k promoting Countryside Code

It might just be that I’m becoming a grumpy old man but I find the site of flytipping increasingly infuriating!  The burden of clearing it up almost always involves local government. There is also the smack of people being unwelcome in rural areas in this story ,which conflates two unhelpful and mutually reinforcing things – nimbyism and rubbish! I fear it is a sign of the times. This story tells us:

An unprecedented rise in litter, damaging fires and “fly-camping” across the English countryside is partly a result of the government spending less than £2,000 a year over the past decade on promoting the Countryside Code, campaigners say.

The code, a set of simple guidelines to help rural visitors respect wildlife, local people and landscapes, was relaunched in England in 2004 after the new “right to roam” law increased access to the countryside.

But after a brief flurry of advertising devised by the makers of Wallace and Gromit, successive governments since 2010 spent just £2,000 every 18 months reprinting the code for distribution until recent months. In comparison, the government spent £46m on last year’s “Get ready for Brexit” campaign.

A survey of visitors to the Lake District this summer found that while 70% had stocked up on alcohol for the trip and 25% were bringing barbecues, only 13% said they were aware before their visit that they should follow the Countryside Code. Twenty per cent were visiting the area for the first time.

Rural landowners have reported unprecedented problems as millions holiday in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been widespread littering, numerous dry heathlands catching fire because of disposable barbecues, and many incidents of dogs worrying livestock and wildlife.


Shortage of 6,000 public buses puts UK’s school return at risk

This story highlights significant implications for the challenges of getting rural children back to school. It tells us:

Ministers have privately warned of a shortage of 6,000 public buses needed to get children to school in England next week for the autumn term and have urged coach companies to fill the gap.

Low passenger numbers during the pandemic have led some bus companies, particularly in rural areas, to reduce services, while social distancing requirements on public transport mean that there will be lower capacity on such services.

Fears that many of the 750,000 children who travel to school by public buses will not be able to make it to classrooms were raised at a meeting chaired by Charlotte Vere, the transport minister.

Candice Mason, of Masons coaches in Tring, Hertfordshire, took part in the meeting last month between the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), which represents operators, and Vere. “She opened the meeting very clearly stating her focus was on home-to-school transport,” Mason said. “Her role was to try and get as many children as possible on to dedicated home-to-school services and she believed there was a shortfall of about 6,000 vehicles.”

There are enough coaches in the UK to deal with demand, according to the CPT, but nobody knows where shortages might hit.

The start of the new school year in September is still mired in uncertainty. Several recent surveys indicate that the majority of parents intend to send their children back to school at the start of term but that a minority remain unsure as to what they will do. The rise of infection rates in the UK also suggests that schools may be disrupted by local lockdowns.


The UK's gathering Covid-19 autumn storm

I fear the most challenging winter perhaps in my approaching 60 years. Perhaps I am too much of a pessimist but as set out below there are some very worrying straws in the growing autumn wind….

Teachers, councillors, parents and teaching unions now fear that the same incompetence by ministers will spill over and have consequences when schools reopen. Headteachers say that the government has been so distracted by the exam farce that it has left schools in the dark, giving little guidance on reopening plans over recent weeks. Universities are wondering how they will handle the admissions chaos that has resulted in more students reaching their required grades than they have places to offer.

For many people, including the prime minister, August was a month to try to get away from Covid-19. But September will be when reality strikes, and leadership is needed more than ever. The end of the holidays and the return to “normal” will be anything but. Many hundreds of thousands of working people are expected to be made redundant as the furlough scheme winds down. Any job opportunities there are in a shrinking economy will be fought over by ever larger numbers as graduates join the competition for employment.

The chancellor Rishi Sunak was expected to deliver an autumn budget next month, preparing for potential tax rises and to begin to pay the huge bills already incurred from Covid-19. But such is the anxiety over a second wave that it may be delayed until next year, when the true cost of Covid is known.

As winter approaches, the inadequate test-and-trace system will come under more pressure, exposing it as anything but the “world-beating” system ministers claim it to be.

To add to the uncertainty, Brexit battles with the EU will resume in earnest soon after MPs return to Westminster on 1 September, and fears will grow that the UK will end its transition period on 31 December without a deal, thereby inflicting more harm on the economy at the very point when it will least be able to afford it.


And Finally

David Bryant obituary

The genteel thought of this makes me chuckle. This story and the outfits in it come from a different but not too distant far more innocent time. Thanks fully many rural areas still have bowling greens…..

Few sporting world champions have won their medals while smoking a pipe, but David Bryant, who has died aged 88, did just that as he claimed three world outdoor bowls singles titles and a further three indoors between 1966 and 1988.

In truth Bryant’s pipe, though clenched between his teeth, was not always lit during play, and sometimes was more of an aid to concentration than a smoking device. Nonetheless the smell of Holland House, his preferred brand of aromatic tobacco, became a familiarly pungent backdrop to defeat for many opponents.

Widely acknowledged as the greatest lawn bowler of all time, Bryant’s name was synonymous with the sport during an era when, as television executives woke up to the viewing potential of less active sports, bowls began to appear regularly on the small screen along with snooker and darts.

He was victorious at the inaugural world outdoor singles title in Australia in 1966 and went on to win a further two, in 1980 and 1988, while his three world indoor singles titles came consecutively in 1979, 1980 and 1981.

However, those six winners’ medals were just the tip of the iceberg, for he won another in the world outdoor triples in 1980, plus six more in the world indoor pairs between 1986 and 1992 – adding up to 13 world titles in all. He also took five Commonwealth gold medals at four different games from 1962 to 1978.


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



Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.