Over the past five weeks I’ve been covering our five distinct towns within Mendip. This week, I wanted to focus on our area’s rural communities. Mendip is, after all, a largely rural district, and 4 in 10 of us live in villages, small hamlets and nestled in the countryside off the beaten track.
However, while the advent of home working might increase the influx of newcomers to our villages, rural life isn’t without its challenges.
Life for many of us revolves around village halls and churches, local shops and pubs; all forming a major part of community life. This fact helps explain why it’s such a blow when communities lose these amenities, something that was happening all too regularly, even before Covid-19.
Of note also is the fact that too many people are cut off, as public transport has dwindled in recent decades. A lack of decent transport means that young and old alike are often stranded, struggling to access things like GP surgeries or supermarkets.
At Mendip District Council, we’re working hard to improve the network of cycle and walking routes to help people able to travel under their own steam. Walking and cycling are great ways to get exercise, but they’re also a brilliant step in reducing our over-reliance on cars. I especially welcome the work of many Parish Councils, who are working together to provide additional community transport options for those of us less likely to clock up the miles on a bike.
Another issue facing rural communities is poor broadband. This has been especially in focus during lockdown, with families having to juggle work conference calls and home schooling on extremely weak internet signals.
We’ve been working for some years with the partnership, Connecting Devon & Somerset. It was set up to deliver improved broadband infrastructure to areas where the market has failed to invest. It won’t surprise readers to learn that almost all of those places are rural and more remote.
There are voucher schemes available specifically for people living in rural communities experiencing poor broadband speeds, and you can find out more here: gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk.
Alongside these challenges, we must never forget our farmers. Without a doubt, these are tricky times for our food producers and farmers, with the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit coupled with the pandemic. I know many local farmers who have worked the land for generations and they deserve our respect and support.
This support can come in a range of ways. As farmers are asked to adapt their practices, to do their bit to slow the climate emergency, we can do our bit to support them. This could be as simple as having another look at the district’s markets, where increasing ranges of Mendip-sourced food and drink is being sold. It’s a great tradition of ours: growing food in Somerset, selling it here and taking it home to create something wonderful.
This, and many other traditions are alive and well. Where I live, in Westbury-sub-Mendip, together with many other villages in the area, we welcome in each new year by blessing apple trees, warding off evil spirits and encouraging a fruitful apple harvest.
This year, of course, we had to ‘Wassail at home’ but it’s great fun to come together as a community and celebrate such an ancient tradition, one that can be traced back to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Another ancient festival – Beltane – is celebrated this coming weekend, and I wish those welcoming in the summer on May 1st a safe and joyful time.
So, those are some of our challenges, but some of our successes and celebrations too. And, while other parts of the country will have their own quirks and ways of life, as we look toward a long and fruitful summer, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
As ever, do get in touch either on my email [email protected], or my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke.
Written by Cllr Ros Wyke, Leader of Mendip District Council
Please get in touch either on my Facebook page @Ros.Wyke or you can send me an email: [email protected].