From floods to pandemics: resilience for rural communities at times of crisis
AUTHORS: IMOGEN SMITH, SENIOR PROJECT OFFICER AT COMMUNITIES PREPARED AND PHILLIP VINCENT, PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AT ACRE
As the outbreak of COVID-19 has demonstrated, unexpected events can and do happen, threatening the way of life we have become accustomed to. Sometimes the impact on individuals and the services that support them can be severe, with recovery taking months, if not years. This can be particularly felt by rural communities which are typically not well served by public infrastructure and services. In response we - Communities Prepared and Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) - have published a new guide to help rural communities become more resilient to a range of emergencies, from floods to pandemics, by supporting them to plan ahead.
Drawing on the experience of local rural charities and existing initiatives, our guide provides information and practical guidance for rural residents on how to identify risks and the roles different people and organisations can play when responding to emergencies to pull together and build long term resilience. This includes supporting communities to link in with the local farming community and rural contractors (such as agricultural, building, forestry, or countryside rangers) who are often pivotal in the provision of resources during an emergency.
Volunteers play a vital role in emergencies. COVID-19 has shown how many rural communities have taken the lead in local responses, from good neighbour schemes to village halls being used to distribute food parcels.
Our guide, although written before the pandemic hit, provides some great examples of how volunteers have helped their rural community stay strong in the face of other challenges such as heavy snowfall and flooding. It includes practical advice on setting up a Community Emergency Volunteer (CEV) group, linking in with local town or parish councils, as well as guidance on how to research and prepare a Community Emergency Plan. In addition to the guide, further resources and training materials for CEV groups can be found on the Communities Prepared online community resilience hub.
Some of the real-life stories featured in the guide include the delivery of hot meals to residents in Caddington, Bedfordshire, who were left without electricity and gas after a heavy snowfall, and community and voluntary organisations that joined together to help residents and businesses recover following the extensive flood damage caused by Storm Desmond in 2015.
Building community resilience to challenges also has many other benefits beyond the emergencies. Examples in the guide show how this can also bring about environmental improvements, foster new community networks, and underpin social cohesion.
We are hoping the guide will be widely shared and used by rural communities so everyone in the countryside is better prepared or future emergencies such as Covid-19. As lockdown measures are lifted and we begin the recovery process, now is the time to prepare for any future challenges that might arise.