“Countryside in crisis”

“In a pointed letter to the Times, the [Rural] coalition declared that: “More than nine million people live and work in rural England, yet their concerns are in danger of being squeezed out if Brexit discussions focus only on agriculture and the environment.”

The effects of austerity and corporate cost-cutting had already decimated vital rural services, it argued, “risking rural communities becoming enclaves only for the wealthy”.

Talking to various members of that group, you get a feel for the range of different perspectives, but also of the shared insistence that Brexit will not just affect the countryside in terms of a withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy and related regulation and subsidy, but is also likely to bring to a head issues concerning the fabric of rural life that have long been unravelling.

…“Do we want the countryside just to be a national park and import our food from elsewhere or do we want it to be full of thriving communities that can be a productive part of the economy?”

… The Rural Coalition wants at least 7,500 affordable houses for young families to be built per year to reverse this trend. Paul Miner of Campaign to Protect Rural England argues that, with concerted policy action, “a commonplace sight in the countryside could be thriving communities boosted by new affordable homes”.

… There is a very big if there, of course, to go alongside the multiple other ifs on the horizon. At the heart of this one is the question of what we collectively understand rural Britain to be about. Whether it is a green and pleasant backdrop to insistently urban priorities, or whether it can re-establish a community that works for all generations and income groups. Hudswell suggests perhaps part of that solution can be created by the communities themselves.

“The story really is,” Lightfoot says, “if you sit back, nothing happens.”

“Or,” Cullen says, “you look around one day and think, hey, Christ, we have lost everything.”