'Village Survival Guide' released in bid to save rural life
PUBLISHED: 07:37 01 August 2019 | UPDATED: 07:37 01 August 2019
Pubs, post offices, schools, buses, libraries, markets - villages in Suffolk are booming as a new survival guide is launched to revive rural communities.
The Village Survival Guide, launched by the Prince's Countryside Fund, is almost 100 pages of advice for rural communities on how to help protect their way of life - preserving transport links, keeping public buildings open and giving their residents a great quality of life.
With national reports of pub closures, libraries under threat and bad news for small businesses, Suffolk has projects pushing back against negative headlines.
The village of Coddenham will soon have a shop operated by a Community Interest Company (CIC) - announced shortly after housing charity The Day Foundation bought and opened two affordable homes for the village, specifically for young people living locally to get on the housing ladder.
Coddenham Community Shop secretary, Elaine Thomas, said: "The support of the community is key, you can't do anything without that.
"When the shop closed in March, the owners of the shop were really keen to see the business continue though so we've made great progress there - we've now signed a lease and appointed a manager so the work can begin behind the scenes."
This is the group's second attempt saving a community staple after The Duke's Arms closed in 2014.
"It wasn't for a lack of support but the owner of the pub didn't want to sell it or lease it," she added.
"We still have the passion for keeping a pub in the village though."
Mid Suffolk District councillor John Whitehead says he would be happy to see even more CICs doing the same good work.
"I think this work and the survival guide are a very good thing," Mr Whitehead said.
"When closures come to villages there's often a lot of negativity so it's important when communities organise that there is support for them to save their pubs and shops.
"These community projects have a 90% success rate of staying open after five years, which is better than if it were a private business."
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Hannah Reed, director of innovation and business development at Community Action Suffolk, said: "Our local areas tell us they face the same challenges as found in the national research - declining services in rural areas, infrastructure challenges, and poor digital connectivity.
"In addition, with villages regularly reporting closure of local businesses, we are however, seeing a rise in CICs showcasing some incredible community spirit and pride.
"We are hoping the report will be packed full of hints and tips that we can use alongside our own work to make sure communities wishing to save or create local community-owned assets are supported to do so in a meaningful way."
One village that has tried to retain its community assets is Hitcham, deep in rural Suffolk and surrounded by other villages.
Council parish chairman Allan Scott had advice for any other budding social entrepreneurs, saying: "Be ready to get to work early and work hard.
"We tried to save our pub but that was lost when the previous owner sold it, and thanks to the goodwill of the current owners we still have a village shop.
"We know these places can be saved though - up the road in Battisford the Punch Bowl pub was saved by forming a community interest company and that's remained open for about five years now."
Another pub bought by its villagers is Somersham's Duke of Marlborough - purchased for £350,000, run by volunteers and now considered by The Guardian to be one of the top 50 pubs in the country.
Manager Kevin Lang said: "There's a lot of organisation that goes into getting these projects going and keeping them going after you've launched - you can't run off business from locals alone because they'll only have so much money to spend at a business like ours.
"You need to find people who are committed to what you are doing in the long term."
Losing vital assets - even for a few hours - can impact larger towns too.
Hadleigh's petrol station had technical problems for three hours over a morning commute on July 29, leaving residents over five miles from the next station.
Mayor Steve Allman said: "People would have to drive to Ipswich or Sudbury if that stopped working.
"There's a chance we could lose our weekend bus services as well - even a town like Hadleigh can have the same problems as a village."