How the Coronavirus is Affecting Rural Communities
Chloe Walker is an emerging freelance writer who focuses on businesses advice, careers, and student living. Having grown up in a rural town, she has witnessed how smaller communities have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, in both positive and negative ways. As she struggled to find much coverage of this topic, she decided to write this article to help anyone struggling in rural towns.
"The coronavirus pandemic is having a massive effect on citizens around the world, changing the way that we are all living our lives. However, it is affecting different communities in different ways, and rural communities are amongst those who have been the most dramatically affected.
I’ve seen the negative effects of the pandemic on my own local community, which, from the stories I’ve heard, mirror many smaller rural areas. This includes sudden flocks of tourists, larger impacts on smaller businesses and schools, and feelings of heightened isolation.
From the upsides of having more space when you are self-isolating, to the challenges facing farming and agricultural business, life is very different under COVID-19 for rural communities.
Government rules stipulate that we must be keeping our distance from other people – especially those who we don’t live with. Thankfully, for those who live in rural communities, this is often easier than for people who are living in big urban areas.
You might have a larger, private garden, or you might be living in an even more isolated area, enjoying a more off-grid lifestyle with your own natural power sources and a home waste tank. Having this extra space can be a huge bonus at times like these.
The issue with social distancing is the fact that residents in local communities tend to be older; government statistics show that over half of the UK’s rural communities are aged over 45 – and therefore with a higher proportion of people placed in the ‘high risk’ category for COVID-19. This suggests that rural communities are disproportionately more likely to be affected by it.
Due to the widespread population of rural areas, it can be harder for older citizens to keep in touch with their loved ones. Many live alone and a large percentage have no relatives living nearby, so they will need to depend on technology to help them stay in touch. But many are not confident using the internet and may struggle to make the most of it if they don’t have anyone near to help them.
I’ve seen aid groups set up that help the elderly community needs by setting up computers and social media accounts which will allow people to keep in touch with their loved ones, and from reports, this is echoed throughout the UK.
One big problem that is being highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic is the inadequacy of the healthcare system in rural areas. Although there are some healthcare facilities available, there are not necessarily the resources to cope with high percentages of the local population being ill at the same time.
It is also another factor that due to the less dense population in rural areas, patients need to travel further (and along more challenging roads) to get the medical care that they need. This can add to the delay and put people’s health at risk. The hospital in my rural community is small, and was unable to cope with the demand, resulting in vulnerable patients flocking to the cities, where the larger hospitals were also struggling to cope.
We have also seen high numbers of people visiting rural destinations either for holidays or to take their ‘daily exercise’. Although it is nice that people want to enjoy some of the natural beauty that the country has to offer, these high numbers all put people in these communities at risk – firstly due to the higher footfall (and therefore less social distancing that can be done), but also due to the extra pressure that this could put on the local healthcare system and road congestion.
Car parks were closed in my local area in an attempt to reduce the number of tourists visiting, but this only resulted in people parking alongside roads, meaning that there was even more crowding, making it difficult for locals to get to where they needed to be.
Reduction in Hospitality
The travel and hospitality industries are massive in many rural communities and these were also one of the first to be affected by coronavirus – and probably will be one of the last to be able to get back to ‘normal’.
As rural communities are often less dense than larger cities, implementing a takeaway service is harder for some businesses as they may only be able to travel so far for delivery, not reaching as many people as needed to keep their business afloat. Only a small handful of hospitality firms offer delivery services in my local community for this reason.
This can apply for collection services too; a restaurant that’s not based in the centre of the local village means that many are unable to reach them.
Although we know that these are necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus, the closure of hotels, restaurants, B & Bs, and tea rooms is having a massive impact on both business owners and the local economy on the whole.
Demand for Food
The country’s demand for food has changed significantly over the past few weeks, from the panic buying of tinned foods, flour, and UHT milk, to the drop in demand for fresh milk. Those who work in farming are having to contend with changes in demand that are somewhat unpredictable.
Our food production demand and supply process is finely balanced to ensure that the country is getting the right amount of food when they need it. Due to the sudden changes in the nation’s spending habits, we are seeing challenging times for our farming industries as carefully planned food production processes are having to change at the last minute.
Another important factor that we are seeing affecting our farmers is the impact of staff shortages. Due to unprecedented percentages of staff sickness, as well as certain staff having to shield, be shielded or self-isolate, and restrictions in travel (especially for staff that come here from abroad to help with agriculture), it is difficult for farmers to plant and harvest their produce in the quantities that they require.
Home Schooling and Funding
One of the biggest changes that we are seeing in the world is the need for parents to teach their children from home. Funding for schools is given on a number of students basis, and this means that often smaller rural schools have less funding than the larger urban ones. Whereas larger urban schools have sometimes been able to help their students out with computers or other equipment, this has been far more challenging for schools in rural communities. I’ve heard of a few parents who are also struggling as they only own one computer, yet have several children to home school.
There is also the added problem of the accessibility to good quality internet in rural areas – something that is essential for online lessons and other learning activities – as well as keeping children occupied during ‘down-time’.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus has had – and is continuing to have – an enormous impact on the world, including our rural communities. Of course, we don’t know what the future holds, but what we do know is that our rural communities are extremely resilient, able to adapt and will help to carry the country through the pandemic."