Taking small steps in the county to create a more viable world for all, everywhere

If you look carefully, you’ll find positive things going on all over the county – things championed by ordinary people, motivated perhaps by a personal interest, maybe a desire to make things better in their part of Northamptonshire, or people with a common goal. It’s powerful stuff that they do – and they produce results with significant impact. Generally, they are unsung.
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A few weeks ago on the radio show I spoke to Rachel McGrath, the Chief Executive of the Northamptonshire Community Foundation. Rachel is also a brilliant columnist for this newspaper and someone I have known for many years. The Foundation, backed by a range of private benefactors, seeks to provide funding to help local community groups achieve their aims – in so doing it provides much of the financial glue which holds local groups together and I think you’d be amazed by just how much good work can be catalysed by a relatively small grant of, say, four thousand pounds. Monetise that grant in terms of the volunteer value it brings with it, and the multiplication effect is huge. Some years ago, it was estimated that the financial value of volunteer time and effort in this country was of the order of thirty-six billion pounds. I can only imagine that through things like the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis that we’ve all been labouring with, the figure is substantially higher. Fuelled by benefactor funding – and the encouragement to go and do good with it, the network of independent but ostensibly identical community foundations is now one of the largest and therefore most significant funding providers in Britain today. It is a force for good and has the firepower to back up that imperative.

Rachel and I talked about a new report that the Foundation, with significant stakeholder partners - had released. It highlights the difficulties experienced by one particular sector of the county. Having read the NCF press release before our conversation I was familiar with the general subject – but was still stopped in my tracks by the content of the report itself. It’s not a long document, it’s easy to read and understand and I commend it to you. It’s also jaw dropping in its implications. At this point and for the reasons of full disclosure I should say that I am an Ambassador for NCF – and that some years ago I saw time as a Trustee and was proud to be one. I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations of NCF now, but I thoroughly back its ethos – and it’s channelling of funds where they are needed.

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The report – which you will find online – sets out the very real differences between those who live in the more rural areas of the county, as distinct from those in the more metropolitan towns of Northamptonshire. Called ‘Shining a Spotlight on Rural Community Needs’, it details a plethora of ways in which life in the countryside is every bit as tough – if not tougher – than in the more built-up areas of the county. By way of specifics, you’ll find the following, and I quote:

· Rural households have a higher likelihood of lacking access to a vehicle, making it challenging to reach essential services. Residents of Silverstone Village, for example, must travel over an hour (via public transport) to access a GP and approximately 100 minutes to reach a hospital.

· In 2020, Northamptonshire ACRE found that 45% of rural residents experienced higher food prices due to their rural location and approximately 22% of respondents with children reported the likelihood of missing a meal.

· Financial hardship was mentioned by 40% of respondents when asked about the causes of food poverty in their community.

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· Rural areas in Northamptonshire are home to 31.4% of the overall population (237,815 people), with an older population compared to urban areas.

· Fuel poverty affects 11.5% of households in rural Northamptonshire (over 11,000 households).

· Over 14,300 adults in rural Northamptonshire have no formal qualifications.

· Rural areas experience longer travel times to educational institutions, making access to education more difficult.

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· Approximately 17.3% of all residents claiming unemployment benefits in Northamptonshire are living in rural areas.

Of course, the idea behind the report isn’t simply to wring hands and mutter worthy words – the Foundation with its stakeholder partners wants to kickstart change. It has plans on how to do this – but first it has to raise the capital with which to do it. Do it, they will, I’m certain, albeit that this particular kind of ‘balancing up’ will take time to achieve. Here’s hoping – can you help them?

It’s a similar situation with climate change. I doubt anyone can have been anything other than horrified by the images from Rhodes this week as temperatures soared and tinder dry scrub and vegetation caught fire. I read of an airline pilot offering his Rhodes-bound passengers an early exit before take-off, opining that it would be folly to travel there – some took his advice too. When someone like that feels motivated to speak like that, things must be bad. Iceland is seeing new volcanic activity as mainland Europe continues to burn and although we’ve seen similar things before in the US, Spain and Australia before, it’s becoming more prevalent.

I was therefore impressed to hear of action arising this week from a recent climate change summit at the University of Northampton involving not only academics but interested businesses committing to make positive changes to how their activities affect the climate. Their accord from a couple of months ago is developing into more than initial words and while it too will need time to bring about action, each and every commitment to do so will bring about positive change collectively. I’m not talking about protests – instead I mean real, collaborative action for the greater good, so that we pass on a viable planet to the next and successive generations. Look for news of this in September – I will be…