The project team has reviewed press coverage, reports and academic articles to assess the impact of Covid-19 on rural Wales and identify how rural communities can recover. Although still too early to draw any firm conclusions on the exact impact nor the potential opportunities, some trends are emerging.
At first glance, things look bleak for rural Wales. In an economy underpinned by small and medium sized businesses and reliant on tourism income, the forced closure of shops and pubs, and the decimation of the travel industry is causing huge concerns. In a recent Visit Wales survey, 96% of business owners said they expected the future impact of the outbreak to be ‘significantly negative’.
As struggling businesses go online and people work from home, the crisis has also highlighted the digital divide between rural and urban areas, with lack of broadband connectivity thwarting attempts to operate online and causing even further isolation.
With a disproportionally older population, some have pointed out that when Covid-19 does spread more widely in remote areas, there will be higher mortality rates. Researches at St Andrew’s University went as far as to say that this could have a devastating impact on the Welsh language.
Conversely, remote rural communities may be protected somewhat from the virus as a direct result of their relative isolation.
The debate on rural-urban relations has been brought into sharp focus during the crisis, with incidences of city-dwelling second homeowners seeking refuge in their rural retreats, contravening advice from both Welsh and UK Governments. The debate has often centred around class and entitlement, with concerns that local health services might become overwhelmed and resentment that some are accessing government support grants to sustain their second homes.
Another dimension to this debate hinges on the perception that the countryside is a ‘haven’. The pandemic is causing many to reassess their priorities, with reports that city-dwellers are increasingly looking to relocate to the countryside. Inevitably this raises question over what pressures this might put on the Welsh language in rural communities.
There are also reasons to be cheerful. Many rural communities, and enterprise agencies working on the ground, have pulled together to meet the many challenges of Covid-19, organising direct emergency responses, providing business advice, and a voice for those living in the countryside.
The sharp focus on poor digital connectivity in rural areas has pushed the matter higher up the policy agenda, making it certain to be a priority in plans for economic recovery once the emergency has abated.
The crisis has accelerated work being done to create a more localised food system, increased interest in the circular and foundational economy, and highlighted the need for training and new skills. All of which emphasises the strength of the LEADER approach and the need for community-based innovation to rebuild the communities and economy of rural Wales.
To view the discussion paper see below: