1.1 What does rural mean?
How do we define what is rural? Before we move on to any official definitions or statistics, it might be worth looking at what we think is meant by the term ‘rurality’. Often when we think of ‘rural’ we tend to perhaps equate it with ‘the countryside’, or ‘landscape’, or ‘nature’, or other similar general terms. Perhaps we might think about ‘quality of life’, a slower pace, stronger communities. We might think about some things that relate to descriptions of the physical world around us and some that relate to social or cultural aspects. Sometimes they might be positive (as above), but others might be negative: everybody knowing your business; difficult to access services like education or health care; poor roads and transport links, and lack of employment opportunities. Defining ‘rurality’ is by no means straightforward, but it is important to understand and recognise the benefits and costs of living in a rural area.
It is worth recognising that not all rural areas are the same, and that the rural context and rural challenges within each of the four nations in the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England), and regionally within these nations, will be very different. Within Wales, the rural challenges of Pembrokeshire, for example, will be very different to those experienced in Conwy, andeven within Pembrokeshire, between Narberth and St. Dogmaels.
New findings, released by the, show that Wales continues to have many of the most empty areas in the United Kingdom. Powys, with only 26 people per square km, is the second most empty part of the UK. For comparison Cardiff has 2,482 people per square km. The average weekly earnings of those living in rural areas such as Powys is lower than the Welsh national average. Anglesey and Conwy have the highest number of economically inactive, retired residents in Wales.
The Rural Development Plan (RDP) for Wales 2009–2013 outlines four axes that provide strategic direction to regional and local rural development initiatives:
- Axis 1: Making rural Wales more competitive
- Axis 2: Protecting our countryside
- Axis 3: Improving people’s lives and encouraging diversification
- Axis 4: Supporting local projects and initiatives
Each region in Wales, as part of the Wales Rural Network, has its own Local Action Group which then applies the RDP strategy according to its own situational needs.
This kind of information is useful as background when thinking about your business and your community.
Note: A link to the 2014–2020 version of the RDP for Wales will be made available via the Twitter hashtag #RDPWalesRuralEnt.
The affordability of housing in rural areas has long been an issue across the UK, and particularly in Welsh communities, where the price of local houses is out of step with the level of local incomes. This situation is exacerbated by the extent of second home ownership in many rural areas, as well as the influx of city dwellers looking for ‘a mixture of clean air, friendly people and community spirit’, according to the NFU Mutual study (2010). The study claims that nearly seven in ten of rural residents have exchanged towns and cities for the Welsh countryside, and that around 45 per cent have moved from urban areas in the last five years. While this has helped local services to survive, it has also pushed up house prices according to The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW).
Research conducted by The Wales Rural Observatory (2009) for the ‘One Wales’ coalition government in 2010, found that other challenging issues for those living in rural areas include the relatively high cost of goods (including fuel), transport difficulties and poor access to broadband. Nevertheless, more than 90 per cent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with their local area as a place to live, and 94 per cent rated their quality of life as either ‘very good’ or ‘fairly quiet’.
The public sector is a major employer in Wales, and in rural Wales it accounts for 28 per cent of the workforce. There is considerable regional variation, however. Therefore, almost a third of the workforce in Gwynedd and Carmarthenshire work in the public sector whereas less than a quarter of the working population do so in Pembrokeshire, Powys, Conwy and Monmouthshire. As the size of the public sector shrinks, its impact will be felt keenly in rural Wales.
In 2006, small and medium-sized enterprises made up over 99 per cent of the 190,000 businesses in Wales but accounted for less than 60 per cent of employment (Stats Wales, 2009).
Rural areas have the highest density (per head of population) of private business small employers (Powys, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire ranking 1st, 2nd and 3rd, Wales.gov, 2011), 17 per cent of whose employees are aged under 25. In addition, under 40 per cent of those who work in the private sector speak Welsh with under a half using the language ‘mostly’ or ‘sometimes’ at work (Wales Rural Observatory, 2006).
CO2 emissions are higher in rural areas, transport use tends to be higher, and rural properties tend to be less well insulated. However, rural communities have the greatest potential to benefit from renewable energy.
What these kinds of ‘facts’ tell us is that rural areas experience different sets of issues. Knowing those issues, and reflecting on and understanding how they might affect your business and your choices will help you to develop your business, and give potential funders confidence that you have done your research. For the latest information look for #RDPWalesRuralEnt on Twitter.
Local Authorities (LA) also gather data about your area; it is worth exploring these either by going directly to your Local Authority’s website or by going to the Business Wales website where you will find links to all of the 22 LAs as well as additional information and support.
At the end of this section we suggest some possible sources of information and support.
Task 1: Personal objectives
Write down your personal objectives for studying this course. (You can modify this as you progress.)
- What do you enjoy about living in a rural location? What do you not enjoy?
- Write down what ‘rurality’ means to you i.e., what are its characteristics (this might help you think about what it is it that being rural brings to your business).
Share your thoughts with other entrepreneurs in your local networks.
At the end of each section you will be asked to review the activities you have completed and summarise your work in the Business Plan Progress Review (BPPR).
Take a look at the template now so you are clear about what you will need to do in each section.