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Why Rural Equality is More Important Than Ever

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Why Rural Equality is More Important Than Ever 

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, rural communities are often left behind and with a majority of Norfolk's communities being rural, this is something that impacts our county directly. Rural equality has never been more important, however it seems as though there's little momentum toward resolving the issues faced by rural communities. 

While the country advances digitally, rural areas risk being overlooked, with little awareness of the significant impact the digital divide can have on people's lives. Access to reliable internet and digital services has become an essential part of modern society. However, despite the rapid advancement of technology, a digital divide persists, unfairly impacting rural communities across the UK. 

Norfolk stands out in the UK for its high population of older adults With  1 in 4  residents aged over 65 Norfolk has one of the highest populations of older adults in the UK. This demographic contributes to a significant digital divide, as a notable portion of the elderly population remains offline. Nationally, about 2.7 million individuals aged 65 and over do not use the internet. Consequently, Norfolk faces particular challenges with digital exclusion among its senior residents. 

Another contributing factor to the digital divide in Norfolk is its geographical landscape. Rural areas like the Cromer Ridge suffer from a complete lack of Wi-Fi connectivity due to their remote locations. This aspect of digital exclusion is often overlooked but significantly impacts the region’s ability to bridge the digital gap. 

A report  commissioned by Vodafone in 2023 highlighted the contrast in connectivity between rural and urban areas. Nearly half of rural deprived areas are classified as ‘5G not spots,’ compared to only 2.7% of urban deprived communities. The study identified five regions in Britain with particularly poor connectivity and high levels of deprivation: Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria, and the South-West. This underscores the significant digital challenges faced by rural areas, including those in Norfolk. 

Online banking has emerged as a major challenge, particularly for older adults. Many seniors find themselves dependent on family and friends to handle their banking affairs due to a lack of familiarity with mobile apps. This reliance not only increases social isolation and loneliness but also exposes individuals to the risk of financial abuse.  

Furthermore, some banks have closed physical branches in response to the shift towards online banking, further limiting access to traditional banking services for those who are less tech-savvy. The impact is particularly severe in rural towns and villages, where poor transport links make it challenging for residents to travel to the nearest city for banking services. With infrequent or non-existent bus services, people are now unable to access these vital resources, further isolating rural communities. 

What are we doing to bring rural equality? 

In response to these issues, we've taken proactive steps to ignite change in Norfolk: 

  • We hold quarterly Referrers Network meetings, where we bring together professionals who witness firsthand the challenges facing the people of Norfolk. During these meetings, we document all issues discussed and forward them to relevant authorities, such as the district councils and national fora that are influencing policy, in an effort to bring meaningful change and resolution for the communities we serve. 
  • Recently, we've welcomed a Rural Housing Enabler to our team, whose primary role is to facilitate the provision of affordable housing in rural areas through Rural Exception Sites. 
  • We strive to keep the community informed about developments in Norfolk and available services. To learn more about the challenges faced by charities in banking and access our article on this topic, please click here.   
  • We're proud to have participated in the Transport East Regional Strategy Hub, which recently published its report exploring the challenges of rural mobility in the East. The report offers valuable insights and recommends clear actions to enhance rural transport provision. You can access the report here

 

If you want to know more about anything addressed in this article, please get in contact via email- office@communityactionnorfolk.org.uk