Just before Christmas on a cold, snowy day in Buxton I was one of the guest speakers at Rural Action Derbyshire’s AGM.

I have known Rural Action Derbyshire (RAD), which is part of the ACRE network, and the excellent work it does in a number of incarnations over the years.

Like me it maybe that you know your local community council, rather than the ACRE network itself – either way, they do a remarkable job in our often forgotten rural areas, where deprivation still remains hidden and help is (literally) difficult to access.

The Network is the only nationwide organisation with a dedicated rural focus; building community resilience, strengthening local enterprise and supporting the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, it are the only network that provides advice to the 80,000 volunteers who keep England’s 10,000 village halls alive.

It has been supported by Government investment for ninety years, but just a few days ago, it was advised by civil servants to expect no further funding from Defra.

I, like Rural Action Derbyshire, am extremely concerned about the impact that the withdrawal of this funding will have on communities across High Peak and Derbyshire.

Concerned about the negative impact on the wide range of services and projects which RAD to help people in Derbyshire’s rural communities including: Wheels to Work, Oil Buying scheme, Village Halls support, Suicide Awareness Training, Agricultural Chaplaincy, community and neighbourhood planning as well as partnership work to support financially excluded people and foodbanks.

To pull the Defra funding now would fracture the Network, undermine decades of government investment and leave the most vulnerable in rural areas with nowhere to go.

If you are able to give examples of how Rural Action Derbyshire or your local community council has made a difference to you, your community or organisation, this would be very helpful.

Rural areas – as is the case in High Peak – are characterized by lower earnings and self-employment; made worse by the increase in the use of zero hours contracts. Coast & Country areas suffer more than most because of the cost of accessing even the most basic services and goods; we face poorer transport and digital infrastructure.

Non-urban areas are more likely to be in fuel poverty than those in urban areas. High Peak is a classic example of this, we have a lot of old, solid wall homes that are difficult and costly to insulate; with one in eight High Peak families living in fuel poverty.

These are all issues with which Rural Action Derbyshire, and its fellow community councils in the ACRE network, seek to help people living in rural areas – through practical schemes such as Wheels to Work or the community oil buying scheme.

At that snowy pre-Christmas meeting I was happy – and pleased – to say that Labour not only welcomed the ACRE Network’s rural manifesto but that it fitted well with much of the thinking of the shadow Defra team. I have already taken up the issue with Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies – and signed the petition –and will, as Leader of High Peak Borough Council, write to the Secretary of State to ask her not to withdraw funding.

We only have one week to influence DEFRA’s decision. You can show your support for Rural Action Derbyshire and the wider ACRE Network by signing the ACRE Network online petition now at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/73418

Please urgently write to Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR or email her at defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk to ask her not to withdraw funding from the ACRE Network.

Caitlin Bisknell is the PPC for High Peak | @CaitlinBisknell

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.

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