Housing at foundation of rural communities

Lockdown’s been tough on everyone but for rural communities, who might also be more isolated, there have been even more challenges. Hot on the heels of the recent Rural Housing Week, we wanted to share some of our recent rural developments and how we’ve been supporting rural communities.

After spending the first 18 years of my life in a tiny village in the countryside, including many hours hanging out of the bedroom window to get signal on my Nokia 33.10, I know how important it is for rural communities to feel connected.

Despite it being well over a decade since I left the countryside (and thankfully, even longer since it got slightly better mobile coverage), feeling connected is more important than ever, particularly rural areas – especially in the wake of coronavirus.

During this year’s recent Rural Housing Week from the National Housing Federation, the key message was that housing is vital for the survival of rural communities and services. We firmly agree.

That’s why supporting our leafy, lovely, out-in-the-sticks communities is such an important part of the work we do. In tribute to some of our more rural communities across the North West, we wanted to share a little taster of some of the work we’ve been doing to support them.

Our recent developments

Putting our money where our mouth is, we recently bought a mix of 16 rented and Shared Ownership homes at Monks Cross, Ribble Valley as part of Section 106 – which is just a technical way of saying developers need to contribute to providing affordable housing within any development, something we’re committed to anyway.

Monks Cross is a lovely development made up of 116 houses and 21 one-bed bungalows in total, nestled in the village of Whalley.

The area is steeped in history, which makes it a place of high demand for housing, particularly affordable housing. Although it’s rural it has good access to motorway networks, trains and shopping. We work closely with Ribble Valley Borough Council on this and other developments, and manage their housing waiting list for them.

A development like this really helps us support the local community and increase the levels of high-quality housing in the area, so we’re very excited to progress with the project – keep an eye on our social media accounts for updates.

Chipping away at rural broadband

Developing, building and buying is just a fraction of what we do to help create and sustain positive communities though, something at the heart of everything we do at Onward.

Chipping is a picturesque rural village within the Forest of Bowland, which happens to also be an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The village has won awards for its beauty over the years as well as scooping the Village category from the Royal Horticultural Society for Britain in Bloom several times, which we’ve also donated to.

Being in the heart of rural Lancashire, Chipping does have its challenges though. We’ve tried to meet these issues head on, always looking for innovative ways to keep our customers happy.

Some initiatives we’ve been part of investigate ways to improve the look and feel of the area. Others have been focussed on making sure there’s cost-effective heating solutions for our customers, through air source heat pumps in our properties. Recently we also supported B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) with access to lay fibre broadband lines where needed.

B4RN is an innovative community-led project helping bring high-speed broadband internet connectivity to homes and businesses across the area.

They set the wheels in motion with local volunteers getting stuck in to help dig trenches. In return, the volunteers were rewarded with the chance to get a connection for their families or businesses, or in shares.

Now Chipping is fully hooked up with fibre broadband, which is great for our customers as well as the wider area. It also helps the whole community get online, which means cost-savings, better access to jobs and online support and lots more.

Supporting our communities

More generally we’ve been supporting customers in our communities one-on-one as part of the welfare calls we’ve been making during lockdown.

This was particularly important in our rural communities, as we found lockdown was worse for customers in more isolated areas.

Our Neighbourhood Specialists, along with the support of our other teams, have been supporting on a whole range of issues, such as helping vulnerable and high-risk customers struggling to get access to food.

For example, one specialist was speaking to a customer whose pride was getting in the way of him accessing the help he needed. By going through a local church on his behalf, the specialist sorted a food parcel that only cost £3 for about £20 of shopping. The specialist has also continued to do regular check-in calls with the gentleman to make sure he’s OK.

Another high-risk customer admitted she was lonely and needed some reassurance during a call. Our specialist decided to schedule a weekly call with her just for a friendly voice and natter. It also gave her the chance to discuss the latest government guidelines, how she interpreted them and what extra help she might need.

She’s said she’s extremely grateful for the personal touch and has enjoyed the calls so much she’s asked for the chats to continue, which our specialist has been happy to do.

What’s your experience of living in a rural community? Let us know on Twitter using the #RuralCommunitiesTogether hashtag.

If you’re an Onward customer needing support get in touch on 0300 555 0600 or via our website

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