"Vital Signs is a really important tool as it helps us to challenge some of the myths and perceptions about Essex with our stakeholders."Caroline Taylor, Deputy Chief Executive
The need to invest in rural communities in Essex has been revealed as a key priority in a new Vital Signs report produced by Essex Community Foundation (ECF).
Vital Signs 2015 is the third report of its kind to be undertaken in Essex by ECF and it reveals the contrasts affecting people’s prospects and that where you live, work and learn can have a major impact on your life. Rural life is an idyll that many aspire too however, for some, behind the relative peace and tranquillity, rural life can seem more like a form of social isolation. Access to, and availability of, transport, employment, affordable housing, shops and medical services persist as issues of concern.
Essex is a significantly rural county with 72% of land devoted to agriculture and 25% of the population living within rural communities. Vital Signs shows that, in general, Essex is generally an affluent county, but rural communities face unique challenges. At first glance this isn’t very surprising and we would expect to find a similar set of circumstances in many other counties in across the UK. What is surprising, however, is that in many ways rural Essex is becoming a community of two halves. Those that are employed with good income and access to their own transport and those who may be older, with health and social care needs and limited access to local services or young families who struggle to afford to live in rural communities.
Caroline Taylor, deputy chief executive of ECF said: “Vital Signs brings together existing statistical data and results from a community survey to give a 360 degree view of what life is like in Essex and how we are performing when compared to other parts of the UK.
“Our first report looked at 12 themes which affect life in Essex and one area which emerged as a priority for our county was skills and education, which we focused on in 2014. This year’s Vital Signs focuses on life in Rural areas and highlights how ECF, through its grantmaking, is helping to tackle issues that exist in rural communities.
“Vital Signs 2015 shows that rural Essex has an increasing number of older people, poor transport links and poor broadband connectivity.
“Most people in Essex have a good quality of life, but older people and younger people with families can find rural life challenging in particular in relation to affordable housing, health and social care and often the feeling of being cut off and isolated.
“Whilst we can celebrate Essex’s success we must recognise there are inequalities that exist across the county. Only by working together can we ensure everyone can realise their potential.”
Vital Signs will be used by ECF to help ensure that its grantmaking continues to target the areas of greatest need. It will also help encourage philanthropy, making it more effective in the county and will stimulate debate about how people can work together to improve skills and education for all.
People who are interested in supporting their communities can use the information in Vital Signs to direct their action to the most critical areas. These issues affect us all, so this report and your feedback are critical in helping ECF to understand how we can support communities now and in the future.
We hope you will read the report with interest and that you will want to start a conversation with us about how we can work together to address some of our county’s most vital issues. We look forward to hearing from you.
If you would like to send us your thoughts or comments about Vital Signs please contact us.
Vital Signs is produced alongside the more substantive report Vital Issues 2015.
Tolleshunt Autumn Leaves Club - received a grant of £500 to help subsidise the transport costs of outings for elderly people in rural Colchester. Meeting every fortnight at Tiptree Community Centre, this active club provides opportunities for elderly people to get out, meet up and take trips together helping to reduce isolation and providing much-needed companionship.
Wix Youth Club - received a grant of £700 to replace equipment at a rural youth club in Tendring. An active youth club that was established by local people who saw a need to provide positive activities in this small rural village. The club is for children aged 11-17 years, meets every Friday evening and offers a range of recreational and craft activities and some outings to local places of interest.
Halstead Day Centre - received a grant of £5,000 to help run their essential day service in Braintree. The Centre is a lifeline for many older people who live alone and visit the day centre for a hot meal and some much-needed fun and companionship. Halstead is a small rural town, and the day centre's catchment area includes 16 villages, the majority of which have little or no services and minimal accessible transport. 80% of their beneficiaries live in the villages increasing their chances of social isolation and poor access to shops and other services.