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Later life in rural England

Living in the countryside as an older person certainly has its advantages; as well as the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful environment, rural areas can also offer peace and quiet, they tend to perform well on economic indicators and there are proportionally fewer instances of cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease compared to urban areas.

This is a cause for celebration. Yet the unique characteristics of rural areas, with their low population densities and distance between residential and commercial centres, can bring additional challenges for older people, such as higher living costs, housing that is hard to heat and maintain, poor transport links and more limited social networks.

This report aims both to present these challenges and to showcase ways of overcoming them, drawing especially on examples of creative practice from local Age UKs that are succeeding in mobilising community effort to improve life for older people. These examples demonstrate how resourceful many rural communities are. Across England they are finding their own solutions to local problems in ways that suit their unique needs and circumstances. There is a great opportunity for both rural and urban communities to learn from them.

There can be a strong sense of community spirit in rural communities, at the heart of which are the many older people who volunteer and who are the primary users, supporters and organisers of local facilities and events. However, while community action can provide some solutions, it cannot do it all on its own, nor can this activity happen at no financial cost, even when it is carried out largely by volunteers. This cost must be acknowledged and met and there is also a need for a national policy framework that responds to the special circumstances and requirements of the countryside.

Community action and government policy therefore need to go hand in hand and rural ageing must also be recognised and understood when decisions are made at all levels of government. Finally, although not the focus of this report, we acknowledge that in rural areas, as in urban areas, older people need their locality to be successful and sustainable. That means having the jobs and homes to allow young people and families to live there too. Only if all of this happens, will rural England
be a place where all older people can thrive.