Maddie Fitzgerald from Business in the Community's Rural team reflects on the Big Ticks, Highly Commended and Winning entries to the Dairy Crest Rural Action Award 2014.
Our rural communities continue to face many challenges, with employment opportunities and the sustainability of a vibrant rural society remaining key to the fabric of the countryside.
Decline in farm incomes, lack of affordable housing, access to education and training and a decline in basic services all lead to rural isolation and the decline of rural communities. Traditional agricultural income remains the backbone of the rural economy but recent government statistics forecast that incomes for many farm businesses will fall below £20,000 again this year, providing little opportunity for investment in innovation or new technology. And although only 18% of the population lives in rural Britain, it is these vulnerable communities which support our urban economy – providing us with safe healthy food, clean water and valuable landscape services.
The companies awarded a Big Tick in this category have demonstrated that they are making great progress in tackling these concerns, in particular by helping to create sustainable supply chains, improving skills and knowledge, tackling low farming incomes and helping to improve the sustainability of UK agriculture.
These Big Tick companies were able to demonstrate a strong business and a social case for their activity, robust monitoring and evaluation practices and most importantly, a powerful and sustained impact on individuals and their local communities.
Our Class of 2014 should be justly proud of all that they have achieved. Wm Morrison Supermarkets, awarded the accolade of overall category Winner, demonstrated its dedication to British produce and showcased its tremendous impact across 11 supply chain groups through its highly successful Morrisons Farming Programme. This programme works with producers to improve the sustainability of British meat, dairy and egg production by delivering best practice in knowledge building and profitability, whilst improving food security and animal welfare standards. Wm Morrison's commitment has also been supported by participation in 40 research projects, with over £1million invested into issues its producers have highlighted as important.
EH Booth, whose entry was Highly Commended by the judges, also helps improve the sustainability of rural communities by tackling low farming incomes, biodiversity loss and helping preserve traditional farming in the Lake District with its Herdwick Project. This project is helping to ensure a sustainable and profitable market for Herdwick lamb by offering upland hill farmers a reliable route to market and a premium for their meat. By doing this, EH Booth are building confidence in a more sustainable future.
Collectively, our Big Tick companies have invested more than £2 million in addressing a range of rural issues. In addition several have built strong collaborations with other organisations, allowing the reach of their programmes to significantly increase, and even, in the case of Calor Gas, implement government policy changes. Sustainable food production also features, with over 2,000 children have been helped to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from by Manchester Airport Group.
To find out more about how you can help our rural communities please contact me at Madeleine.Fitzgerald@bitc.org.uk