Rural life in decline as countryside pubs, schools and post offices close

13 November 2017

Building just a few affordable homes for young families in rural areas could preserve the life of England’s towns and villages, a new report by the National Housing Federation reveals today.

The Rural Life Monitor tracks the rate at which key pillars of community life – schools, post offices and pubs – are closing across rural England because of ageing and dwindling populations.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Over the last five years, 52 rural schools shut their doors to pupils – roughly one a month
  • Post offices have closed at a similar rate – 81 have shut up shop since 2011
  • Shockingly, pubs in rural areas have been closing at a rate of seven a week – more than 1,365 since March 2013.

This trend for diminishing village populations is set to continue with almost half of households in rural areas predicted to be aged 65 or over by 2039.

A lack of new affordable housing is driving young families and working-age people out of rural areas. In 2016, the cheapest homes in rural areas were 8.3 times the income of typical first-time buyers, considerably higher than in urban areas.

The new report highlights where the intervention of housing associations has kept pubs, schools and post offices open in rural areas. In Northumberland, tidal Holy Island’s sole primary school was able to remain open thanks to the building of just four new affordable family homes. In Shropshire, new homes helped keep The Pheasant pub open to locals. Elsewhere, in Dorset, the development of six affordable rented homes kept the Post Office open in the small village of Toller Pocorum.

Building genuinely affordable housing has never been more important in rural pockets of England, where more than 40,000 new homes are needed each year to keep up with demand.

Housing associations are taking a community-led approach to breathing new life into the countryside, building over 3,000 rural homes last year and starting work on over 3,700 more. In July 2017, the sector created a dedicated ‘5-star plan’ to ensure that all new rural housing contributes to local economies.

David Orr, Chief Executive at the National Housing Federation, said:

''Make no mistake, rural life as we know it is disappearing fast. Families and young people wanting to settle, work and grow in rural England are being priced out of areas they’ve known all their lives.

“The impact of this is huge. A lack of truly affordable housing is putting a huge strain on rural economies, populations and vital community services – schools are closing their doors forever to pupils and pubs are serving their last ever orders to locals.

“Housing associations are intervening to stem this tide. They are proving that just a handful of high quality and affordable new homes can transform rural communities, and ensure that our villages and market towns can thrive for generations to come.”

The full report Rural life monitor 2017 is available here.