Opinion: 3 positives to be had from the current pandemic

People and businesses across the countryside are working flat out to keep the nation fed, to protect jobs and support their communities during the coronavirus crisis. I appreciate and applaud their sustained efforts at this incredibly difficult time.

Many landowners, farmers and rural entrepreneurs have faced times of huge adversity before, however, and the countryside is the epitome of resilience.

Crafted over millennia and fashioned by generations of careful stewardship, it will outlast this or any other pandemic.

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Living and working in a space where nature is ultimately in charge means we are used to having to deal with matters beyond our control. Rural businesses and communities of all kinds are adaptable and are finding ways to cope during this extraordinary period.

It’s my firm belief that, when this crisis is over, the countryside will be at the heart of our nation’s future. It is resilient, adaptable, valued and loved.

But, in addition to a renewed appreciation of the significance of British food and farming, there are some strong indicators that things will be different after this period. It seems probable that, as we adjust to the “new normal”, there will be change – for the better. Three things spring to mind.

First, there will be opportunities in the area of rural tourism. Providing wellbeing experiences in the countryside has been a growing trend in recent years, and the coronavirus situation will surely spur this on.

As the lockdown took effect, many instinctively flocked to rural areas, knowing that the outdoors, with its open space and fresh air, was the healthiest place to be, for our bodies and minds.

And as we emerge from lockdown, the simple joys to be had from a good walk, a country inn, a woodland glade, a remote bed & breakfast or a clifftop campsite will be at the top of the list for many.

This holds great potential for landowners and rural businesses, to rebuild and harness rural tourism with a strong network of compelling experiences that celebrate the countryside and nurture wellbeing.

Second, it is increasingly understood that the countryside is a great place to do business. With so many of us homeworking, remote meetings and online collaboration are becoming the norm. Will we be so willing to take up the daily commute to towns and cities in the future?

Maybe this will drive investment in the necessary technologies to support and provide more opportunities for a dispersed approach to business, and create the need for more meeting spaces and co-working zones in rural places.

Third, eco-living has been another growing trend and the countryside provides so many opportunities for people to design and build their ultimate homes. After all, a life with open space on the doorstep looks pretty good right now.

We may well see people reassess their priorities, leading to a rise in demand for plots of land and rural service providers to support the build.

There is no doubt that food production and caring for the environment will remain the bedrock of farming activities, but for those with entrepreneurial drive and spirit, there will be other, more diversified opportunities to be grasped.

Rob Hindle is executive director of Rural Solutions, a diversification and rural development specialist based in Skipton

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