How the pandemic has affected rural and coastal retirement
Retiring to the country or the coast is a pleasant dream for many. The slower pace of life and greener environment can be very appealing.
There are downsides though to any relocation, and we’ve talked before about the things you need to consider in choosing your rural retirement home, such as local transport, access to medical facilities, and even where to find the nearest pint of milk.
Now the Coronavirus pandemic has also taken its toll on life away from towns and cities. What has worsened, what has improved, and what hasn’t really been affected?
Health and care
In more isolated areas, health and care are harder to deliver. According to Jessica Sillick of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care, there’s a shortage of staff compared with urban areas, and with greater distances to travel, costs of delivery are higher. Those economies of scale that providers might achieve in more populated areas are mostly out of reach where populations are sparser.
Hospitals are fewer and further between, which makes it harder to share skilled resources and training for staff. As a result, there are fewer facilities able to provide dedicated ‘frailty services’ to older people.
Those challenges were already in place when Covid-19 arrived. The pandemic has had a major effect on hospital waiting times across the country, but especially it seems on rural trusts. Many of these were already what is termed ‘unavoidably small’ because of their remote locations, and the pandemic has seen what few resources they have stretched even further.
In some ways social care is in an even more precarious position, because local authorities are charged with balancing their budgets. Yet social care is generally viewed by those who work in it as seriously underfunded.
It’s not all bad news though. There have been shining examples of new ways to deliver health and social care emerging because of the pandemic. We’ve seen the rise of telephone and video calls as a way of reaching people who might not otherwise be able to access services. At the same time, there’s been growth in the number of community emergency responders, who can provide basic help to people nearby quickly. And there’s been a increase in the number of very small enterprises offering social care locally, which may yet fill the gap as larger providers drop off.
The pandemic has forced a fresh approach on the voluntary sector, and some of the changes it has made may remain as a positive benefit for all.
Funding has been cut with shops shut for months, and charity events cancelled. With retired people playing key roles in providing voluntary help, there’s been a shortage of helpers too as they have wisely stayed at home.
Yet those on the receiving end of voluntary help have needed support more than ever. Not only are they more isolated at home, but the services they might normally have received have been under intense pressure.
As a result, the voluntary sector has had to step in to fill the gaps wherever it can, says Rob Fountain, chief executive of Age UK in Gloucestershire. And that has led to innovative ways of delivering support.
Technology is at the heart of this. If volunteers can’t go into people’s homes through the door, then they are making contacting by phone, video call – whatever works. The challenge here is that connectivity can be difficult in a world where rural broadband has been promised but isn’t yet a reality. There are successful projects to overcome this, such as digital hubs being established in village halls.
At the same time hard copy has found its place again, with national and local groups developing activity packs on paper and popped through letterboxes.
In the future we may see a return to face-to-face contact, but blended with new ways of working together based on what the sector has learned about the value of digital. We’ve also seen an extraordinary rise in very local community support during the pandemic when most people were staying at home. The challenge here is that community support is time-consuming and unpaid, and many organisers will find they don’t have the time or resources to keep going indefinitely.
If you’d like to know more, take a look at ‘Ageing in a rural place’, published by the Centre for Ageing Better.