Lockdown showed many rural Britons the benefits of living in the countryside. But new planning changes sparked by Covid-19 means that life will have to changeby Elinor Goodman / August 15, 2020 / Leave a comment
During lockdown virtually all of us living in nice houses in the countryside said how lucky we were. On our not very socially isolated walks, we would say how sorry we felt for people living in tower blocks with no gardens or space for children to play. At the time everybody meant it, but will that sentiment survive the practical challenges posed by demands to build more houses and open up the countryside to outsiders? And how will rural areas be changed by coronavirus?
Lockdown certainly wasn’t easy for everybody in the countryside, but for some it awoke a kind of nostalgia for a time when neighbours helped each other and tractors trundled in splendid isolation through the lanes. Life moved very slowly, which left time for chatting. Villages weren’t hollowed out during the day by people commuting to work. There was a wonderful silence which made it seem as if the birds were singing louder. Local shops sprung up around pubs and there was a real sense of community—albeit powered by the very modern device of WhatsApp.
If you asked people what they would like to preserve from that time under lockdown, it was that sense of community. But strong communities can be inward looking and suspicious of outsiders, as was evident in Cornwall with placards warning second home owners and tourists to stay away. They had reason to fear anything that might increase the infection rate in areas short of medical facilities, but the suspicion went deeper than that, and touched on a kind of rural xenophobia. I found myself wiping down the bench outside my front gate with bleach for fear that urban viruses would leap from onto it from a rambler’s waterproofs.
Now the challenges to the countryside are more fundamental, both in terms of preserving what was good about this period, and adapting to the challenges ahead. What those of us living in the countryside have is space. And despite our sympathy for people living in tower blocks, it doesn’t necessarily extend to going along with housing developments that would allow more people to…