Cirencester charity Action with Communities in Rural England works for rural communities
Action with Communities in Rural England has been supporting people in rural communities for more than 25 years
It might not have the name recognition of some of its larger cousins, but Action with Communities in Rural England is one of the most important national organisations for rural communities. Ian Craig visited the charity’s Cirencester headquarters to find out more.
HIDDEN away in an unassuming office building in a peaceful Cirencester neighbourhood is a charity that has quietly been working for the past 25 years for the benefit of residents across the whole of England.
Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), is the umbrella body of the Rural Community Action Group – the collective organisation of the 38 rural community councils across the country such as Gloucestershire Rural Community Council or Wiltshire’s Community First.
Its work reaches into all levels of rural life from helping set up parish and neighbourhood plans to offering advise to village hall committees.
The charity’s director of policy and research Nick Chase told the Standard one of its main responsibilities is to bring people with different expertise together to benefit communities across the country.
“The rural councils have remained pretty much the same over the last 70 to 90 years but they’re all very different because they’re really focused on the local needs of their area,” he said.
Action with Communities in Rural England director of policy and research Nick Chase“It’s the glue in the fabric that holds things together”
“They achieve the same things through different methods and that’s where we come in.
“What we do is bring them together and see what’s working and then we can share it.”
The charity also works as a mouthpiece for its member organisations with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, more recently, Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government.
“The government’s localism focus has involved handing over many responsibilities to communities,” Nick added.
“The problem with that is there are communities out there in deprived areas which aren’t very articulate, but we can help.”
He said the charity faced a wide range of hurdles in its everyday work include the potential impact on rural communities of the coalition government’s reforms to spending and benefits.
“A lot of policies are written so they can impact the greatest many people, so they tend to focus on urban areas where the population is greatest,” he said. “This leads to rural people being disenfranchised just because they live in a rural area.
“The needs of rural people are just the same as urban people but the solution may be different.”
The charity – which has an active online presence linking all its member organisations together instantaneously – is funded by a mixture of lottery grants, private sector investment and government funding and is looking at branching out into Europe in coming months.
Nick said one of the most rewarding parts of his job was being able to bring people with specific expertise together to benefit people across the country.
“One of our members made a phone app for energy assessments and when I found out about it another member said ‘that’s exactly what I need for something I’m doing’”, he said. “It’s great when we see the fruits of our labours like that.”
He added the charity’s team of just 15 people were constantly at work talking to rural agencies developing new ideas and schemes.
“We’re here the whole time listening the chatter in the background so we know what’s going on,” he said.
“It’s the glue in the fabric that holds things together.”
- Organisations and charities keen to make their voices heard on rural issues are invited to sign up to ACRE as associate members.
Joining up will give organisations the opportunity to contribute to the charity’s work and will also give them access to ACRE Good Practice Quality Standards, which is endorsed by the Charity Commission.
ACRE director of network standards and support Colette Williams said signing up could help charities and organisations without the resources to develop their own quality standards framework improve their performance.
Care Farming West Midlands (CFWM) is one of the organisations to work with ACRE to develop a bespoke version of its Quality Standards.
CFWM project manager Richard Nicol said working with ACRE had been ideal for the organisation.
“In the ACRE Standards we found the solution we were looking for,” he said.
For more information visit acre.org.uk