At his decision day on 13 June, Councillor Heron said: “With 85 per cent of Hampshire classified as rural, rural life in Hampshire is both a source of immense enjoyment and one of the county’s biggest challenges; especially with the growing pressures on County Council services. Our Rural Programme seeks to help build strong rural communities, by nurturing local capacity, and supporting sustainable projects that are led and informed by the people who will benefit.”
Councillor Heron’s responsibilities include overseeing the direction and activities of the Rural Programme and deciding the allocation of two community focussed investment funds; the Parish and Town Council Investment Fund, and the Rural Communities Fund. He also oversees the County Council’s partnerships with town, parish and borough councils, and with the Hampshire Rural Forum.
Progress was noted in the following areas during 2018/19:
- The Parish and Town Council Investment Fund has been launched, and has received approximately 100 enquiries within its first quarter of operation. Some 23 projects are already in active development, and a further 15 have been steered towards other County Council grants and funds.
- Direct investments from the Rural Programme include support for the Parish Lengthsmen Scheme, Village Agents and Men’s Sheds, helping more small parishes to resource their own maintenance, and develop a mutually-supportive local community. It has also provided support to the Hitting the Cold Spots initiative, for people who struggle to heat their homes.
- The Rural Communities Fund, which offers small grants for locally-led initiatives, has awarded 27 projects investments in the last year, ranging between under £500 up to £10,000. Recent examples include investments in local village stores and community led social care initiatives which look to tackle social isolation.
Councillor Heron added: “I am particularly pleased with the good uptake of the Parish and Town Council Investment Fund, and the Rural Communities Fund. These funds provide communities with the financial means, in tandem with their own resources, to develop new and innovative ways of working, address local needs, and build their resilience. Priority will be given to projects that directly support pressures in key service areas, and to initiatives that draw in partnerships and resources in a sustainable manner.”