Category Archives: Charities

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST EMERGENCY APPEAL

The following is a press release which has been issued by Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched an Emergency Appeal for Somerset’s wildlife in response to the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the charity’s ability to fundraise for its work to reverse wildlife declines, restore biodiversity and reconnect people with nature.

Already dealing with the financial challenges surrounding reductions in EU funding, and the immediate and enormous cost of the rapid onset of Ash Dieback disease on its nature reserves, now, as a result of Covid-19, the Trust is looking at a shortfall in its budgeted income for this year of at least £200,000.

At a time when the Trust should be at the peak of its fundraising activities, with membership recruitment and events happening across the county, and delivering vital habitat management programmes with the help of hundreds of volunteers, many of its staff and recruiters have been furloughed, events cancelled, and work programmes are far behind where they should be. Reserve teams are also under additional pressure to repair the physical damage on sites from anti-social behaviour that took place whilst staff was at its bare minimum.

The Trust is appealing to members, supporters and those passionate about Somerset’s nature to support the charity now, when it needs help the most. The funds raised by its emergency appeal will help bridge the significant gap in its finances this year so it can continue its work for wildlife, capitalise on the current drive towards a greener recovery, and ensure Somerset can continue to play its part in addressing the national and global ecological and climate crises.

Katie Arber, Director of Fundraising & Marketing, comments: “Along with members, supporters and volunteers, we are desperately disappointed to have had to cancel our key fundraising activities this year, particularly at a time when the environment, climate change and loss of biodiversity were at the top of the political agenda and high in public consciousness. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge and immediate impact on our income and will for years to come.

“The fact that even more people have turned to nature to help them during lockdown however is brilliant news, and we hope local wildlife will continue to be part of their lives. We now need everyone’s help to continue to do our work to support wildlife and habitats here in Somerset, and every donation will enable us to do this.”

CEO, Georgia Stokes (pictured), adds: “The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. To reverse nature’s decline we must restore and connect valuable habitats for wildlife and restore natural processes also providing essential carbon stores and helping to adapt to climate change.

Many of us have discovered during lockdown that we need nature to benefit our physical and mental health and recognised that nature really is the life support function for our lives, our communities and our businesses.

“Whilst Covid-19 has hit us at the worst possible time, we mustn’t lose the momentum that existed before lockdown for building a more environmentally sustainable, wildlife-rich county, and urge everyone who turned to or connected with the natural world for the first time to continue their support and give if they can to help us continue the work we do during what will be difficult times ahead.”

To donate to Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Emergency Appeal, visit the website here: www.somersetwildlife.org/emergencyappeal or ring 01823 652429.

Photo: Georgia Stokes by Matt Sweeting.

NEW DEVON AIR AMBULANCE HELICOPTER TOUCHES DOWN IN DEVON FOR FIRST TIME

Loud cheers went up around the Devon Air Ambulance airbase at Exeter airport earlier this month, as their new Airbus H145 helicopter flew down the runway and settled onto the helipad – it was the first time this new generation aircraft had landed in Devon.

The new helicopter arrived at Exeter as part of a training flight from the Airbus Helicopters UK facility in Oxfordshire, where the aircraft is currently based. DAA formally accepted the new H145 last month and since then its pilots have been undertaking extensive training on the new aircraft. The flight into Exeter forms part of a three-week training programme which includes classroom-based theory, ‘visual’ and ‘instrument’ flight training containing a mixture of proficiency and flight skills tests and a theory exam.

DAA Flight Operations Director Ian Payne said, “It’s fantastic to see our new H145 helicopter flying into Devon for the first time, it marks the culmination of several years of hard work and development to get the very best aircraft for the people of Devon.”

“Those with a keen eye will notice the new H145, registered G-DAAS, is slightly bigger than our current EC135 aircraft which means we have a larger internal space to treat and convey patients, we can carry more emergency medical equipment and it has a longer flight time between refuelling. The advanced technology and aviation systems that are included with this aircraft really make the H145 a complete package and will ensure we have the very best airborne capability to deliver our enhanced and critical care for many years to come.”

“Despite the impact of Coronavirus, the new aircraft was delivered on time by Airbus Helicopters UK and we’d like to extend our thanks to the whole team at Airbus for their support and attention to detail throughout the project lifecycle”.

Gary Clark, Head of Civil Business, Airbus Helicopters in the UK, said: “We greatly appreciate Devon Air Ambulance’s continuing confidence in our products, and we look forward to supporting them for many years to come. The H145 provides a substantial enhancement to air ambulance operations and we are confident that it will enable DAA to offer even higher standards of service in its vitally important field of work.”

This training flight is one of a number the pilots will carry out as they gain experience of the H145’s array of advanced aviation technology and systems that deliver handling, autopilot and navigational aid functions. Once the pilot training is completed in Oxford during August the new aircraft will be permanently based here in Devon, where more crew training will be carried out before the aircraft goes into service later in the year.

Ian Payne added: “As soon as the H145 is based here in Devon we will be rolling out training across the whole of the Patient Services team. Our paramedics and doctors will not only be learning about the aircraft’s flight management and safety systems, but they will also learn how and where their medical equipment is stored and accessed so that in an emergency the new patient treatment area quickly becomes second nature.

All of this crew training will need to be delivered whilst we remain operational from 7am to 2am, 19 hours a day, so we expect it’s going to be a very busy time as we build up to the point of introducing the new aircraft into service during the autumn.”

DAA Chief Executive Heléna Holt said: “We recognise the huge responsibility we owe to our supporters to ensure we get the best possible aircraft to meet the needs of our current and future HEMS operations in Devon. We are confident the new H145 is the right aircraft and will be a huge asset in helping us to bring urgent medical care to those who need it most.

Our thanks, as ever, to all the businesses, communities and individuals who support us. We look forward to the day that we can invite you all to come and see the new aircraft which has been made possible by your generous support.”

 

RNLI TO INCREASE LIFEGUARD PROVISION IN THE SOUTH WEST THIS SUMMER

Since lockdown restrictions were eased last month, the RNLI has worked hard to roll out lifeguard patrols on 22 beaches in the South West.

Now these beaches are operational and new ways of working and equipment have been properly put to the test, the RNLI is accelerating its service roll-out and increasing the number of beaches which will have a lifeguard service. The charity is hoping to have lifeguards on around 170 beaches in the UK by early July – 70 per cent of the beaches it would patrol in a normal summer.

RNLI Chief Executive, Mark Dowie, said: “We are now confident we can provide a more comprehensive lifeguard service this summer safely, despite the continuing challenges created by the pandemic. The first few weeks having lifeguards back on beaches has helped us properly test the new ways of operating and reassured everyone that we can accelerate and expand our plans.

“Our original plan to lifeguard 70 beaches this summer was a conservative one, made when many things were still unknown. Now, though, we have a better idea of the journey out of lockdown for all parts of the UK, understand the new regulations with which we must comply as an employer and service provider and, most importantly, feel we can properly manage the risks associated with Coronavirus. So, we are revising our plans and adding to the number of beaches we can lifeguard this summer.”

There are already 22 beaches with a lifeguard service in the South West. In Cornwall, there are currently lifeguards on Constantine, Fistral, Gwithian, Hayle Towans, Mawgan Porth, Perranporth, Poldhu, Porthmeor, Porthtowan, Polzeath, Praa Sands, Sennen, Summerleaze, Watergate Bay, and Widemouth. In North Devon, Croyde and Woolacombe are currently lifeguarded, as is Weymouth in Dorset. Four beaches in Jersey – St Ouens, St Brelades, Plêmont and Greve de Lecq – have lifeguard patrols.

As of this Saturday (20 June), lifeguard patrols will start at the following beaches in Devon and Cornwall:

Exmouth, Bantham, Sedgewell Cove, Tregonhawke, Sharrow, Portreath, Chapel Porth, Holywell Bay, Treyarnon, Harlyn, Trebarwith, and Crooklets. Bringing the total number of beaches with lifeguards across the south west to operational to 34 beaches across the South West.

The RNLI is continuing to talk to its 55 partner local authorities and beach owners about which additional beaches might be lifeguarded this summer, seeking to align with the proposed early-July lifting of restrictions on the tourism and hospitality industries. The RNLI will announce this information as soon as possible.

Mark Dowie added: “With schools closed and restrictions on foreign travel, we know that lots of people will be heading to UK beaches – this could be the busiest summer ever for both our lifeguards and our lifeboat crews.  I’m very grateful to all those lifeguards who have already started their patrols or are now preparing to get back on the beach – they know this will be a challenging summer and are doing a brilliant job helping to keep the public safe during this pandemic.

“We must all continue to be aware that the risks from the pandemic have not gone away, but if people work with us and the other emergency services by following social distancing and other Government guidance relevant to their home country, we hope to be able to continue to provide lifeguard services this season. We’d like to thank all our partners – from Her Majesty’s Coastguard, to local councils and landowners – who are also working hard to help us patrol as many beaches as possible.”

New measures to deal with the Coronavirus mean the RNLI lifeguard service will look a little different this year. Lifeguards will wear PPE like ambulance crews in some situations. New protocols for all first responders mean the lifeguards may not deal with some minor first aid cases but will support people to treat themselves. They will also try to keep socially distant from beach goers, and may need to adopt different patrol methods at times, such as not using the red and yellow flags and asking people to keep apart but close to shore, to help keep people safe while maintaining social distancing.

The charity is also continuing to urge anyone planning to visit the coast to make sure they keep themselves and their families safe by following beach safety advice. Anyone planning a visit to the coast should remember to:

  • Have a plan – check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage
  • Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water
  • Don’t allow your family to swim alone
  • Don’t use inflatables
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float
  • In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard

PHOTO: RNLI lifeguards patrolling Perranporth Beach at a socially distanced 2m in June 2020 @triggerleephotography

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES #WILDLIFEWINDOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN TO LET WILDLIFE HELP OUR WELLBEING DURING SELF ISOLATION AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched a social media campaign called #wildlifewindow across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage people in Somerset to share the wildlife they see outside their windows and in their gardens, as well as share positive actions they are taking for nature while at home during the covid-19 outbreak.

With so many people now working from home, self-isolating or social distancing, the campaign #wildlifewindow aims to continue to get people to connect with nature and wildlife, even though it is currently more difficult to go outside, and demonstrate that their spaces, large or small, are homes to wildlife where they can make a difference. Somerset Wildlife Trust hopes this will help keep morale high, reduce feelings of isolation by allowing people to communicate with a community of other wildlife-lovers, and reduce the feelings of being ‘trapped’, bored or like they can’t do anything to help wildlife when indoors.

They want you use the hashtag #wildlifewindow across the social media channels in order to share what wildlife you can see out of your window whilst in isolation, or what you are doing for wildlife while at home or in your garden – whether that’s getting around to making that hole in your fence for hedgehogs or putting water out for the birds.

Head of Communications, Kirby Everett said, “Evidence shows that connecting with nature helps people feel happier and healthier, improving both physical and mental wellbeing. We hope that by encouraging people to enjoy and value the wildlife on their doorstep and through their window, the current distancing or isolation measures will be easier to withstand and may even create a great sense of community online in a difficult time. We also hope that it might lead to positive changes in terms of how people value of nature after isolation ends, and also drive more people to act for it at a time it needs us the most.”

As at 18th March (please check the Trust’s website for latest info) Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves currently remain free and open to all and are excellent places to unwind with wildlife, get fresh air, clear your head and exercise away from any crowd, if you are not in government advised self-isolation. However, they do recommend you take sensible precautions, taking into account the health and safety of yourself and others if you do choose to enjoy the reserves during this time.

Somerset Wildlife Trust will be sharing the #wildlifewindow images and posts they receive, as well as hoping to share short videos, images and interesting wildlife facts to keep us all entertained. You can follow them on Facebook on Somerset Wildlife Trust, Twitter on @SomersetWT and Instagram on @somersetwt.

Photo by Ben Hall.

DEVON AIR AMBULANCE EXPANDS SERVICE WITH CRITICAL CARE CARS

From 2 March, when poor weather or maintenance prevents Devon’s emergency aircraft from flying, two new critical care cars mean the charity’s critical care teams can still provide specialist life-saving care by road.

In the Autumn 2018 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced £10 million in capital funding for air ambulance services.  Devon Air Ambulance applied for £226,061 of this fund, to purchase two critical care cars, all their medical equipment and 35 public access defibrillators.

Devon Air Ambulance state: “Proud of being 100% independent, Devon Air Ambulance have always been forward thinking, putting the patient at the heart of all that we do. Our service delivers life-saving enhanced and critical care to our patients wherever their injury or illness has occurred, whether at home, work or out and about within Devon. Our clinical teams treat the most critically ill and injured patients and then assist in conveying them to specialist treatment centres, with the aim to improve outcomes and reduce deaths.”

Nigel Hare, Operations Director, said, “The two fully-equipped Volvo XC90 Critical Care Cars (CCC) have now arrived and will shortly be going into service.  These CCCs provide resilience and capability across our geographically large county when one of our aircraft is unable to fly. This development ensures our highly skilled critical care paramedics and doctors, and their advanced life-saving equipment, mirroring the medical equipment on board our aircraft, can still be delivered to scene, improving the clinical outcomes for patients.

“The CCCs are very safe, fast, and equipped with all that’s needed for our teams to deliver life-saving treatment to a patient. They are fitted with blue lights and warning sirens and our teams have also undergone extensive enhanced emergency response ‘blue light’ driver training.”

Darren Goodwin, Operations Manager, said, “We undertook a lot of research for this project, looking at the vehicles similar services were using and what would be the best fit for Devon. The Volvo XC90, which is also used by many other emergency services, was the best fit for our service.  We would like to thank Volvo UK for their help and support with this project and of course the Department of Health for the grant given which allowed us to buy these life-saving vehicles.”

BISHOP TO VISIT ILFRACOMBE LIFEBOAT

The Right Reverend Jackie Searle, Bishop of Crediton, will be arriving in Ilfracombe on Sunday 8 March, and will visit the RNLI Ilfracombe lifeboat station to meet the volunteers and bless the lifeboats.

Bishop Jackie will meet some of the volunteers who support the work of the RNLI in Ilfracombe, including those who work in fundraising, in the RNLI shop and in the boathouse and visits teams, as well as members of the crew and shore crew. After spending some time with the volunteers Bishop Jackie will tour the boathouse and will say a prayer of blessing over the lifeboats and the work of the RNLI.

The boathouse will be open to the public from 9.40am and members of the public are welcome to join the volunteers for the prayer of blessing.

It is a busy time for Ilfracombe Lifeboat Station, which has just launched a campaign to raise £12,000 to go towards a new D class inshore lifeboat, about which you can read more here.

The Revd Peter Churcher, Vicar of Pip and Jim’s Church in Ilfracombe and Chaplain to Ilfracombe RNLI, says: “It is my joy to serve the RNLI Ilfracombe as Chaplain, and I am humbled by the amazing work of the volunteers who invest so much time, in such a variety of ways, in this vital life-saving work. I am very pleased that Bishop Jackie will be visiting the RNLI and meeting the volunteers to celebrate the work they do.”

He adds: “The visit to Ilfracombe RNLI is part of JOY 2020 where Bishop Robert, Bishop Jackie and Bishop Nick will be touring the county and taking part in events in all sorts of places across Devon. These promise to be great events for those with a strong faith or none at all. They will show that Christianity isn’t about buildings, rules and rotas, but it is about people and God’s immeasurable love for every single person in Devon.”

Photo: Revd Peter Churcher Chaplain to Ilfracombe RNLI and Jo Bolton Chair of the Ilfracombe RNLI Management Group with the station’s Shannon class lifeboat.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES APPEAL TO PREVENT THE POSSIBLE EXTINCTION OF THE COUNTY’S DORMICE

Somerset Wildlife Trust has announced an urgent appeal for £35,000 to help secure a positive future for the county’s dormice in the face of possible extinction.

Despite once being common, in the last 100 years the native hazel dormouse has become extinct in 17 English counties, with recent UK reports showing that their numbers have declined by 51% in just 18 years. Somerset could easily be the next county to lose its dormouse populations unless positive action is taken now to make their habitats safe, and to provide the best conditions in which these vulnerable, and adorable, little mammals can thrive, now and in the future.

Somerset Wildlife Trust is urging wildlife and nature lovers in Somerset and beyond to donate what they can to support additional woodland management and monitoring programmes needed in the county, before Somerset’s dormice are lost without a trace.

Dormice declines are linked to the loss of habitat and decreasing traditional woodland management practices. Across Britain, just 3% of woodlands are today being managed using traditional management techniques such as coppicing and hedge-laying, while in the 1940s, that figure was almost 50%.

Senior Reserves Manager, Chris Eyles explains, “Dormice need well-managed, connected woodlands through which they can safely move to find food, breed and have secure places to hibernate – something that is already becoming increasingly problematic for them as we continue to see the impacts of a warming climate. Milder winters can sometimes cause dormice to waken from hibernation before adequate food sources are available. Woodland habitats are disappearing all over the country, so dormice populations are becoming fragmented and their future in Somerset looks uncertain.”

“Traditional techniques such as coppicing, thinning and hedge-laying enable us to maintain a balance of healthy habitats in our woodlands, and provide the perfect conditions within which dormice can thrive. But we have a huge amount to do.  We need your help to do more and faster.”

Monitoring their populations to keep them safe: Through regular surveying we know dormice are present on several Trust nature reserves, including Langford Heathfield and Black Rock, but there are plenty more with great potential which are currently not being surveyed! In fact, there are currently only 28 dormouse survey sites across all of Somerset, which is not sufficient to get enough baseline data to understand the true health of the county’s dormouse population. With more funds, we can install more dormouse nest boxes and train new volunteers to regularly survey these sites, so dormice have the best chance of breeding success in the years to come.

Chris continues, “Donations to the Dormouse Appeal will help us create ideal dormouse habitat, enable us to install more nest boxes and train more volunteers to carry out regular dormouse surveys to collect vital data about their health, so please do help if you can.”

“Every donation, whatever the size, will make a real difference. To donate to the Dormouse Appeal, please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website at www.somersetwildlife.org/dormouse-appeal or telephone 01823 652429.”

 

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED NOW FOR MARIE CURIE’S GREAT DAFFODIL APPEAL IN SOMERSET AND NORTH DEVON

Marie Curie, the UK’s leading charity for people living with a terminal illness and their families, is urgently calling for volunteers across Somerset and North Devon to give just two hours of their time to hand out the charity’s iconic daffodil pins, in return for donations.

Volunteers will be supporting the Great Daffodil Appeal – Marie Curie’s biggest fundraising campaign, held every March.

In the next 10 years, more than six million people will die in the UK and of this number 75% will need end-of-life care. The money raised from the Great Daffodil Appeal will help Marie Curie nurses provide much-needed expert care to people in Somerset and North Devon with terminal illnesses, as well as support for their loved ones.

Riona Houghton, Marie Curie Community Fundraiser for Somerset and North Devon, said: “Whether you wear a daffodil pin in celebration, in solidarity or in memory of a loved one, you are joining with millions of others to help make sure Marie Curie Nurses can care for more people, as well as providing invaluable support to their families.

“Volunteering just two hours at a local collection is a great way to show your support and help us raise money to help make sure that we can be there for more people at the end of their lives.

“Collecting can be a lot of fun too.  You can do it on your own or with family and friends, and we will support you every step of the way. Volunteering is also an easy way to get involved in your local community and meet new people.”

Peter Bailey from Bideford said: “I collect every year for the Great Daffodil Appeal and it’s a great feeling to be supporting such an important cause. Marie Curie Nurses cared for my wife Christine after she was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer, the nurses supported all of the family and it meant Christine could die at home with us.

“I’ve now been collecting for over 25 years I’ve met so many kind and interesting people over the years – many of whom have directly benefited from the care provided by Marie Curie Nurses in their own homes.’’

To volunteer for Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal and give out the charity’s daffodils pins in return for donations, please visit mariecurie.org.uk/collect or contact Riona on Riona.houghton@mariecurie.org.uk or call 0117 9420 429.

EXETER JOCKEY CLUB CHAMPIONS DEVON AIR AMBULANCE RACE DAY 2019: TICKETS AVAILABLE

The popular charity race day returns with a full day of family-friendly fun and an exclusive dining experience in support of Devon Air Ambulance.

The Jockey Club at Exeter Racecourse is once more supporting the local charity with a Devon Air Ambulance Race Day on Sunday 24 November, 2019.

This year’s event will feature a dedicated race of the county’s famous and much-loved Dartmoor ponies, who are typically more familiar with the challenging terrain of the moors than the even, maintained grass of the racecourse.

Horse enthusiasts are in for a treat as not only will they enjoy the Dartmoor Hill Pony charity race, but they will also have the chance to watch the spectacle of seven other more conventional races.

For £75 per person, the charity hospitality package includes the charity race followed by the conventional races, the advice of a professional Race Day presenter and tipster, and a delicious menu comprising locally sourced ingredients created by Head Chef, Ian Brimacombe.

Jack Parkinson, Exeter Racecourse General Manager, said: “We are delighted to welcome back the Devon Air Ambulance Trust to Exeter for its Charity Race Day. It’s an outstanding organisation that serves the people of Devon every day by delivering critical care in time-critical situations. The Air Ambulance has attended Exeter races on several occasions over the years and we are indebted to them. We hope that families will come and enjoy a day at the races, and our charity race too, when a team of Dartmoor Hill Ponies will be dashing to the line for glory.”

Devon Air Ambulance crew and volunteers will have a presence at the Race Day, collecting donations, selling raffle tickets and chatting about the charity – there may even be an appearance from charity mascot, Ambrose Bear.

Devon Air Ambulance Fundraising Manager, Tracy Owen, said: “We’re looking forward to returning to Exeter Racecourse for this enjoyable fundraising event. Last year it cost £7.5 million to keep Devon’s two emergency air ambulances flying and because we are independent of Government and National Lottery funding it is entirely thanks to our supporters that we raised this sum. We’re very grateful to the Jockey Club at Exeter Racecourse for their continued support of the charity.”

Businesses looking to take staff out for a social or savvy shoppers looking for an unusual early Christmas gift might want to secure their place in what will be either the Travado or Golden Jubilee Suite – both of which are private boxes with fantastic views over the course – for the Devon Air Ambulance Race Day.

Tickets can be purchased by phoning 01392 466666 and speaking to the fundraising team, or by visiting the Devon Air Ambulance website: bit.ly/DAARaceDay2019 

NEW REPORT REVEALS THE STARK IMPACT OF RURAL ISOLATION IN SOMERSET

Did you know that almost 4,000 pensioners in rural villages in Somerset have no access to transport? Or that the growth in young people’s loneliness is higher than any other age group?

These were just two of the findings from Somerset Community Foundation’s recently launched Hidden Somerset: Rural Isolation research report. The new Hidden Somerset reports are designed to shine a spotlight on, and raise awareness of, some of the important issues affecting people in Somerset – as well as the great work being done by local charities and groups. Thanks to generous funding from The Fairfield Charitable Trust, the first report, focusing on Rural Isolation, was published in July 2019. Further reports, each of which will focus on a different issue, including homelessness and social mobility, are planned to follow later this year and into 2020.

The inaugural Hidden Somerset launch event was held at the Rural Enterprise Centre, on The Royal Bath and West Showground. Invited guests heard a presentation of the findings of the research from Somerset Community Foundation (SCF) Programmes Director Val Bishop, which revealed that:

  • There are a number of hidden needs in Somerset linked to rural isolation including loneliness, poor access to vital services such as GP surgeries, shops and banks, and significant barriers to opportunities for work and learning
  • Lack of access to transport was the most significant issue for all age groups – in parts of Exmoor, for example, households are an average of 40 minutes away from their nearest food store and 50 minutes away from a GP
  • Younger people in rural communities are more likely to be working multiple, seasonal jobs with lower pay which, combined with high housing costs, means home ownership is impossible for many young families and forces many to move away
  • Although there have been significant improvements in access to broadband, a lack of digital skills and access to high-speed broadband and mobile data are still significant barriers for many. Remote areas of Somerset also have few free Wifi hotspots, creating financial barriers to getting online and accessing learning and employment opportunities.

The chairman of a local rural community group responded to the survey: “Lack of transportation is my number-one problem. If I could get transport to pick up the elderly – even those who live a short distance away – I could straight away increase the number of members, especially those who are on their own. We could then also support the surrounding villages at our meetings.”

A panel at the event, made up of four charities, social enterprises and community groups, brought to life some of the more challenging aspects of rural life and the creative and entrepreneurial ways they are tackling local issues. A representative from Exmoor Young Voices – which works to highlight the needs of young people in the area – spoke of the grave difficulties for younger people who want to stay living on Exmoor in light of high housing costs, low wages, and limited employment opportunities. The group are lobbying for changes to local planning regulations to enable more young families to self-build and are looking to start a loan fund to help them buy land.

Raj Singh, Deputy Chief Executive of the Community Council of Somerset, was one of the panellists, and highlighted the vital importance of Village Agents and their innovative and flexible approach to helping individual villagers across Somerset. Raj shared a story of an elderly and isolated resident who was stuck in hospital because he needed a simple adjustment made to his home that no agency had been able to resolve. The local village agent was quickly able to purchase and install the necessary equipment and get him home at a cost of less than £10, as well as helping the resident to build new friendships which reduced isolation and improved his overall health and wellbeing.

Justin Sargent, Chief Executive at Somerset Community Foundation, said: “Isolation is one of, if not the greatest ‘hidden’ issue that communities face here in Somerset and it affects thousands of people across the county. Building stronger communities is essential if our rural areas are going to remain vibrant and inclusive places to live, and local philanthropy has to be a part of this.

“One of the most obvious and profound effects of isolation is loneliness, which can have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. But it is also an issue that local community action is very effective at addressing, preventing other more serious problems from escalating. The discussions that our Hidden Somerset report has so far inspired are helping us identify specific roles that we, and our donors, can play to make the greatest difference. Most immediately, we will increase the impact of our annual Surviving Winter campaign – where people can donate their Winter Fuel Payment to help people who are living in fuel poverty – by funding more community winter dinners around Christmas time, bringing more people together. However, I am sure there is much more we can – and will – do in the future.”

The next Hidden Somerset report will look at homelessness and will be published in November 2019. If you are interested in supporting the work of Somerset Community Foundation and would like to obtain a copy of Hidden Somerset: Rural Isolation, please call 01749 344949 or email: info@somersetcf.org.uk

You can also download a copy of Hidden Somerset: Rural Isolation by visiting: www.somersetcf.org.uk/about-us/publications