Blog: Connecting rural communities online during the Covid-19 crisis
Published: 17 Jun 2020
Rural isolation and loneliness are big issues in rural communities and have been heightened by the lockdown, especially among those who are self-isolating.
“Often the answers to community problems are found within communities themselves.” - Peter Woods, Fellow
Studies of loneliness have found it to have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of people of all ages. When this is mixed with the unseen enemy of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, depression and anxiety can often be the outcome.
I live in the market town of Hexham in Northumberland, a large rural area near Hadrian’s Wall which includes the Northumberland National Park. In Hexham we are lucky to have a local paper. However, this is only printed once a week. Therefore keeping up to date with local issues and the lives of others, which ultimately keeps us connected to our communities, is limited.
Three years ago, I decided to set up Hexhamtv, a local online news site which can be viewed on Facebook and Twitter (see top photo for an example of a recent interview I did). Here I post interviews, news and events that I think local people will be interested in, and tell the stories of those who may not get featured in traditional print media. I film election hustings and local town council meetings, so that people have transparency and accountability for their local democratic representatives. I also highlight social issues such as domestic violence, mental health and dementia, and publicise relevant support groups to connect community members.
The advantage of Hexhamtv’s approach over print media is that it is shareable, timely, visual and easy to engage with. Hexhamtv has been well received since its inception and its audience has grown.
Moving forward, I want to start offering online events, which will be particularly important during the pandemic as many of the usual cultural venues are closed. This would offer support in the form of social connection for local people who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19 or to those who are now working from home.
My Churchill Fellowship in 1986 focused on multi-agency approaches to drug prevention. Establishing Hexhamtv reminded me of my Churchill Fellowship, as it is very much about community sharing and support, with the aim of building a better environment for all.
Often the answers to community problems are found within communities themselves. Connecting communities online, and showing people that they are not alone in dealing with these issues, is one of the significant outcomes of my work with Hexhamtv.