Rural businesses are having something of a renaissance in Hampshire with a trend for more local produce and services really starting to make it presence felt in our villages. This upbeat forecast is perhaps just a little reversal in the inexorable decline of the rural community over the last 100 years and it is something I care passionately about and I do my best to champion both locally and in Parliament.
Before the Great War, most people would have found everything they need within their own village but urban centres became predominant and now we think nothing of a trip into Portsmouth and Winchester to buy goods while the cottage industries have all but disappeared. Or have they?
Over the last decade, I have started to detect a bit of a welcome change in our attitudes. I am not saying for one moment that we are going to return to a traditional village life with every community having butcher or a candlestick maker, but local is once again on the menu – albeit in a 21st century way. As an example, about a month ago I visited the award-winning Upham Brewery near Bishop’s Waltham. Upham is one of the fastest growing breweries in the South of England and plans to create up to 500 jobs in the next couple of years – many in the Hampshire countryside.
The firm has seen its sales increase by more than 120% since its launch as a microbrewery with a real ethos that the best place for it to do business is in the rural community – something it may not have considered worthwhile just ten years ago.
Upham’s story is a familiar one being repeated up and down the country as local business and small family firms tap into this resurgent desire for local produce.
Specialist farms and village shops are thriving thanks to this rediscovery of a taste for traditional fare aided by the Internet and rural superfast broadband – now so vital to the countryside. And don’t forget low tech initiatives like farmers’ markets and the impact they have had. Even the decline of the village pub – which was always seen as inevitable – is beginning to slow.
In places like Denmead, a campaign is underway to save the Fox and Hounds and restore it to its former status as a village hub rather than to see it redeveloped for houses. If the campaign is successful, I very much hope to have rural surgeries there.
Our area is also dotted with innumerable plant nurseries, small holdings and agri-businesses which are acting as the engine for and benefitting from this boom in demand for rural supplies. I am delighted to see our firms benefitting from this upturn in demand. Long may it continue.
Member of Parliament for Meon Valley
Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary
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