This year has been tough for small businesses. None more so than those in rural areas which struggle on with all the problems that already go with keeping a business going in areas without the sorts of benefits that businesses in towns take for granted – fast broadband, high footfall and neighbouring businesses less than a mile away.
This year Small Business Saturday falls on 5th December, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and visit some of the rural businesses in Leicestershire and Rutland to see how they have been getting on. The situation was slightly complicated by the restrictions of the covid tier system, but with the use of facemasks and judicious social distancing I managed quite well.
First up was William, a sheep farmer in Rutland. Lockdown has not affected him too much, but rural crime is an ever-present problem. Much of this will – sadly – come as no surprise to rural dwellers. Farm machinery has been stolen, once in broad daylight. And it is not only the financial loss of the theft itself, of course. Insurance premiums go up and there is the inconvenience of it. When some machinery goes missing it is very often at the time of year when it is needed most for seasonal work. That means that William has had to borrow some machinery from a nearby farmer, just when he needs it most himself. A neighbour had some of his sheep slaughtered on his land one night and the carcasses taken away for sale.
Hare coursing is also on the rise in Rutland. For many townsfolk, this comes across as being an unimportant issue. They don’t realise that not only is hare coursing itself illegal, but the gangs involved are remarkably unpleasant people. They smash through gates, tear down hedges or fences and churn up paths and bridleways to gain access to the field that they have chosen. And wildlife suffers too – William has found deer crushed by the hare coursers 4-wheel drive vehicles. Anyone who objects is threatened with violence or having their barns and outbuildings set on fire.
According to William, the local police are doing their best. Indeed, he spoke very highly of the police in Rutland. But there are not enough of them out and about in the rural area where he lives. William believes that they need to maintain a higher and more visible profile in the area to act as a deterrent. And they need vehicles and equipment to suit the terrain. All too often the police kit is bought with an urban environment in mind.