Research being funded by the Diocese of Truro will focus on the government’s official measure for experiences of deprivation in England and whether it is appropriate for people living in rural Cornwall.

The Cornwall Rurality Matters research, which is being carried out by Plymouth Marjon University in Cornwall, will be used to demonstrate the reality of living in Cornwall’s rural neighbourhoods. This understanding may contribute to more appropriate measures of rural deprivation by the government in future.

Joel Dougan-Davies, Social Responsibility Officer for the Diocese of Truro, said: “We are very excited to embark upon this project with Marjon University Cornwall. There is great beauty in the rural communities of Cornwall, but unfortunately in many areas there is also profound deprivation.

“Many people around Cornwall are living in great need and it is a vital part of the vision of this diocese to be good news for the most disadvantaged. This vision has many expressions, from debt coaching to afterschool clubs, but through this project we are campaigning for social justice and transformation.

“Those in rural communities can be left behind by the collected statistics that define deprivation, and this has significant ramifications on funding distribution. By researching the real lived experience of those in need in rural Cornwall, we are looking towards a future with a more just mechanism for the allocation of resources. We have a vision that prioritises all people in need equally, wherever they live, in urban or rural communities.”

The aim of the project is to provide evidence for a change in understanding of how place-based deprivation in Cornwall’s rural neighbourhoods is experienced by its residents through the development of a robust understanding of the lived experiences of adults in six rural Cornish neighbourhoods identified as being under resourced through socioeconomic deprivation, geographical remoteness, and cultural isolation; articulated through infrastructural challenges of low/seasonal/unemployment, limited access to affordable housing, poor public transport access, limited education and skills facilities, low cultural diversity and opportunity.

Findings will support a suggested definition of rural deprivation in Cornwall.

Professor Tanya Ovenden-Hope from Plymouth Marjon University in Cornwall, who is leading the research project, said: “I am delighted to be leading the Cornwall Rurality Matters project funded by the Diocese of Truro, because the experiences of Cornwall’s rural communities really do matter, yet are little understood by policy makers. We will investigate the lived experiences of people living in six of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Cornwall. We will take the time to hear about their lives and what it is to be part of their community. Our findings will offer insight into rural living in Cornwall.”

Cornwall was ranked 83 out of 317 local authority areas for overall deprivation in 2019, with the living environment featuring as 23 most deprived. For a county famed for its outdoor environment, this makes interesting reading. However, the six most deprived neighbourhoods in Cornwall identified by the government measure – the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) are all predominantly urban. This suggests that rurality, and the deprivation that exists in these areas, is skewed by urban experience.

People living in one of the six areas are being invited to take part in the study and share their experiences. Six local schools serving those communities will also be researched to understand Educational Isolation and the challenges the schools face in accessing resources.

The final report will be shared with local and national policy makers, and it is hoped that it will support better targeting of resources according to need rurally.

Simon Cade, Diocesan Secretary, said: “I am excited about this work, commissioned to support parishes and the diocese as we serve those living in poverty in Cornwall. We know that poverty is not just found in cities and big towns, and that often rural poverty seems to be hidden or overlooked. This research will help us to hear from those who experience life on a low income in Cornwall, it will help us to understand how that effects life-chances and opportunity, and will help us to be faithful to the Gospel call to serve those in need.”