Rural Ambition

Rural Ambition

Working together to achieve more for communities in rural areas

Kate Smith, looking slightly to one side as though listening to someone off-camera


In 2023 we launched our corporate plan to provide good quality affordable homes for those living in our communities. This put in place firm foundations to deliver around 200 new affordable homes each year across Shropshire and Herefordshire and improve services.

It also committed to investing in the homes we already have through a large-scale improvement programme and supporting customers with the increasing cost of living.

And while the plan reflects what can currently be achieved by housing associations like ours, I believe with a dramatic shift in focus from local and national government, we could achieve much more.

Rural Ambition calls for action to support this change in focus as we head into an election campaign. Action to build more new homes in our rural areas, support and invest in our communities and improve the infrastructure and connectivity which stitches together the fabric of rural life.

Our calls are echoed by others in the sector such as the National Housing Federation through their long-term plan for housing and by rural housing associations of all sizes in a pre-election manifesto. It argues affordable housing is the catalyst for thriving communities.

If you share our ambition and that of others across the country, help us achieve it by committing your support. Rural Ambition sets out how you can do this, and what it will achieve.

Kate Smith's signature

Kate Smith
Connexus Chief Executive

Commit to more rural affordable housing

Commit to more rural affordable housing


Affordable housing is vital for the future of our rural communities. A lack of new affordable homes has led to house prices outstripping average wages and a private rental market that offers limited security, can be of poorer quality and still out of reach for many. As a result, our communities are in decline. Younger working people who are the future of our rural economy, are increasingly forced to leave the places where they grew up to live and work in more affordable urban areas.

Connexus is committed to:

Building around 200 new affordable homes each year and making the best use of the homes we already have. This includes property improvement programmes to modernise and improve energy efficiency and make sure that issues like mould and condensation are less likely to occur. Where there are opportunities, we will work with our partners to regenerate areas and spaces for the benefit of local communities.

In return, we need:

  • Advocacy for safe and affordable rural homes
  • Acknowledgement that the social housing model is important and a recognition that home ownership isn’t realistic for everyone
  • A focus on delivering social rent developments to make sure affordable homes are genuinely affordable for those on low incomes in rural communities
  • Help to boost the supply of new affordable housing and regenerate older homes through targeted grant funding for rural areas
  • An understanding that rural housing associations can’t achieve the economy of scale possible in urban areas and to work with rural housing associations and their partners to explore top up funding which is appropriate to the local area
  • A realistic approach to planning, working with housing associations and developers to overcome hurdles and deliver positive planning outcomes.

If we achieve this together, this will mean:

People can remain living locally, working in their communities, and raising their children near their existing support system of family and friends. Sustainable rural communities would be created which support both younger and older people, taking the pressure off urban areas as fewer people need to leave rural places to find homes or services they can afford.

Support for skills, opportunities, and jobs

Rural businesses are disproportionately affected by problems of recruiting or retaining suitably skilled staff, which means losing business to competitors or being unable to meet post-sale service obligations. It may also incentivise migration away from the local area, encouraging those people with in-demand skills to take more lucrative offers elsewhere – especially urban areas.

These present barriers to productivity and economic growth in our rural economy. If one sector is in decline, it can have a knock-on impact across the board, whether that is in service delivery, prosperity or sustainability. Productivity in rural areas has decreased in recent years relative to other parts of the country.

Connexus is committed to:

Providing a variety of practical, vocational, and business careers and developing associated skills with a focus on local recruitment wherever possible. Through effective involvement and engagement initiatives, we will offer our customers and those living in our communities the chance to gain employment, develop new skills, and become more closely involved in how landlord and other services are delivered.

In return, we need:

  • Support from local institutions to offer a broader range of apprenticeships, courses and qualifications in rural education settings
  • Advocacy for social housing careers which offer a broad variety of roles across different services and disciplines
  • Continued commitment to and development of the apprenticeship levy
  • Additional support and incentives for those currently out of work to be able to return to the workplace through retraining, health support, young family initiatives and opportunities for older workers
  • Opportunities for people of all ages living in rural areas to learn skills that address digital isolation and support employment.

If we achieve this together, this will mean:

Rural communities can flourish, and local people can fulfil their potential with long-term job opportunities and career paths outside of traditional areas such as agriculture and tourism.

A woman scooping ice cream

Invest in communities

A family sitting on a sofa

Isolation, loneliness, and their impact on physical and mental health are major concerns for rural communities, placing a growing burden on health and social care services. The remoteness of some communities, coupled with a lack of provision of both public transportation and digital connectivity, make accessing health and social care as well as activities, leisure services and even daily essentials far more difficult compared with urban populations.

There is often little or no co-ordinated provision in many rural areas to tackle large gaps in local youth services. At the other end of the scale a quarter of the rural population is over 65, and the average age is six years above urban areas, putting further pressures on already stretched health services1, which are not joined up. Our areas deserve access to sustained funding at levels that recognise the difficulties rural communities face, otherwise people of all ages will continue to fall through the gaps.

Connexus is committed to:

Supporting essential services for those in housing need, vulnerable young people, those fleeing domestic abuse, suffering financial hardship and older age groups. Connexus will also support local enterprise and groups through targeted grant funding where outcomes have a positive impact on co-location, partnership delivery and sustaining the local community.

In return, we need:

  • Acknowledgement of the vital role rural housing associations play outside of a pure housing context
  • Local councils and housing associations to come together and develop a partnership approach to holistically address local issues
  • An effective long-term plan to address the shortfall in much needed supported housing, specialist care and wellbeing services in rural areas, working in partnership with housing associations as well as care and support providers to develop sustainable options which are delivered locally
  • Changes to funding criteria that acknowledges the real cost of building well-designed specialist housing that feels like home and makes a positive impact on people’s lives
  • Opportunities to access more grant funding for specialist support provision and community initiatives.

If we achieve this together, this will mean:

The most vulnerable in society will be able to live well and continue to access vital services for themselves and their families.

Improve infrastructure and connectivity

There is an urgent and pressing need for improvements in both physical and digital rural infrastructure to overcome long-standing problems accessing employment, health and social care, leisure activities, and everyday essentials.

It has been estimated that around 3,000 rural buses have been lost or reduced in the past decade. Increasingly left behind financially or put at a disadvantage compared to urban areas when bidding for funding, rural places are becoming transport deserts leading to an over-reliance on car ownership which can be expensive or out of reach for many households.

This sits alongside clear disparities in broadband and mobile coverage between urban and rural areas. Lower population density across larger coverage areas, difficult geography, and greater exposure to the British weather means the market alone cannot be expected to overcome this widening digital divide.

Connexus is committed to:

Improving our digital offer so customers can easily access essential services and information online 24/7. Where services are delivered in neighbourhoods, Connexus will enable our teams to work using mobile and emerging digital technologies, using low and zero carbon fleet vehicles wherever possible. We will work in partnership and cooperation with others to design and provide multifunctional spaces to benefit our communities.

In return, we need:

  • Reviews which assess the impact on rural communities with a focus on relocation rather than closure of services wherever possible. Explore partnerships with local organisations to maximise the use of existing buildings, public and multifunctional spaces to relocate services cost-effectively
  • Commitment to improve mobile signals and broadband connectivity with a plan to work with housing associations to make sure connectivity reaches everyone
  • Plans to improve road and rail and create genuinely affordable ways to travel so colleagues and customers can commute and access work, shops and local services easily
  • Accelerate the rollout of EV fast charging infrastructure in rural areas for fleet and customer vehicles to enable mass and affordable adoption, working with housing associations who often have space available to accommodate EV charging points.

If we achieve this together, this will mean:

Rural communities can modernise and see digital parity with urban areas. Better infrastructure and connectivity can bring more people to our towns and villages, with opportunities to grow the local economy through traditional and ecommerce as well as access to jobs for local people.

A van in Connexus livery

Help share the ambition

It’s easy to get involved and share in our ambition for rural communities. There are plenty of things you can do, even if you just have a few minutes.

Here’s some ideas:

  • Use Rural Ambition to start a conversation with other people you live with, work with, or represent
  • Comment and share #RuralAmbition social media posts by visiting @weareconnexus on social media
  • Talk to us about how you can help deliver on the commitments we need from our partners
  • Visit a new Connexus development in person
  • See some of our refurbishment, regeneration and new-build work taking place
  • Spend time with Connexus colleagues and learn about the challenges of delivering housing and wider services in our rural communities.

If you would like to support us in campaigning on the themes raised in Rural Ambition, have a discussion about housing priorities, or would like to visit a development or project, please email or call 03332 31 32 33 and ask to speak to a member of the communications and marketing team.

Enquiries about Connexus services on the doorstep

Any enquiries regarding Connexus raised by customers during campaigning activity can be directed to our communications and marketing team by emailing