Dorset remains a very privileged part of the country in many ways, but that’s not to say there aren’t a number of less-obvious social and other problems too. What struck me when I did my research for the Hidden Dorset Report was that many of these issues are not new. They are the same or similar to those which were concerning local people when I was involved in development plans for Dorset back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s:
- an increasingly elderly population placing growing demands on already-stretched health and social care services;
- limited job opportunities for young people in some smaller towns, and tourism-related employment which is often low paid and highly seasonal;
- above average house prices but below average wages, making it harder for Dorset’s young people to get on the housing ladder;
- and a large number of small rural communities where expensive transport and other services are hard to maintain, often leading to social isolation for those without cars or who can no longer drive.
What this tells me is that Dorset continues to face some often intractable challenges, not all of which are responsive to the efforts of the relevant authorities. And since then, the financial constraints on public bodies and service providers have only made it harder to tackle some of these problems, particularly those associated with Dorset’s increasingly elderly population.
Which is why I believe the work of the voluntary and community sector in Dorset, supported by grants from the Community Foundation, is so important. Sustained voluntary action at community level makes a demonstrable difference to many less fortunate Dorset resident’s lives. And importantly, it helps to complement the work of the local authorities and other service providers.
The Foundation’s grants help the elderly facing social isolation or fuel poverty; young people seeking to gain qualifications and a first job; or those who benefit from all kinds of community-based action from an un-sung army of volunteers. These are the sorts of issues we’ll be seeking to address when we make this year’s round of grants under the Community Foundation’s Neighbourhood Fund, informed by the findings of the Hidden Dorset report.
Recent history suggests these issues aren’t likely to go away, but it’s good to know we can help make a difference.