Rural businesses in parts of England have shown remarkable resilience during Covid-19 by innovating and adapting in response to the severe economic challenges of the pandemic, according to a major new survey from the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) led by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC).

More than a third of rural firms in the North East, South West and West Midlands diversified their business in the wake of Covid with half of these developing new sales channels and two-thirds expanding their customer base.

NICRE’s evidence shows that the most common response from the more than 2,600 rural businesses surveyed was that the pandemic had both positive and negative effects, with more of them able to maintain or increase their turnover, and generate a profit or surplus, than urban businesses.

But despite this, the impact of Covid and related control measures still caused substantial disruption to rural enterprises, with 42% of rural firms experiencing decreased turnover and 37% reporting mainly negative effects in the 12 months prior to the survey.

While almost half of rural firms reported economic uncertainty due to Covid as a major obstacle to success, with high numbers citing reductions in sales/income and productivity and interruption to supplies.

The findings from NICRE, established to foster rural enterprise and unlock the potential in rural economies with the ERC a founding university partner, provides an assessment of the effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the experiences and resilience of rural businesses in three regions of England. It is the first in a series of State of Rural Enterprise Reports.

NICRE co-director Stephen Roper, Professor of Enterprise at Warwick Business School and Director of the ERC, said: “These are significant findings as, until now, there has been very little information about how rural businesses have fared during the pandemic and on, what we call, ‘rural resilience’. To have this evidence on how Covid has prompted enormous market innovation for our rural businesses, as well as insights into the uptake of government and external support and coping mechanisms, fills an important gap in our current knowledge of rural enterprise. As firms continue to operate amid the immense challenges of the pandemic, our survey is timely evidence for local and national government, alongside rural and economic organisations, as they collectively support rural businesses in the future, with further findings to be published in the new year.”

The report has been welcomed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and business leaders

Read the report here

View Report Infographic here