In April this year, the government launched a new fund aimed at levelling up rural areas by offering financial support to local businesses and community groups, to help to boost prosperity in the countryside.
The £110m Rural England Prosperity Fund replaces EU funding that originally benefited rural communities, and gives Local Authorities greater say in how the funds will be allocated.
So, how does this new fund work and will farmers be able to benefit from it, given all the turmoil in the wider farming support payments?
In this guide, we seek to answer these questions and more to help farmers, landowners and rural business owners better understand the opportunities available.
What is the REPF?
The REPF builds on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to offer similar funding to rural areas in England. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a £2.6m package that replaces the European Structural and Investment Programme, which the UK officially left in 2023 after leaving the European Union.
The REPF runs to £110m which has been earmarked to bolster rural prosperity by providing funding for rural businesses and community groups to innovate, diversify, and create employment.
The fund was officially launched in April this year and money will be available until March 2025.
What does the REPF cover?
According to the government, money from the REPF will be spent in two areas. These include:
- Communities and place.
This includes projects to improve community facilities such as green spaces and boost access to arts and culture to grow local tourism economies.
- Supporting local businesses.
The money will also be allocated to help existing rural and agricultural businesses to expand and launch new products and services, and start-ups which will be able to access funding to grow and create employment.
Specifically, capital grants are available for:
- Farm diversification, including agritourism projects
- The conversion of redundant farm buildings for other uses
- Food processing and marketing ventures
- Boosting rural connectivity through broadband projects
- Community projects such as village halls, public access, etc.
Who administers the REPF?
The funding is administered by local authorities in England and allocations have already been made based on the government classification of what constitutes a rural area, which is areas consisting of settlements below 10,000 people or in open countryside.
For this reason, many local authorities – those encompassing large towns or cities – are not eligible for funding.
Notable allocations have been awarded to authorities in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Shropshire, Somerset, and North Yorkshire. However, this is not all the allocations and a full list of local authorities that have been given money from the fund can be found on the government website by going to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rural-england-prosperity-fund-prospectus/
How do I apply to the REPF?
Farmers, landowners, rural businesses and other interested parties should apply for funding from REPF via their local authority. To find out if your local authority has been allocated funds, use the link above.
If it has, either search online for how to apply as there is no standard procedure and different authorities have different processes, or get in touch with your local authority for advice on applying.
In most cases, you will have to submit an Expression of Interest for funding at first, which will then be assessed by your local authority. If successful, you will move on to the next phase of having to submit a full application, which will undergo a further assessment before you find out if you have been successful or not.
You can do this yourself, but if you require support writing your application, our experts at Whitley are able to help.
One other thing to consider is that if you are thinking about applying, it would be as well to do this sooner rather than later. This is because there is likely to be stiff competition for the money and many experts have predicted the funding could easily be used up well ahead of the March 2025 deadline.
Therefore, it could be a case of be quick or miss out. However, for those successful applicants, REPF money could provide the means to grow, reinvigorate their business, or to diversify.