A successful 'village agent' scheme in Hampshire could be expanded as the County Council strengthens its commitment to supporting rural communities.

Delivered in partnership with Age Concern Hampshire, the County Council-funded scheme covers 23 villages where volunteer agents help older and vulnerable residents to access advice and support services.

The scheme is part of the council’s rural delivery strategy to address issues such as isolation and loneliness, transportation, community resilience, economic development and communications.

At their latest meeting on March 24, the County Council’s cabinet discussed priorities prior to consultation with district councils and key partner organisations.

They also agreed a budget of £400,000 for 2014/15 for rural initiatives and the extra cash will be used to maximise partnership working and provide match-funding to local authorities where appropriate. This includes support for small community grants in the next financial year.

Further support for rural communities to tailor their existing transport options to better meet the needs of residents without cars, is also high on the agenda, with additional support for self-help and volunteering.

 In addition, it is proposed to strengthen ties with the Church and other religious organisations, whose valuable role is recognised.

County Council Leader, Councillor Roy Perry said: “With 85 per cent of Hampshire being rural, we need a strategy that helps rural areas thrive and flourish.

“The population in rural Hampshire is ageing faster than the county as a whole, creating higher demand for our services. Through effective collaboration with our partners, we are ensuring that resource is targeted to where it is needed the most and delivered in the most cost-effective way.

“The County Council provides support to rural communities in various ways; from grants to make village halls more accessible, to helping village shops to expand their businesses, and the invaluable support of village agents in helping more vulnerable residents in our communities.”

In addition, the flooding crisis seen across the borough has highlighted the ability of communities to identify and deliver solutions to challenges where they were given basic support. Hampshire County Council wants to build on these skills, expertise and goodwill to strengthen community resilience.

Talks are also underway between the County Council and energy suppliers to see what can be done to increase resilience against power failures during adverse weather.