We’ve had snow again! Today, about 30cms of water is running across the roads in the High Peak causing localised flooding and cars to aquaplane. I know this because of a wonder community resource, called the Buxton Weather Watch, an internet site run by an ardent weather enthusiast who steadfastly keeps all those who have to travel aware of local conditions. This site is the “shop window” of the best of the community spirit which typifies the region. In the comfort of my home and work location, I can keep an eye on conditions and gauge if I need to change my journey plans. It provides a wealth of information with links to local webcams such as the famous Flash stores where a guaranteed decent cuppa and a welcome for all waifs and strays awaits. So why mention a weather website and what has this to do with rural dementia?
This site acts as a community hub; it shares key information about local road and weather conditions with those who are living and working in the area. Advance warning is given of impending challenging weather. Updates are regular. During really poor weather the site goes into hyperactive mode. So at all hours, people are sending in pictures and details of road conditions, mishaps and missing people which are posted in real time by the site people. Colour coded messages are then posted with red capitals being the highest alert. The Buxton Mountain Rescue link in with their responses and it all seems to work well. More recently, we’ve seen the hard work of the various 4×4 enthusiasts and organisations who have come to the support of people, including those with chronic conditions who have needed medical assistance. A mother in premature labour was helped to the hospital by a farmer who cleared snow drifts to enable access. We’ve seen a couple of teenagers safely found who had tried to walk in deteriorating conditions. Alerts for people with dementia who may have become lost can be posted if necessary which all helps towards a prompt resolution.
Less transparent are the issues during poor weather which affect mobile signals and internet connections. In many rural areas these are often sporadic at the best of times. During extreme chilly weather it is not uncommon for mobile phone batteries to run low very rapidly, to fail completely or for the transmitters to become iced over or collapse. When this happens, there are no communication links so community workers have no choice but to check on vulnerable people in person. Their usual vehicles are not suitable for the snowy conditions and this is where the volunteer 4×4 members of the public come to the fore. Treks up to a mile on foot are not uncommon laden with provisions. Medical care, fuel, milk, bread and a cheery word will all be provided. Solid fuel tank levels will be checked and measures taken to ensure these will be topped up if necessary. Distant relatives will be contacted. Charities such as Age UK will offer reassurance as part of a complex chain of support.
In rural areas there will always need to be 4x4s; we cannot simply cast them as the villains of air pollution and strive to eradicate them. Currently we do not have any viable alternative solutions in these rural areas. They are part of this landscape and infrastructure for many reasons and that includes preserving life.
Most importantly are all those everyday heroes who give up the warmth of their homes to transport our key workers safely to respond to our neighbours living in remote and rural communities. A huge thank you to you all.