Catalogue description Countryside Agency: Vital Villages Project Dataset

Search within or browse this series to find specific records of interest.

Date range

Details of CA 2
Reference: CA 2
Title: Countryside Agency: Vital Villages Project Dataset

The Vital Villages Grants Programme was established by the Countryside Agency as a web based project database in 2001 and ran until 31 March 2005.

The Countryside Agency awarded grants to small rural communities to encourage them to:

  • identify and act to meet local needs;
  • help meet their needs for local service provisions in ways that suit local circumstances;
  • enable small rural communities, and wider partnerships to implement local solutions to meet their local transport needs.

The programme itself encompassed four major schemes or project types as follows:

Parish Plan Grant scheme (PPG): This scheme facilitated the funding and development of Parish Plans produced by and for communities which outlined both immediate and long-term social, economic, or environmental priorities of importance to these communities. The Department encouraged communities to involve partners in the process of developing a plan and to in turn use the information gathered to influence the plans and policies of others.

Community Service Grants (CSG): The CSG Scheme gave decision-making authority to respective communities to identify what type of service was most needed in the community, thereby leading to a wide array of projects being funded under the Scheme from club and leisure facilities to provision of childcare and IT-based learning facilities. Commercial businesses and individuals were eligible for the grants. A typical output from this scheme included village shops including community enterprises and enhanced services for existing shops.

Rural Transport Partnership Projects (RTPG): The RTP scheme, established in April 2001, was a grant scheme administered by the Countryside Agency on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Its central aim was to assist largely community-based initiatives seeking to improve transport in their local area and where possible helping to promote social inclusion and tackle the problems of rural isolation. Anyone was eligible to apply for this grant, providing it could be proven that the local community would benefit from the project and that the aims of the transport scheme met the relevant criteria under the RTP scheme.

Date: 2001-2005

The original hardware is not known. The Operating System at the time of transferral to UK NDAD was Windows Server 2003.

Application Software: The database, VitalVillages2004, was originally developed in MS SQL Server, version 2000 by Rocktime Ltd. The version transferred to UKNDAD was also in MS SQL Server 2000 as a database backup file structure. The web application was developed by Rocktime Ltd using Custom web application (MS IIS5).

User Interface: The Vital Villages Project staff data input module comprised a number of online forms covering a range of functions from 'viewing projects', 'adding' and 'editing' projects, to 'attaching documents'. The interface also provided access to lookup selection lists such as those containing a list for good practice criteria ID codes (as part of the good practice criteria selected for each project) and a lookup table listing the available project themes.

The dataset is dynamic, in the sense that new information is entered into the existing database thus periodically producing a new snapshot.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Copies held at:

A copy of the Vital Villages database is also presently being maintained by the Commission for Rural Communities. Upon their final submission, outstanding parish plans are gradually being added to this copy of the database. The Parish Plan Grant Scheme is now administered by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) through the network of Rural Community Councils.

Former reference in The National Archives: CRDA/68
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Countryside Agency, 1999-2006

Physical description: 2 datasets and documentation
Restrictions on use: The Vital Villages database is open for public access, apart from some data that includes personal details recorded as part of the grant management process. Under Section 40(2) (personal information defined within the meaning of the Data Protection Act 1998) of the Freedom of Information Act, these fields will remain closed for 30 years. The dataset and related dataset documentation are copyright of the Countryside Agency. Subject to registration under the Data Protection Act 1998.
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

In 2010 the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets

Custodial history: Originally transferred from the Countryside Agency (the Countryside Agency merged with English Nature and the Rural Development Service to form Natural England in 2006). The United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) then held the dataset(s) until they were transferred to TNA.
Selection and destruction information: Selected under section 3.2 of The National Archives acquisiton and disposition policy.
Accruals: Further accruals of the series may occur and may contain data of a different nature. It is possible that a copy of the Vital Villages database, as maintained by the Commission for Rural Communities, will be transferred. Upon their final submission, outstanding parish plans are gradually being added to this copy of the database. The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) transferred responsibility for approximately 600 remaining parish plans to the Rural Community Councils. These plans await completion and uploading to the Vital Villages database. Note that from April 2006, decisions on Parish Plan funding and delivery were made locally, especially via the network of Rural Community Councils.
Publication note:

The lessons learned from the Countryside Agency's Vital Villages Programme are captured within the range of Countryside Agency publications available on their website ( The National Vital Villages newsletter, Update also facilitates the dissemination of ideas, and useful information about the Vital Villages programme.

Unpublished finding aids:

Extent of documentation: 16 documents, Dates of creation of documentation: October 2001-2005

Administrative / biographical background:

The Countryside Agency (CA) was largely responsible for the creation and administration of the Vital Villages Project dataset from its inception in 2001 until the Vital Villages Team officially ceased to exist from 1 April 2005. The CA's Vital Villages programme was a grant programme set up with the aim of identifying and delivering innovative approaches that would meet the needs of rural communities. The programme was initiated as part of a broader Government agenda to spread economic and social opportunity to the people of rural England, as originally laid out in the White Paper Our Countryside: Our Future (2000).

A key objective of the programme was to acquire and share knowledge about rural needs, rural communities and the solutions which best meet these needs. The data generated from the programme contributed an extensive volume of information to the rural evidence base.

The dataset in this series largely comprises grant records from the Vital Villages grants programme. While the programme was open (April 2001 - March 2005), the data was used for project management by Agency regional staff and monitoring and evaluation of the programme by the Agency National Vital Villages team. Once all project applications had been received by 31 March 2004, the Countryside Agency undertook a second major phase of database development by designating priority to collecting information for case studies and identifying good practice. As most of the project data was accessible to the public via the Countryside Agency's website, the data was therefore additionally used to inform the public and share good practice by disseminating key lessons learned.

In 2003 a brief period of consultancy was awarded to external contractors, FIFO, to undertake some specific interface design work for the front-end components of the online database (public and staff facing). External contractors, Rocktime Ltd, however were appointed to undertake the core development of the system including the web based control interface for the database and implementation of the front-end into the designs created and built by FIFO. The accompanying project website was also hosted by Rocktime Ltd at the following url: On 31 March 2005, responsibility for the Vital Villages project grants was transferred to the Regional Development Agencies and Government Offices. It was intended that central responsibility for the Vital Villages project database would pass to the New Countryside Agency (NCA), operating as a non-departmental body sponsored by DEFRA. From 1 April 2005, the NCA proactively used the database as a tool for research and information dissemination regarding the long-term community impact of projects.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research

How to look for...