The event, hosted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and supported by the Scottish Government, brings together community groups, academia and experts to discuss the vital contribution communities make to Scotland and consider how to support their continuing and increasing ambitions.
Around 100 community groups are attending, from Fetlar in Shetland to Dumfries in the south.
In 2017, HIE celebrates 20 years since setting up a dedicated team to advance community ownership across the region. The remarkable story of community ownership is to be told in a film to be shown at the conference, from the early days of the Assynt Crofters buying their land to more recent stories where communities are acquiring a range of land, buildings and other assets to fulfil their ambitions. (*see notes)
Professor Lorne Crerar, chair of HIE, has been the driving force behind the event. He commented: “People living in communities know the strengths and weaknesses of their own area better than anyone. From the early days of HIE’s forerunner, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, our focus has always been on strengthening the abilities of local people to set and achieve goals for themselves. We have 50 years’ experience of working collaboratively across the region, and where this week’s conference in Aviemore is about celebrating the success of these communities, it’s also about learning from each other in what is a constantly changing environment for economic and community development in Scotland.”
He added: “Over 75% of the people in the Outer Hebrides live on land owned by their communities. This is a staggering figure and it tells a story of how successful, vibrant communities can take charge of their own destiny and build a sustainable future.”
Chaired by Alex Thomson, chief correspondent of Channel 4 News, the conference will provide a rare opportunity for delegates to hear from a range of speakers including Frank Rennie, professor of sustainable rural develop at the University of the Highlands and Islands, and Cormac Russell, managing director of Nurture Development, who over the last 20 years has worked with communities in over 30 countries around the world
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing will be speaking.
He said:"The people at the heart of community-led development across Scotland make an invaluable contribution to driving forward community empowerment and revitalising and regenerating communities across the country.
"The Scottish Government recognises the need to trust and empower communities to control their own affairs. In 2011, we took a progressive step by publishing our first Regeneration Strategy - Achieving a Sustainable Future, which set out our policies on infrastructure and capital investment, alongside social policies designed to deliver resilient and sustainable communities.
"This conference is a great opportunity to celebrate what has been achieved by our communities and reflect on how we must all continue to build on this work going forward."
Delegates will also benefit from a range of plenary, workshops and networking sessions designed to allow them to share views with others who face similar ambitions, opportunities and challenges.