Scotland, in particular the Highlands and Islands, is leading the way when it comes to community development. Increasingly, rural communities are working together to take ownership of and develop areas for the benefit of everyone; delivering transformational economic and social benefits.
Whether it be community buyouts of land or forestry, or taking facilities such as visitor attractions or post offices into community ownership, local groups spanning Scotland are taking the future of their communities into their own hands. More than 535,000 acres of land across Scotland are now community-owned. It is 523,000 for the Highlands and Islands and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has been supporting many of these communities for the past 20 years.
Celebrating 20 years of community development at HIE
20 years on from the setup of a dedicated team at HIE to advance community ownership, a Strengthening Communities Conference is to be held at Aviemore Highland Resort on the 21st and 22nd of September.
Speaking at the conference will be Frank Rennie, Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Frank has been involved in rural sustainable development for 40 years and travels the world advising on how projects can be successfully implemented. Having recently visited Africa and Mauritius, with a trip to China planned following the conference, to name a few, Frank often uses examples of best practice from the Highlands and Islands.
Frank said: “The Highlands and Islands is at the forefront of community development. Of a list of best project examples, over half were from the Highlands and Islands – an incredible achievement. And there are huge opportunities for more communities across Scotland to get involved and take control of their future.”
No ‘one size fits all’ approach
Among the topics Frank will be exploring at the national conference will be how community development should be approached. With no ‘one size fits all’, Frank suggests looking at the negatives and what the assets are in each location to fine tune the opportunities; creating a blue print based on the different needs, background and history of each community.
The adoption of community ownership in the Highlands and Islands has been incremental with early movements like Community Cooperative Movement and Scottish Crofters Union paving the way. With continually shifting mind-sets and the benefits of other community buyouts being witnessed across Scotland, the number of communities taking ownership of land and assets is only set to rise.
Never take the foot off the pedal
Part of community development is capacity building. As time progresses, situations change and new challenges can arise – communities must engage young people and develop capacity to ensure future prosperity.
To explore how we do this, the Strengthening Communities Conference will bring together community organisers to learn from and be inspired by each other. By sharing connections and experience, communities in the Highlands and Islands can continue to lead national innovation and be an example to rural communities around the world.
The Strengthening Communities Conference takes place at Aviemore Highland Resort on the 21st and 22nd of September. More information on the conference can be found here.