By Liz Bickerton, Chair of Rural Network Wales
In November 2018 a group of individuals and representatives of independent enterprise agencies met in Aberystwyth to share our experience of community led local development in Wales. Our aim was to highlight the potential of our rural areas and seek support to capitalise on opportunities post Brexit. We produced a document called “Grasping the Potential “calling for recognition of this potential and measures to nurture it.
Our rural areas are places of opportunity, yet the potential is often narrowly defined, confined to limited sectors or cast as space to satisfy the leisure needs of the urban population. Rural Wales is so much more than this. It is the heartland of the Welsh language and its communities support diverse enterprises. 36% of people in Wales live in settlements of under 10,000 and rural areas generate 27% of Welsh GVA.
A seminar in Carno in July 2019 attracted 44 delegates from a wide range of organisations. Together we recognised that rural communities face particular challenges of geography, infrastructure and population age imbalance. Many policies and programmes just don’t fit because they are predicated on clusters of need and fail to recognise the challenges faced by dispersed populations. The result is that potential is lost. The gathered organisations have decades of experience of nurturing innovation, working with communities to foster new enterprises and supporting the local economy. We agreed to keep working together to raise awareness of local economic development in rural areas and to capitalise on the strong knowledge base that exists in Wales.
We have a particular focus on the work of independent support agencies which have been at the forefront of programmes such as LEADER since the 1990s, believing that independence provides the flexibility to react quickly to local innovation and opportunity when it arises. We aim however to work across sectors to further the prosperity of rural Wales.
To learn more read the charter: Charter for Rural Wales