On the 24th March 2015 nearly 150 European delegates gathered at the Rural Alliances three day conference, hosted by Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, which marks the end of a successful three year project aimed at revitalising rural communities.
The conference, ‘Enterprise and community alliances for rural vibrancy’ which ran over two days and was held at the Elim Hall in Brecon, explores how Rural Alliances has created lasting partnerships between enterprises and communities to re-invigorate rural areas.
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has been the Lead Partner in the Rural Alliances Project – co-funded by the European Rural Development Fund’s INTERREG IVB NWE Programme – and has involved 12 partners from five different countries, working together to find joint solutions for the challenges that they all face as a result of changing demographics, changing lifestyles and diminishing public services in rural areas across North West Europe. The European funding has enabled the partners to learn from each other and test ideas for what might help the communities within the project to become even stronger. The concept of the Rural Alliances project is based on the formation of groups made up of enterprises and community members, whose joint efforts will invigorate their rural communities. These could be green energy projects, festivals and events, activity or other art-related tourism.
Peter Davies, Sustainable Futures Commissioner for Wales, is giving a keynote speech to the conference and said: “I have been excited by the ideas that the Rural Alliances project has been developing. We need more and more initiatives like this to help local people take control of their own future. I commend the work that the National Park Authority has done, not only in delivering a great project on the ground, but bringing together such a dynamic partnership that is achieving so much at a European level.”
Professor Terry Marsden, Director of Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University and a guest speaker at the conference, said: “I have been proud to have been associated with this project since its inception. I think it has achieved a great deal at a transnational level as well as locally. In particular, the tools developed have been invaluable. These include an innovative tool for measuring the vibrancy of rural communities. This online survey gives instant feedback in an easy to interpret graphic format, helping communities identify priorities for action. The project has also developed a guidebook on creating Enterprise-Community Alliances, a handbook on alternative funding and another on new methods of governance that involve a greater cross-section of the community.”
John Cook, Chief Executive for Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: “We recognise that challenges facing rural communities are different from those in the more populated urban areas of Wales. During the last three years, the Rural Alliances project has empowered rural enterprises and communities to work together to create over 80 vibrant, sustainable and self-sufficient alliances across North West Europe. Twelve of these have been in the Brecon Beacons, all with a tourism focus. The project’s community-based initiatives have benefitted from transnational working enabling the partners to borrow good ideas and share processes across Europe. This conference celebrates the achievements of the Rural Alliances project, offering some excellent case studies of the collaborations with our European partners, which have helped us build new alliances and provide a lasting legacy that the communities can take pride in.”
Cllr Geraint Hopkins, Chairman of Brecon Beacons National Park Authority said: “Community based initiatives like Rural Alliances are vital in the National Park if communities are to fulfil their economic potential in a sustainable way. For example the Totally Locally project in Crickhowell has rallied around 50 local businesses to take part in the tenner trail reminding everyone that shopping locally gives everyone good value and keeps money in the local economy.
“Sharing knowledge with like-minded partners across North West Europe and working with them towards shared goals has again proven to be a great experience and one that has brought great benefits locally. I commend the Rural Alliances partnership on the work they have achieved and look forward to using the tools such as the Vibrancy Index in the future.”
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority was assisted in delivering this project locally with Targeted Match Funding support from the Welsh Government. Generous support has been provided throughout the conference from Elim Hall, Buckland Hall, The Caste Hotel, The George Hotel, Brecon Carreg, Penderyn Whisky and Brecon Brewing.
For more information about the Rural Alliances project, visit www.rural-alliances.eu