CoDeL will be launching the results of our Northern Periphery research on how rural and island communities, from Canada to Finland, have fared under Covid-19 tomorrow at the Regions in Recovery Global e-festival.
Our session on Redesigning Regional Policy for Peripheral Areas brings together CoDeL, Liam Glynn (rural GP, Professor of General Practice, School of Medicine, University of Limerick and rural health activist), Mads Wolff (senior policy adviser to the Nordic Council of Ministers) and Ed Mayo (former CEO of Co-operatives UK, New Economics Foundation and National Consumer Council).
The extensive research findings are available on our website here.
The results of the Northern Periphery and Arctic research project, to be launched on June 4th, argue that rural and island communities need to be seen in a new light following Covid-19. While the health and economic disruptions caused by Covid-19 are undeniable, on balance many rural and island areas have performed relatively well during the pandemic by drawing on a wide range of resilience factors both for health and the economy.
“We need to redefine how we view rural and island communities, and change policy accordingly,” says Theona Morrison, Director of CoDeL and Acting Chair of Scottish Rural Action.
Evidence for this comes not only from Scotland and Ireland, but also from Finland, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Canada through the research funded by the (European) Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme (Covid-19 Response Call). It was delivered by 12 partners from Canada to Finland (universities and research institutes, public, private and third sector organisations) and led by CoDeL from the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Together they make 18 recommendations for a new approach to policy and action for rural and island communities.
“One of the most stimulating, visionary but also evidenced and well informed documents I’ve come across in relation to post-Covid.” David Bryan, Head of Sustainable Business, Social Enterprise Academy, Scotland
Rural and island communities have benefited from their geography, including their remote and sparsely populated regions, and their access to nature. Cohesive communities and responsive local governance have found local solutions, for example to implement test and trace systems effectively, to shut down community transmission swiftly and to vaccinate local populations rapidly. There has been extensive community engagement and participation, volunteering and generosity expressed in practical action to help the most vulnerable in particular.
Economic responses in rural and island communities have been characterised most by flexibility and adaptation, innovation and creativity, collaboration and committed local customers. Over half of 62 entrepreneurs surveyed consider Covid-19 to have brought about new business opportunities. Technology companies across the Northern Periphery, many of them small and micro businesses, innovated or adapted their products, and expanded their markets during the pandemic (see Project C here). And regions in Iceland and Atlantic Canada have continued tourism activities with a switch to domestic tourism.
Thomas Fisher, the Project Manager and Director at CoDeL, says “the research is striking because of the weight of evidence it delivers across many different regions, from Finland to Canada, and across many different sectors, in 10 reports based on extensive desk research, 80 interviews and almost 30 case studies.”
“Above all,” he continues, “our analysis is rooted in the lived experience and voices of rural and island communities during the pandemic. The analysis is not seen through the lens of researchers who have little experience of life in remote areas, but was conducted and evaluated by researchers, many of whom themselves live in rural and island communities. It is they who are challenging traditional perspectives on peripherality, calling for the very concept of peripherality to be redefined.”
“We need to rethink both the concept of peripheries as well as the idea of the economy. I think that with all the case studies the research rigorously shows that there is no other way to think, and act. It is just the sort of academia we need now (and have needed before).” Prof Eeva Jokinen, Department of Social Sciences, Social and Public Policy, University of Eastern Finland
The key findings, recommendations and summaries from the report can be read here.
Policy-makers are taking note. The NPA programme has themed their next annual event in October under Redefining Peripherality. The Nordic Council of Ministers is funding four Nordic Talks by CoDeL and Nordregio on the same theme.
“The resilience shown by rural and remote communities during Covid-19 has been a testament to the inherent engagement, cohesiveness and flexibility of these communities. The pandemic has generated a renewed vigour in re-imagining life on the periphery as a very attractive place for people and businesses to come, work and live.” Liam Glynn, Professor of General Practice, School of Medicine, University of Limerick, Ireland
And people outside of these communities have noticed too. Covid-19 has radically shifted how people view the attractiveness of rural living. Many are fleeing cities and buying properties in rural areas and islands. This is leading to a critical housing crisis, excluding many local and young people from being able to live in these areas, the next “economic clearance” according to young Gaels.
“But these changes were already taking place before the pandemic”, argues Theona Morrison. “CoDeL research back in 2018 on young people returning and settling in Uist, the Islands Revival blog and declaration of 2019, and pre-Covid evidence gathered by this research project shows clearly how demographic trends were already changing. The pandemic has accelerated these trends.”
The research on the economic impacts brought together the following partners, as well as two external experts, Steve Westbrook and Associates, Scotland (economist in the Highlands and Islands) and Katinka Svanberg, Sweden and Melbourne University (human rights):
A campaign by ERS Scotland as part of the Our Democracy coalition has been launched to seek a change to the way that decisions are made in Scottish communities. The Declaration on Local Democracy asks that communities are given the powers to make their own decisions and plan their own futures, arguing that the people who live and work in them are the ones best placed to do so.
‘The pandemic has given us a fresh insight into what we already knew about Scotland’s communities; people will sacrifice their time and resources to aid their neighbours. But that sense of community cannot be taken for granted. Now, more than ever, we need to revitalise and remake our local democracy. That is why we are asking you to ‘act as if you own the place’—if the citizens of a village, town, city or country don’t own it, then who does?’
The petition has almost reached its goal of 2000 signatures, you can sign it here and read more about Our Democracy at their website.
British Council, Social Enterprise Academy and University of the Highlands & Islands are looking for young people in Scotland aged 18-35 to take part in a new programme tackling climate change.
The VISION (Virtual Impact Storytelling In Our Network) project aims to encourage young people with different skill sets and areas of expertise to engage in debate, dialogue and mutual exchange of ideas on the impact of climate change on their future.
Starting in May 2021, 30 young people (15 each from Malaysia and Scotland) will participate in a 12-day online learning experience with facilitators from Scotland and Malaysia over the course of six months. These learning sessions will explore ‘visioning for the future’ and ‘impact storytelling’ as ways young people can develop ideas in response to global climate challenges. The programme will close with a Global Impact Festival in November 2021 where young people will showcase and celebrate their projects.
Applications are open from now until 16 May 2021 to young people aged 18-35 who are passionate about supporting the fight for climate justice and collaborating with peers in Scotland and Malaysia.
Supporting partners of the project in Scotland include University of the Highlands and Islands and CoDeL (Community Development Lens).
Are you a young person aged 18-35 interested in supporting the fight for climate justice? Find out more about the programme and how to apply here.
The North Uist Development Company is entering a new phase and is actively seeking younger residents to join its board of directors. There is a position on the board particularly for someone aged 18-25 to bring their views on the future of the island’s development to NUDC.
On April 17th at 6pm there will be an online Member’s Gathering where members new and old can be updated on all of NUDC’s current projects and plans for the future and appointments to the new board of directors will be made.
Following the meeting there will be a talk by Connie Dawson of NatureScot titled “Ensuring a safe and resilient future: adapting to climate change in the Uists”.
The Gathering will start at 6pm, followed by Connie’s talk at 7pm. Follow the Zoom link here.
Here in Scotland the Shetland islands have developed a website www.shetland.org not just to attract tourists and visitors, but also to target specific professions and economically active groups to make a permanent move to Shetland.
This dynamic website seeks to increase investment in long-term, non-tourism driven enterprise and showcase the many attractive reasons for economically active individuals and families to make a life in Shetland.
The school was closed in 2016 as all of North Uist’s primary school children were relocated to a new single school site at Sgoil Uibhist a’ Tuath. The Lochmaddy school building, which dates back to the 19th century and holds a significant place in the community’s memories, has lain empty since while NUDC have worked towards securing funding to convert it into a new community space.
The development plans for Phase 1 and 2 of the project include both a Community Hub and an Environment Centre, which will provide a new innovative facility showcasing the unique natural environment of Uist.
The Community Hub will provide a place for residents and visitors, featuring an ‘incubator’ for learning and enterprise and rentable spaces being made available to interested parties. Accommodation for visitors, students and temporary workers will be added in later phases of the project.
The development will be undertaken in phases and will involve the community every step of the way. Further funding is currently being sought for Phases 1 and 2: including for renewable energy for heating and electricity to support the environmental ethos of the development and Scotland’s green recovery.
The pandemic has changed the outlook for the future, and many entrepreneurs and local enterprises are seeking to become less dependent on the seasonality and distribution of tourism.
An example of the push to achieve this is north Iceland, where even before the impacts of Covid19 local councils set the goal that a new merged municipality would be known and sought after as a great place to live and run sustainable businesses.
To push for this, an ambitious project was launched, Innovate North, which aims to put the new municipality at the forefront of the fight against climate change, strengthening the region’s long-term competitiveness and position as a vibrant place to live and work.