Almost 30 new community development workers, created as part of a Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) initiative to support the region's most fragile economies, have gathered in Inverness to plan for the future.
The workers, employed directly by key organisations within the communities themselves, will help develop social, economic and cultural activities to strengthen the community. The programme provides the funding for the posts and in addition advice and support will be offered by a HIE development officer from the agency's area teams.
Building on its long history in remote communities, HIE, working with local councils and other public agencies, is investing in encouraging selected areas which want to develop and implement plans for local growth.
The agency plans to spend almost £1.5 million over the next three years on this aspect of its strengthening communities remit. HIE's contribution is being matched by an additional one million pounds from the European Union's LEADER programme and local authority sources.
"Communities themselves will control and drive their development, with HIE on hand to provide the support they need. The programme builds on previous Initiative at the Edge/Iomairt aig an Oir regeneration schemes, and last week's two day event was hugely beneficial as it brought together both experienced and recently appointed development officers, and HIE staff, to talk about key aspects of their work.
"We looked at the best strategies for engaging with local communities as well as how to develop an action plan. The project's main aim is to bring the whole community together to take advantage of assets or projects they have which if developed could have an impact on income levels, population retention and growth, enhanced infrastructure, better local services and new income streams."
"The intended outcome is communities undertaking sustainable community action planning and delivering projects of direct benefit to them," said John Watt, HIE director for strengthening communities.
Communities have been identified through discussion with community planning partnerships. The initiative will also play a part in HIE's response to its crofting community development role transferred from the Crofters Commission. The community growth plans will incorporate crofting development aspirations.
This programme is part of HIE's Growth at the Edge / Fas aig an Oir approach which it applies in the most fragile parts of its area.
The approach involves working to support:
Collectively these measures are designed to use HIE's resources to deliver the sustainability, cohesion and solidarity components of the Scottish Government Economic Strategy.
This project builds on the previous Initiative at the Edge / Iomairt aig an Oir (IatE/IaaO) programme which used a community-led, public agency supported approach, involving some 18 remote rural communities throughout the Highlands and Islands. The majority of IatE/FaaO communities made significant progress with planning and capacity building, community development trusts, and delivery of a wide range of community projects. Some have generated income streams and sustained their activity beyond the IatE/FaaO engagement.