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Highland communities could hold key to Big Society

31 January 2011

The rest of the UK could learn from how small communities in the Highlands and Islands have embraced enterprise, as neighbourhoods across Britain are asked to participate in the 'Big Society'.

Over the past three years, in a project run by the Social Enterprise Academy, every resident of the Highlands and Islands has devoted the equivalent of 1-minute and 26-seconds to learning how to develop their communities, proving small communities can be among the most dynamic when it comes to setting up businesses that improve the lives of people in the local area.

The figure emerged from a report commissioned by the Social Enterprise Academy as it prepares to celebrate the achievements of almost 600 enterprising Highlanders and Islanders involved in the project. One inspirational local is Fiona Ednie, the founder of Smart Childcare, who provides crèche and babysitting services to businesses across the Highlands and Islands.

Fiona, a graduate of a leadership and social enterprise programme, said "In the last six months we have got our social enterprise 'Smart Childcare' up and running and are operating throughout Highland with nearly 200 part-time staff! Before l started up, I wasn't sure what running a social enterprise entailed or what the possibilities were but the Academy courses really helped me."

The Social Enterprise Academy - supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Scottish Government, and the European Social Fund - opened an Inverness office in the late noughties and was immediately impressed by the locals and their enterprising efforts.

David Bryan, the programme manager, says, "It's been a special privilege to work with some of the smaller communities, which are in many ways the most dynamic and innovative."

"We have delivered on twelve different islands and all over mainland Scotland, from Caithness to Campbeltown working with learners in their own communities, helping them share ideas for the future of their communities."

Chris Higgins, Head of Culture and Third Sector at HIE, said:

"A generation is emerging in the Highlands and Islands more confident than before about achieving their goals. Talking about leaders and leadership to people working at grass roots level is proving transformational in communities."

The graduates' achievements were recognised at a celebration ceremony at Strathpeffer Pavillion on 11 February 2011.

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