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Community projects attract visit from Spanish delegation

Published: 27/03/2023

A delegation from Asturias, Spain, is in the Highlands this week to find out more about how community projects are developing solutions to challenges facing rural and island areas.

The 22 visitors are members of Local Action Groups (LAGs), organisations that receive LEADER funding from the European Union to support rural community development. Several of them are Mayors of municipalities, with representation from the regional and provincial government.  

The Spanish visitors will spend a week visiting projects in Skye and Lochalsh, the Cairngorms, Speyside, and the Black Isle. 

In Inverness today (Monday 27 March), they will meet agencies including HIE, HITRANS, The Highland Council, Scottish Government, Scottish Rural Network and the hosting organisation, Scottish Rural Action. They will also visit Impact Hub Inverness and learn about their work and that of the Highland Community Waste Partnership.  

The exchange materialised following a European Rural Parliament event in 2019, where more than 300 people came together in Asturias to learn about rural development in a European context.

Among them were delegates from rural and island Scotland, and following discussions with the event organisers, a learning exchange was set up between the Asturian Rural Network and Scottish Rural Action.

There are many similarities between Asturias, a mountainous and sparsely populated area in northwest Spain, and the Highlands of Scotland.

The visit will explore many of those shared characteristics, such as maritime climates, population challenges, cultural heritage, language development, and community empowerment.. It will also cover agriculture, food, sustainable tourism, territorial management, industrial development, transport, gender, youth, energy and social enterprise.

Tomorrow (Tuesday), they will make the journey to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig to learn of its origins and evolution in a changing Scottish policy landscape, and its influence in culture, heritage and the Gaelic language.

This will be followed with a visit to Broadford and Strath Community Company to look at community-led tourism and community assets including village halls and allotments. 

On Wednesday, the group will travel to the Cairngorms and Speyside to learn about the national park and the region’s agriculture and its food and drink, followed by traditional music from local musicians.  

On their final day, delegates will travel to the Black Isle to learn about the Black Isle Partnership, climate change mitigation and adaptation, renewable energy, and the cultural sector. 

Martin Johnson, HIE’s dorector of strategy and regional economy, said:

“It’s always good to welcome visitors from other countries into our region and share experiences in a way that benefits both places. We’ve had interest from rural Spain in the past, particularly on our region’s approach to community development, social enterprise and population resilience.

“This latest visit will be a great opportunity to get into many of the characteristics that we share with Asturias, the challenges we both face and how we as a region are going about meeting those challenges. We very much look forward to welcoming the delegation to the Highlands.”

Vanessa Halhead, Honorary President of Scottish Rural Action and co-ordinator of the European Rural Parliament, said:

“Asturias is an autonomous coastal region in the northwest of Spain with its own language and similarities to the Highlands and Moray in terms of its demographics, economy and natural assets.

“This visit has been in the pipeline since 2019 and we are very excited to finally welcome the delegation. There is lasting value in bringing people together across borders to look at positive futures for rural and island places.

This whistlestop tour, exploring only some aspects of the Highlands and the region’s rich culture and widespread community activity, aims to showcase positive solutions to some challenging issues facing rural and island Scotland. It highlights the importance of community empowerment and the sharing of ideas, practices, and knowledge across regions and nations.