Reflections on a Rural Vision for Wales

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has launched a ‘Rural Wales Manifesto’ as part of a vision for a renewed rural economy. The Manifesto includes seven key asks, including supporting economic diversification through circular economy approaches, and creating a Smart and Thriving Rural Towns initiative.

The CCRI’s Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins was part of the research team that helped inform the vision. Bryonny was a member of the ROBUST project’s Mid Wales ‘Living Lab, run in partnership with the WLGA. She explains, “A Living Lab is all about getting innovative experiments out of the university and into the real world. Our experiment actually began with a road trip! We visited most of the rural local authorities in Wales, and met passionate people who shared the challenges for their communities and their ideas for better futures.”

Energy to turn ideas into a shared vision came from the WLGA Rural Forum, which represents the nine predominantly rural local authorities in Wales. As momentum gathered, Aberystwyth University led on a major evidence report. Bryonny contributed a number of case studies from her research in ROBUST. “By celebrating existing initiatives, we not only share learning, but we share the vital message that rural places are innovative places,” she said. For example, “Monmouthshire have some fantastic digital projects. From a pilot to install superfast broadband in village halls, so that communities in ‘not-spots’ can get online, to plans for an ambitious data platform to grow the food sector and feed the public plate, they’re using digital connectivity for place-based solutions.”

Bryonny was also involved in stakeholder workshops, and saw how the ‘new normal’ of online meetings created new possibilities for participatory methods. “People really engaged,” she reflects. “Communicating with each other in new ways also got us out of old ruts. I facilitated a discussion on rural housing, and people shared experiences of working remotely that raised effects and spillovers we might have overlooked even a year ago.”

Learning from the experience will stay with Bryonny as she starts work on the new National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE): “NICRE’s values are places, people, practices and policies. Real change needs all these ingredients, and I’ve seen first-hand how researchers can play an important facilitative role in partnership with rural change-makers.”

More information about the WLGA Rural Manifesto and the supporting Rural Vision for Wales is available on the WLGA website.

You can follow Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins on Twitter @bryonnygh