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June 23, 2010

HIE aim to bolster rural fragility

The fragility of remote rural community life is well documented. The loss of the local petrol pump, a couple of families moving away, a few job losses – any of these can precipitate a crisis.  A new HIE initiative will bring vital new support to 40 of Scotland’s most fragile communities.  One of these – on the Morvern peninsular- now thinks it has a real chance of laying down the foundations for its long term future prosperity

A small community of only 300 people on the west coast of Scotland is looking for a development officer to help them create an economic, social, and cultural plan for their future growth.

Morvern Community Development Company (MCDC) is to employ a full time development officer for the peninsula thanks to an initiative being run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The development agency is supporting up to 40 communities in the most fragile areas of the region by funding key posts to work locally with a range of community groups.  Morvern has a long history of community action and the new position will support the various community organisations, including MCDC and the community council.

Robin Smart chair of the development company is looking forward to having a post dedicated to moving their ambitious plans forward.

“It has been over ten years since we set up Morvern Community Development Company to create a lifeline petrol station for the community.  Since then we have tried our hand at managing community assets – we bought land at Lochaline and had it re-developed to create a focal green space with pathways and parking for locals and visitors to enjoy. We have campaigned for the future of the local mine. Currently we are working to develop 24 berths at Lochaline to link into the Sail West initiative and we are also hoping to create some allotments for local use.  We will really appreciate the full time support of a development officer who can advise on the best ways to achieve the successful, sustainable way of life that as volunteers we have been working towards,” he said.

Everyone in the community will have their chance to feed into the planning process.  One of the development officer’s first activities will be to consult with local residents, businesses and social enterprises.  Results from this survey will help form a baseline to monitor progress.

As well as the development officer the project, which is part funded through the European Union’s LEADER programme and Highland Council partnership, also provides additional support from a HIE member of staff.  HIE development manager Ian Philp will be working closely with the Morvern officer and the community groups. He commented:

“Evaluations of previous LEADER and Initiative at the Edge/Iomairt aig an Oir regeneration schemes run by HIE showed that groups which employed local officer support generated significantly greater benefits on the ground. Communities themselves will control and drive their development, and we will be on hand to provide the support they need.  We want to help communities carry out sustainable community action planning and deliver projects of direct benefit to them.”