A delegation from Asturias, Spain, will be in the Highlands and Moray 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.
The exchange follows from a European Rural Parliament event in 2019, where more than 300 people from over 40 countries came together in Asturias to share their experiences of 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, the role of women in rural areas, youth engagement, energy and social enterprise.
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.
Arriving at Inverness on Monday March 27, they will meet agencies including Highlands and Islands Enterprise, The Highland Council, the Scottish Government, Scottish Rural Network, HITRANS, NatureScot and the hosting organisation, Scottish Rural Action. During the afternoon, delegates will visit Impact Hub Inverness and learn about their work and that of the Highland Community Waste Partnership. They will also have a presentation on the new Free Port designation. In the evening they will be hosted by The Highland Council at a civic reception in the Town House in Inverness.
On Tuesday, they will make the journey to the Isle of Skye 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. They will then visit Broadford and Strath Community Company in the afternoon to showcase grassroots activity, learning of community assets, community-led tourism, and community spaces including village halls and allotments.
Shirley Grant from Broadford and Strath Community Company said:
“Broadford, among many other villages in the Highlands, is home to a diverse community bringing experience and strength to our small pocket of Skye.
“This diversity helps shape and deliver our projects which have included Camping Skye and the Growers Hub, both projects that will be visited by the Asturian delegates. Asturias, like Broadford and Strath, is a coastal, mountainous area and we look forward to discussing and sharing our experiences of community development, ownership and empowerment and of course the wider scale issues and challenges we all are currently facing.
On Wednesday, the group will travel to the Cairngorms and Speyside to learn about the Cairngorms National Park where they will meet with local organisations engaged with management of the Park and economic development of the area, as well as active community groups, followed by traditional food and music from local musicians.
On their final day, delegates will travel to Cromarty in the Black Isle to learn about the work of local organisations including the Black Isle Partnership, Transition Black Isle and some of the many community groups active in the successful town of Cromarty. Topics will include local action to address climate change, renewable energy, food, the arts and culture sector and many other aspects of local development.
Martin Johnson, HIE’s director 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.
This whistlestop tour, exploring only some aspects of 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.