THE Big Lottery Fund has announced almost £1.4m to help rural communities set up social enterprises.
Building on the success of the Village SOS programme, the Fund's new investment will see the launch of the Village SOS Learning, Outreach and Engagement Campaign.
Described as an "innovative two-year learning programme", it will be led by rural network Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) working with a nationwide partnership of eight organisations.
The campaign will provide an educational network for rural communities.
It seeks to enable them to develop sustainable business ideas to start their own social enterprises such as setting up a shop, saving a local pub or opening a cinema.
Creating a central Rural Hub, the campaign will match each new enterprise with a trained mentor and a local grassroots support organisation, offering support and advice ranging from how to plan a project to building a brand.
The focus of the campaign will be a community to community learning network, which will see volunteers from social enterprises across the UK become mentors to share the secrets of their success.
It follows the Village SOS funding programme, created by the Big Lottery Fund created to put a spotlight on village community projects.
Village SOS raised awareness of the challenges and opportunities that people living in rural areas across the UK face, inspiring people to get involved and make a difference in their communities.
Big Lottery Fund chairman Peter Ainsworth said: "Village SOS achieved great things in far flung places across the UK; and it taught us a lot about the needs of rural communities.
"Many want help and guidance - as well as funding - to fulfil their potential. I wish ACRE and their partners every success as they use our funds to make life better in places that are too often overlooked."
The grassroots support in England will be provided by ACRE's Network of 38 rural community councils; in Wales by Wales Council for Voluntary Action; in Scotland by Senscot and Forth Sector; and in Northern Ireland by Rural Community Network.
ACRE chief executive Janice Banks said: "The ACRE Network and its Village SOS partners are trusted local voices with a great track record of helping rural communities to find innovative solutions to the unique challenges they face."
The campaign will be supported by a national expert panel, plus a new Village SOS website and will begin with a three-month research project.
The research project will identify good practice and case studies from the first phase of the Village SOS campaign, launched in 2010, which saw 161 innovative village projects come to fruition.
It will assess the demand for support for new enterprises and map what is available across the UK so that projects are directed to the best sources of advice and funding.
It will include an online survey of a wide range of organisations to find out who might get involved in community enterprises - from parish councils and schools to broadband campaigners and rural social groups.
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