The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

Resilient communities from across the UK gather to improve rural life

The Royal Countryside Fund brought together community projects from across the UK for the inaugural Confident Rural Communities conference

Image: Rural communities gathered in Skipton (credit - Lucy Saggers)

At a unique event focused on the incredible resilience of those living in rural Britain, The Royal Countryside Fund (RCF), brought together 16 community-focused organisations to share their experiences around rural life, its challenges and solutions, on Tuesday 28 November and Wednesday 29 November.

Each of the organisations in attendance have received funding through the RCF’s Supporting Rural Communities flagship grant programme, which has awarded £500,000 each year to power community-led solutions that enhance the viability and sustainability of rural communities. The ‘Supporting Rural Communities’ grant scheme is supported by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery and Waitrose. The People’s Postcode Lottery has awarded the RCF an incredible £2.28m of grant funding over the past six years. The conference was supported by Rural Solutions and hosted at the Broughton Sanctuary near Skipton.

Founded by HM King Charles III, then The Prince of Wales, in 2010, The Royal Countryside Fund’s vision is for rural communities to achieve their own solutions to build the social infrastructure and local services they need, whether its developing environmental initiatives such as reducing food waste, providing skills training to improve employment opportunities for young people, or creating accessible community spaces, the community commitment behind each project means that thousands of people will directly benefit from the RCF’s support in a way that is meaningful to them and their communities. Since its formation, The Royal Countryside Fund has invested more than £11.5 million in over 500 rural community-led projects.

The RCF’s priority for the future is to enable sustainable and thriving rural communities. By this they mean sustainable as a whole – economically, environmentally and socially. They want to ensure that rural communities are living places fostering innovation, engaging people and able to play their part in addressing some of the national and global challenges that we all face. The objective of the event was to showcase some of the amazing projects that the RCF have funded and to learn from them, whilst encouraging community organisations to network and share ideas and best practice.

Reflecting The Royal Countryside Fund’s vision for rural communities to come together to share knowledge and ideas that fulfil their role in creating a sustainable future, Keith Halstead, Executive Director of The Royal Countryside Fund welcomed attendees, saying: “This is a significant moment for the RCF to draw on the knowledge, experience and skills of all the organisations here at our first-ever conference for rural communities, to shape the charity’s future support for those who live and work in the countryside. The event is all about identifying the challenges and opportunities rural communities face and the solutions. I am most grateful to everyone for taking the time out to join us and to travel here today from all parts of the UK.

He encouraged everyone to take full advantage of the learning exchange which the conference offered, saying “I always think it's the informal opportunities to chat with each other that often enable new connections to be made from which derive the most benefit.”

Image: Keith Halstead addressing the organisations (credit - Lucy Saggers)

William Fry, Managing Director of Rural Solutions, specialists in rural diversification and development who supported the event, commented:

“I'm a great believer that the rural sector is probably one of the most innovative in the United Kingdom today and some of the work in terms of use of land and property to create economic opportunity through leading edge design are quite extraordinary, not formulaic in any way and really very powerful in terms of what rural places, and people can deliver.

“We've got a task at hand here which I see as being two-fold, not only to share ideas and thoughts as to what successful rural places look like from projects that we have been involved in delivering, but also to help The Royal Countryside Fund shape its future strategy in terms of how they continue to support and develop confident rural communities.”

Sessions covered a range of topics including sustainability, identifying community need and opportunity and future planning.

Image: Attendees at the conference (credit - Lucy Saggers)

On the second day of the conference, Allan Wilkinson, Trustee of the Royal Countryside Fund, interviewed Heather Smith, from Crackington Village Shop – a community Shop in an isolated coastal village in north Cornwall providing essential groceries, newspapers, prescriptions and supporting local producers.

Describing the community’s challenges, she said “Through a survey, we proved there was a need for the service. The Royal Countryside Fund stepped in and supported us with core costs, and we were able to advance with our plans, to keep the initiative going and bring people together. Through the pandemic we really saw the need for the community support and the need for the service has continued. We have a book exchange, a prescription service, and a place to meet for a cup of tea - all enabled by some amazing volunteers.”

Concluding the conference, Keith said:

“Whatever constraints are faced, particularly in rural areas, you have created vibrant and sustainable communities and the RCF is delighted to play a small part in all that you do and in your success.”

The Royal Countryside Fund would like to thank Rural Solutions, Broughton Sanctuary and The Wright Wine Co for supporting the event, as well as the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, Waitrose & Partners for their support of The Royal Countryside Fund’s Confident Rural Communities network.

Further Supporting Rural Communities grants that have been awarded will be announced in December 2023. You can find out more about The Royal Countryside Fund’s grant programmes at www.royalcountrysidefund.org.uk/grants

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