There is growing mistrust by many citizens of ‘experts’ and public decision making processes, a trend that is visible across much of the western world. Organisations working in rural areas are not immune from this. Indeed, many rural communities and interest groups have long had an independent spirit that resists what they perceive as change imposed from elsewhere.
On a positive note, there is increasing interest in community activism and a desire by people to shape their environment. At a time when the capacity of the public sector in England is shrinking as part of the Government’s austerity programme, there are new opportunities to involve and work with the voluntary and private sectors.
At Rural Focus, we believe that engagement with communities, businesses and other interest groups is an essential part of our work. In general, we dislike the term ‘stakeholder’ and are wary of consultation processes that appear to present predetermined options. We use inclusive approaches to develop dialogue in which all parties feel comfortable and valued, and seek to apply the concept of ‘co-production’ (where users of services, rather than providers, take the lead in designing their delivery).
Our recent work in this area includes:
Working with hotels and other tourism providers in the New Forest to improve the ‘Love the Forest’ visiting giving scheme;
Talking to school teachers and parents about their experiences of visiting moorland on Exmoor; and
Involving farmers in Eden District in Cumbria in the design of a Food Enterprise Zone and Local Development Order
Rural Focus’s Director, Robert Deane, has a background in farming (including as a policy adviser for the National Farmers’ Union), and has extensive experience of resolving conflict on common land, gaining agreement on future management between registered commoners, landowners and the public.