In November, Rural Community Network Hosted the first ever NI Rural Parliament event. It was funded with a £3588 Awards for All grant as part of a Big Lottery Fund grants roll out of £743,207 to 95 groups across Northern Ireland
Kate Clifford, Director of Rural Community Network:
The Rural Parliament event followed a series of 6 workshops which we had hosted across NI in May and June of this year. This approach was designed to reach far and wide across Northern Ireland to support the European Rural Parliament’s ‘upward cascade of ideas,’ a bottom-up approach to making policy requests to governments and to ensure input from rural dwellers in each of Northern Ireland’s 6 counties.
At the 6 local events we hosted 2 hour workshops which were rooted in people’s lives and their experiences of rural life. We gathered the ideas from these workshops and fed them into the EU rural parliament event in Austria, where a delegation of four people from NI fed the outcomes into the workshops there. RCN then planned an NI Rural Parliament event for November.
On Friday 20th November 2015 we lit the big stove in Tirgan Hall near Moneymore and welcomed 69 people to a World café workshop event where we discussed debated and sought solutions to issues affecting rural communities. . After a warm welcome we set about getting the participants to tackle the issues and topics they feel impact on their lives as rural dwellers.
A sticky-note wall on one side of the room held 26 topic headings, which were taken from the outcomes of the workshop events held in May and June. These covered all aspects of rural life from renewable energy to farming, to infrastructural development to youth and childcare. Each of the 12 tables picked a headline topic area for discussion, listed the challenges in that area and potential policy asks from local and national governments to resolve or address the identified challenges.
It was very free flowing and slightly chaotic at times but the movement of people, topics and the noise in the room told us that there was a lot to talk about.
At the final discussion session in the early afternoon we asked people to place the topic headings back up on the sticky wall and to populate under each heading the policy asks, solutions and challenges they had identified from the event.
Significantly, access to affordable childcare, access to transport, affordable homes and reliable Broadband connectivity are still key issues for rural dwellers. Issues around community relations in rural communities were discussed by a number of individuals and they highlighted examples of successful intervention projects which they felt could be mainstreamed or replicated in other areas.
There was discussion that the resourcefulness of rural communities should be seen as a real asset.
A final exercise saw us erect a Christmas tree in the hall and ask people to place on it the vision they had for the future of rural NI. These vision statements included the following:
All rural people are connected to all the services and activities they need to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Better communication and better finance leads to better lives
Vibrant sustainable rural communities where people have access to decent affordable local homes.
All of the conclusion from the workshops and event will be published on the Rural Community Network site soon.