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Transnational cooperation between rural areas

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Cooperating with Central Europe,
learning about each other

Joan Asby
[LEADER South Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom]


SPARC (South Pembrokeshire Action with Rural Communities), a development association established in 1987 and a LEADER group since 1991, was founded on the idea that to make good progress, it was essential to learn from other similar groups.

SPARC tries to help the organisations that are interested in our work to visit our area. This way they can learn about the roles of our many different partners, ranging from government departments to enterprise agencies, and the complementarity of their roles. They can meet local people in their communities and see that many of our activities are of a small-scale nature. Thus they realise that not everything happening in the West is on a big scale and costing a lot of money.

The Director of the Slovak Agency of Rural Development and a local mayor were able to visit the SPARC area, courtesy of the British “Know How” Fund. Creating local partnerships for development is of major importance to Central European organisations and therefore, there is great interest to see how we cooperate in West Wales.

It was through the Agency that the Carpathian Foundation made contact with SPARC. The Foundation helps promote cross border cooperation in the Carpathian Mountain areas of Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. SPARC is now the coordinator of a Phare-funded project with the Carpathian Foundation to help community-based economic development.

Also through the Carpathian Foundation, SPARC is a member of another network, ECOVAST (European Council for the Village and the Small Town), whose purpose is to protect heritage and the quality of rural life (See LEADER Magazine no 17).

In 1998, through a Phare programme managed by an Irish Consultancy, I worked with the Tourist Boards in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, introducing SPARC’s area approach to rural tourism first developed under LEADER I. Now a number of local organisations are testing this model.

What is in it for SPARC? - A very small amount of money, considerable networking opportunities, and great satisfaction in sharing experiences. There is also much to learn, e.g. in Hungary the government has been implementing integrated rural development strategies at a national, regional and local level. The Hungarians have learned a great deal about local organisation from the Swedish Village Movement (see article on Skogslandet, ed.), so now SPARC has developed links with the Movement.

In return, what do they learn from SPARC and its partners?

  • spending time and effort involving local people, enabling them to play a full part in the development of their area is an essential pre-requisite to sustainable development;

  • successful development results from real partnership between all possible players, including local people;

  • they see how partner organisations are structured, funded, their activities and responsibilities, how they cooperate;

  • involving everyone in understanding their area, building on strengths to develop opportunities, and overcoming weaknesses, is the first key step;

  • lots of small projects can add together to make a significant contribution to local development;

  • local access to training and business advice is very important - if you encourage people to set up businesses, you must also help equip them with the knowledge they need to succeed.

In conclusion, it is good to be at the heart of the activity to create a larger European family, helping, learning about each other and making good friendships.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.21 - Autumn, 99

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