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Challenges for rural areas

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key word: methodology and development
source: LEADER Magazine n°12
date of publication: 10/96

"Building the image of Serra do Caldeirão"

Maria Priscila Soares (LEADER Serra do Caldeirão, Portugal)

Serra do Caldeirão is a vast expanse of low mountains comprising the hinterland of Algarve and the southern fringe of Alentejo.

Building an image for this region was a double challenge: an external image had to be created, a "friendly face" that attracted visitors... and consumers; but there also had to be an internal image which reflected the best of the inhabitants and with which they could identify.

When in 1992 the "In Loco" association launched its LEADER I programme with a local action plan entitled "Arrisca" - the first identifying image - Serra do Caldeirão was still unknown to the general public. For the local people, known as the "Serranos", this name was associated with an area where the only people left were those who could not leave. We therefore focused our efforts on changing this negative perception and defeatism, and as a result a considerable investment was made in coordinating development.

As a local action group, we began by hiring and training local development coordinators (one young person per municipality). Set up in "local offices", these agents were "the eyes, ears and hands" of the Arrisca programme ("Support for the Integrated Rural Revitalisation of Serra do Caldeirão, Alentejo/Algarve"): they informed the people, identified potential projects, gave technical support to the promoters, put individuals in contact with the town halls and public services, encouraged producers associations, coordinated the various local initiatives.

We created the "Jornal da Serra", a periodical aimed above all at the local people. We also supported the organisation of "Feiras da Serra", popular festivals that revealed the full authenticity of the Serranos, the wealth of their culture and the diversity of the local products of the "Caldeirão".

The local coordinators and the newspaper served first and foremost to prove to the inhabitants of the "Caldeirão" that they all had an essential role to play, that the Serra was worthy of their efforts, that its underdevelopment was not inevitable. As for the "Feiras", they were especially useful in creating a positive external image, immediately drawing thousands of visitors who were curious to discover a region so close to the coast and yet so little known that some still call it "the hidden face of Algarve".

The local action group participated in numerous regional and national events and meetings. LEADER was also instrumental in developing several very useful communication tools to bolster the new image: books, tourist guide, post cards, various brochures, calendar.

We also put emphasis on utilising local products, helping improve their quality, encouraging the creation of a label and ensuring their promotion and marketing in places adapted and created solely for this purpose.

A logotype is used to identify all projects supported by LEADER Serra do Caldeirão (tourist signs, labels for local products, etc.). The cistus flower was chosen to illustrate it, because it symbolises the threats and opportunities for our area: this flower may in fact announce the irreparable desertification as well as the start of a regeneration. But it is worth noting that the inhabitants of the Serra have given the name "Bonanza" (Prosperity) to the season when the cistus covers the hills with millions of sweet-smelling white flowers.

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