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The European rural model

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LEADER in action(s) in the
region of Umeå (Sweden):

City and countryside
working together


As its name indicates, the LEADER group
Stad och Land - Hand i Hand ("City and
Countryside - Hand in Hand") bases its
intervention on the synergies between
the city and countryside. The influence of
the University of Umeå and the quality of
life in the countryside surrounding the
capital of northern Sweden constitute the
two pillars of a strategy, which in barely
three years has become firmly established.


Like the name of the local action group that she coordinates ("Stad och Land - Hand i Hand" / "City and countryside hand in hand"), Ulrika Lundin is straight to the point: for her, any "technical" tour of the LEADER area must begin with a visit to the University of Umeå: "we are trying to combine quality education, quality living and development," she proclaims. "The presence of an important university forty five minutes from any village within the area of intervention is an asset that we must take advantage of."

The capital of Västerbotten county but also the largest city in northern Sweden (pop. 104 000), Umeå is the seat of a university with 24 000 students. "The university is to a great extent behind the expansion that the city has been witnessing for the past several years," says Stefan Lybeck, the person in charge of public relations at the institution. "As an intellectual centre, it attracts high- tech industries and highly skilled labour, with the result that Umeå's population has been growing each year by a thousand inhabitants, but very little of this increase has been to the detriment of the surrounding rural areas."

Stefan recalls the three missions of the University of Umeå: "education, research but also dialogue with society, which in Swedish we call 'samwerka'. We have committed ourselves to further developing this third pillar. A building exclusively devoted to this mission is currently under construction and we are leaving our 'ivory tower' by organising more and more joint meetings and actions with the key figures from the environment surrounding us. In this respect, the LEADER group is an ideal partner."



Operational since 1997, the LEADER group of Stad och Land - Hand i Hand has been intervening in an area comprising 6 vast municipalities ("Kommunen"), including the most rural parts of the municipality of Umeå. Two of these municipalities were part of the Objective 6 region (sparsely populated Nordic areas) and four were in an Objective 5b region (fragile rural areas). The entire area is now eligible under Objective 1 for the period 2000-2006.

The local action group (LAG) is run by a board of directors whose 22 members represent the public (6 municipalities and Västerbotten county), private, cooperative and not-for-profit sectors. "It's the first time that the six municipalities have really worked together. As far as partnerships go, LEADER has been a small revolution," says Margareta Rönngren, president of the LAG and town counsellor in Umeå. "In the beginning, the municipality of Umeå was not really interested in the programme and the other municipalities saw the town as a threat.

Today, at the end of LEADER II, 17 out of 103 projects are implemented in the municipality of Umeå. The work done these past three years has considerably reduced the mistrust that the entirely rural municipalities have towards the 'big city'."

Ulrika Lundin insists on the decisive role of the LEADER group's board of directors in changing mentalities, underlining the active participation of each member of the board: "the board is a total personification of the local action group. It does not just convene and select the projects in an impersonal manner: each of the members is responsible for a certain number of projects. These are therefore followed by our team - three development agents and myself - and by a member of the board who is a kind of 'business angel', enabling the project holder to benefit from his expertise and network of relations."


Tourism: university and proximity

Stig Wahlberg is one of these "business angels". A member of the board, he is responsible for the private tourist sector. In this country of lakes and rivers, which also has a long coastline, this sector is a "natural" focus for development, which remains largely unexplored. There are 43 LEADER projects concerned. Stig also believes in the tremendous potential of the university for the LEADER area in terms of tourism and recreational activities: "we must use all the dimensions of the university," he says, "the students, teaching faculty, researchers, knowledge, resources, etc. We met with the student heads and invited university representatives to our board meetings. They saw what we were doing and presented us their plan for achieving greater regional exposure, recognising that they had not done enough until now. But it's up to us to take the initiative, even if the university's willingness to participate has become increasingly clear."

Putting his convictions into practice, Stig had already taken the initiative a few years ago: he quite simply went to the faculty of medical chemistry and invited Chinese and Russian researchers to go on a tour of the LEADER area. The programme included a visit of exceptional natural sites and cultural attractions, snow-biking and a barbecue in the forest. "Later they told me that they didn't talk about anything else for two weeks!," recalls Stig. "This personal experience, somewhat of an anecdote certainly, convinced us that the university needed the amenities of the countryside to attract guest professors and researchers, conference-goers, etc. The client base is estimated at over 100 000 persons a year."

Stig Wahlberg's experience so to speak was repeated on a larger scale in the LEADER action known as "The Competence Centre for Rural Tourism". Two "safaris" (sic) for 138 local and professional tourism decisionmakers were organised in the LEADER area to make them aware of the area's assets and quality of life. "The operation was part of the much wider objectives of the Competence Centre," explains Helen Bygdemark, in charge of the project: "developing tourist ventures with three main goals: to establish networks of tour operators, to train potential operators and to 'sell' the area as a destination for tourism, recreational activities and seminars."

Supported by LEADER, the action led to the organisation of training courses in marketing and study trips, the publication of a guide and especially, Helen insists, "to the sustainable establishment of a network of tourist actors that has created much closer relations between the authorities and the private providers of tourist services, a feat certainly not easy."

The action has already borne fruit on the coast where 40 villages and hamlets are participating in the "Kustleden". The aim here is to coordinate tourist and cultural attractions along the old, 150-km long coastal road ("Kustleden") of Västerbotten. In 1998, the association of villagers of Norrbyn (pop. 300) applied for EUR 45 000 in LEADER aid to implement the project.

Meetings were organised in each village where working groups were set up to determine the local assets, attractions, cultural events and tourist businesses. "It represented at least 2 500 hours of voluntary work," notes Hans Bäärnhielm who has been running the project. In the end, the Kustleden became a fully-fledged tourist product in the summer of 1999, with the development of sites, a logo and a brochure presenting the itinerary, helpful addresses and the dates of the most important events. Running parallel to the coastal road is a sea route, and the people on pleasure boats represent another large customer base.

"This year <2000> saw a very sharp rise in the number of visitors," says Hans who also believes that the customer base is above all local, including the people from the university. "It's remarkable, because the development of the attractions is far from being completed: all the villages have not worked at the same pace. What's more, the closer you get to Umeå, the harder it is to mobilise people..."


Local products: two semi-failures

Mobilising is a key word, whether we are talking about citizens or entrepreneurs. While the aim to mobilise the business community has been achieved in tourism, the LEADER group recognises two failures in the sector of local products. "We have no strong food tradition and the producers are very individualistic," explains Birgitta Strandman who produces delicious arctic raspberry jams. "The 'big' producers have their own outlets and the 'small' ones are not very interested in volume..."

In June 1997, a small group of producers of Västerbotten did a market study on the possibility of opening a shop in Umeå for local products. The study concluded that the project would be feasible if the point of sale sold a large array of products. Ten producers were prepared to invest their own money, and EUR 45 000 in LEADER aid persuaded 15 other producers to also participate. The 25 partners, including 22 women, set up a company, drew up a business plan, signed agreements with milk producers for the delivery of fresh products, found a shop in the town centre and hired an employee, but the shop never "took off". It was open from September 1999 to March 2000 then had to close.

Birgitta had an explanation: "We didn't invest enough in the equipment, everything depended too much on the same people and we were not followed by the one hundred or so food producers in the county. The lack of motivation was fatal..." And she adds: "but we learned a lot and haven't given up: It's impossible that there's no future for a shop of this kind in a city like Umeå..."

The lack of motivation and perseverance is also partly the cause of the failure of a prepared-meals venture launched in May 1997 in Stenfors, 50 km east of Umeå. There, the marketing did not follow: "production was not a problem," believes Anniqa Nygård who participated in the project. "We had a fully-equipped kitchen, financed under the 5b programme. But we didn't have enough staff and marketing resources, and were too caught up with the need to produce larger volumes to satisfy the supermarkets. As an alternative, we tried the student customer base but that didn't work: we were too expensive for that market."

Since May 2000, when the business ended, the kitchen has been shared - but is used full time - among individual producers. The products are often innovative: birch-leaf soda, Japanese shiitake mushrooms... In fact, these cooking facilities are located in the centre of a genuine "rural tourist complex" set up along the coastal road in an old farm belonging to the Swedish Society of Rural Economy and Agriculture[1]. And the place looks like it is flourishing, given the number of coaches that stop there. In addition to a small botanical area funded by LEADER, the visitors can buy local products, browse in an antique shop and have a meal at Anniqa's who runs the inn. The entire complex is managed by a cooperative, but each merchant "is in charge of his own business". "It was only the collective cooking venture that failed," points out Ulrika Lundin. "The rest is doing very well. In the end the food producers will understand the advantages of grouping together... After all, LEADER is a 'laboratory' and all the experiments cannot succeed..."


Land och Land - Hand i Hand

There is at least one lesson to learn from the experience of the shop in Umeå and the collective cooking enterprise in Stenfors: succeeding in the city is not easy. But what if the real salvation begins in the countryside itself? All the projects, run "on location" in the most rural areas by Stad och Land, have been a perfect success so far. Let us take the example of the 15 villages and hamlets of Hjoggsjö in the municipality of Vännäs where a telecentre was set up in 1998. According to Lena Carneland and Victoria Jansson who were in charge of the operation, the purpose was "to have something for the children to do and to keep young people in the area but also to introduce people to information technology and turn a maximum number of 'commuters' (Umeå is only 40 minutes from there) into teleworkers."

LEADER injected about EUR 30 000 in aid into the project for training, facilitation and computers. A kind of "cybercafe" where people can train and also meet one another, the telecentre of the "Dragons of Hjoggsjö", as the villagers like to call it, is open 365 days a year and is used by older people and children during the day and in the evening by teenagers.

From an economic point of view, ten former commuters have become teleworkers and the action has led to the start-up of at least two new businesses and, as a result, the creation of several jobs. "The project is well established and can operate without outside help," says Lena who set up a computer training business specially designed for women. "It's become a model for a lot of other villages, because it combines three vital elements for people: training, work and social life."

Some one hundred voluntary workers are now devoting part of their free time to renovating an old school that will soon be used for a telecentre, a banquet room, an art gallery and a youth club.

Reconverting old derelict community buildings is for the LEADER group both a challenge and a source of projects. The most impressive example is certainly to be found in Hällnäs (pop. 400) in the municipality of Vindeln. Built in 1926 on a magnificent 80-ha site, the sanatorium of Hällnäs was one of the largest in Sweden, accommodating over a thousand patients and employees. It was first shut down in 1970, became a hospital in 1987 then closed for good in 1990. "So we turned the land into a municipal park but didn't know what to do with those huge buildings," recalls Kenneth Sahlén, town councillor and one of the representatives of the voluntary sector within the LAG. "We therefore convened all the key local actors and set up a task force. The aim was to find someone who could develop this site. We decided that the end of 1998 would be the deadline, but Lennart arrived in May. I must say that he had the same effect on us as the arrival of LEADER!"

"Lennart" is Lennart Nyberg, a building contractor from Stockholm who wants to gradually move to the country. He accepted the conditions laid down by the municipality - to take the necessary steps to create economic activities and jobs on the site - bought the buildings for a relatively symbolic sum of EUR 120 000 ("a lot less than the annual heating bill!," he adds) and invested in equipment.

The old sanatorium was converted in the following way: a 100-bed hotel open throughout the year (5 000 stays in 1999), 40 flats (35 of which have already been rented), 7 conference rooms, an industrial kitchen supplying prepared meals to companies in Vindeln and several thousand square meters of commercial space rented to SMEs, three of which are active in advanced technology sectors (robotics and information technology). In addition to the forty jobs brought in by the 10 companies leasing the premises, Lennart's firm employs a staff of 9 which will soon grow to 20 when his two main projects materialise in 2001: catering to one-week charter holidays organised by a Swedish railway company and operating a "budaborg", a game recently invented in Sweden where players "actually" experience the virtual games played on a computer, an absolute innovation.

Back at the University of Umeå, a study was done on LEADER's impact in the region. It concluded in particular that although the objective of optimising synergies between the city and countryside was not achieved, the programme in less than three years enabled the creation in rural areas of 24 new businesses and the equivalent of 50 permanent full-time jobs. The cost was EUR 125 000 per job when the average cost of a job in Sweden is about EUR 190 000.

"We accepted all the conclusions of the study, even the most critical," says Ulrika Lundin, "but the real results of LEADER are above all intangible and can be expressed in terms of quality: LEADER II enabled us to lay the groundwork. The more sceptical urbanites are now convinced of the importance of rural development, and local actors in rural areas have become aware of their strengths and are prepared to move into high gear."



Area: 7 402 km2
Population: 33 849 inhabitants
LEADER II funding: EUR 5 870 000
EU: EUR 980 000
Other public funds: EUR 2 300 000
Private: EUR 2 590 000

Stad och Land - Hand i Hand LAG

c/o Ulrika Lundin
Holms gård, Box 40
S-922 21 Vindeln
Tél: +46 933 142 13
Fax: +46 933 142 05


[1] The "HushållingsSällskapen", founded
in 1791 on the island of Gotland and present
since 1850 in all the Swedish counties. Its
mission is to support farms and rural enterprises,
to raise consumer awareness of the quality of its
food and, more recently, to help protect the environment.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001

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