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The added value of LEADER

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Local dynamics, innovative products
and cooperation in Central Tavastland
(Finland):

Natural networks

 

Creating a network for village
initiatives, innovative producers
and tour operators is the very
essence of the LEADER intervention
in this fragile rural area of
southern Finland.

 

They must have done it on purpose! How the devil did Katja Huhhmarkangas manage to obtain her first order from the other side of the Atlantic as if by chance just before the journalist from LEADER Magazine was going to come? Was it synchronicity? Or telepathy? Maybe it was a miracle of globalisation? Whatever it was, the parcel mailed from the United States lay open on the desk, and Katja proudly removed from it a letter, a contract, a fabric sample and specifications. KH-Design, a weaving business operating out of the basement of a home in Lammi, a small town some two hours by road from Helsinki, is going to be able to start work on the creation of a large tapestry for a hotel owned by a well-known American firm whose name will not be mentioned here.

Katja and KH-Design are one and the same person. Katja, thirty years old and the mother of two young children, began her small business in 1998. She is the only weaver in Finland, and one of the only ones in the world even, to make “computer-assisted Jacquard weave”. You take a photograph or any other illustration, you scan it, download it on the computer and the computer configurates all the parameters of a high-tech loom which will enable the artisan to weave the image on a piece of fabric. It is hard to find a better example of synergy between old know-how and state-of-the-art technology. “Before, I hated computers,” says Katja, “and then I saw what was being done with them. This machine accomplishes in a few hours what took months in the 18th century. It is bringing back the production of Jacquard weave in very small series, an activity that had virtually disappeared with industrialisation.” Since its launch, KH-Design has been working regularly for well-known Scandinavian artists and designers. “I can now start saying that I’m earning a living with it,” reckons Katja.

“It’s the only project proposal that we subsidised that was not part of a collective action,” points out Pia Niemikotka, coordinator of the Keski-Häme (Tavastland Heart) local action group (LAG). And she adds: we felt that LEADER was also a programme to help people take a risk. We only provided 15% of the total investment - EUR 30,000 - but our commitment made it easier for Katja to obtain her bank loan.”

Participation in a collective action is the very basis of the support provided by the Tavastland Heart LEADER group. Every one of the 150 odd projects supported under LEADER II was part of a wider process, whether a “collective action”, “group” or “network”. Let us take the case of another young businesswoman, Mailla Karlelius. Formerly unemployed, she took two training courses organised by Tavastland Heart LEADER in 1998-99, one on how to start up a business (80 hours), the other on the different uses of wild plants (90 hours). It was the Forestry Institute of the Polytechnical School of Tavastland that organised this latter course. Having developed environmentally friendly wood stain from the distillation of wild plants, the Institute was looking for a company interested in developing these new products. Mailla rose to the challenge and in autumn 1999 set up the “Eko Color” company which distils four wood stains made respectively from the larch tree (for brown), birch tree (for dark yellow), carrots (for light yellow) and bilberry plant (for red). The product is innovative and the gathering of the raw material is equally so. Mailla has set up a network of some twenty gatherers - mostly people who participated in the LEADER training course - who supply her with the necessary plants. These are picked up by Mailla’s husband, a lorry driver, when he is travelling on the road. “LEADER has helped me in three ways,” says Mailla: “first with the training, then with the setting-up of my network of gatherers, lastly with the purchase of the equipment.”

The word “network” also applies to Mailla’s customer base. Eko Color works in particular with the ACER cooperative. This cabinetmaking firm, founded in 1996 by eight craftsmen and eight farmers, built a relay workshop two years later with LEADER to, as director Reino Ketola explains, “obtain better purchasing conditions, get bigger jobs and be able to make very high quality products thanks to high-performance tools.”

Equipped thanks to LEADER funding, the workshop benefits the members of the cooperative but also several independent joiners who rent space and machines. In addition to making pens from noble, Eko Color-stained wood, the workshop manufactures furniture for shops and public institutions (eg. the Sibelius museum of Lahti), top-of-the-range kitchen elements, and wooden bathtubs - more than EUR 4,000 per unit - mainly for the Japanese market.

In addition, in collaboration with the Forestry Institute, the relay workshop offers classes on the utilisation of wood for municipal officials and future managers of the forestry industry. This activity earned the cooperative EUR 70,000 in 1998-99, a sum that is helping pay back the private funds invested in the project. “Without LEADER, all this would not have been possible,” says Reino Ketola. “The local action group encouraged us to go through with an idea that we’d been toying with for several years. Beyond the moral and financial support, we were on the same wavelength as the LAG. We both agreed that it was necessary to develop a genuine wood sector of high added value that would benefit joiners but also farmers who imperatively have to diversify. With the farmers, there’s still a problem there. Many of them don’t want to recognise the fact that it’s no longer possible to just live on agriculture. For them, it’s a matter of pride. Unfortunately, only when they’ll have sold off the last of their timber stands will they see the light.”

The coordinator of the LAG agrees: “the first added value of the LEADER programme is that it helps people break habits and challenges the way they are operating. And it especially helps those who dare to embark on a new road and who look in new directions for their activity. That is where LEADER’s second added value comes into play - the Initiative supplies the human, technical and financial means for entrepreneurs to network. Without LEADER, they wouldn’t cooperate, because alone they have neither the time nor the money to invest in this type of approach which at first glance seems ‘virtual’ to them, even if they clearly know that cooperation is essential to move into high gear in terms of promotion, marketing, and access to new markets. The LEADER group’s role is to try and get what I call ‘natural’ networks to emerge.”

Pia Niemikotka repeatedly insists on the adjective “natural”. Perhaps it is precisely because the LEADER II area of Tavastland Heart does not form a “natural”, uniform whole. Its borders were drawn on the basis of the Objective 5b area of the province of Tavastland, six municipalities - 27 villages - which are dependent on two different subregions, Kanta-Häme et Päijät-Häme. "LEADER also forced us to transcend the ‘mental geography’ of the communities,’ underlines Liisa Häme, community development officer of the LAG (see article "The example of Mommila"). “In people’s minds, Kanta-Häme and Päijät-Häme are two different ‘lands’. The former looks towards the city of Hämeenlinna, while the latter is centred on Lahti. Depending on where they live, people will do their shopping, take care of administrative business, in one subregion or the other. There was no tradition of collaboration between the two entities before the creation of the LEADER area, a major obstacle if you really want to succeed in implementing a bottom-up approach throughout the area. There is also a tremendous difference between the northern and southern halves of the LEADER area. The north has lakes and many summer homes and is therefore ideal for tourism. On the other hand, the south is much more agricultural. The strategic objectives can be the same, but the “doses” have to be different.”

Working on this principle, the LEADER group managed to create, municipality by municipality, networks of business owners and tour operators. “The networks are small but they work,” says Pekka Kääriäinen modestly. A member of the board of directors of the LAG, Pekka is also in charge of the group of tour operators of the village of Lieso, ten service providers who are complementary. They include a hotel-restaurant owner, a brewer, a grocer, and the owner of the local coach service. “The LEADER group helped us build a common vision then a communication and marketing strategy.” Establishing this network cost about EUR 30,000. The ten business owners, who meet once a month, have published a promotional brochure on Lieso and even went to Ireland to see how others were developing their area.

 

Summer homes


Like the support for innovative products, tourism is a strategic area of intervention of the local action group of Tavastland Heart. The northern section of the area is bordered by Päijänne, the third largest lake in Finland, but lakes abound in more than half the LEADER area. Lieso, for example, stretches across a peninsula of Lake Kuohijärvi. The village has a population of 400 in the winter, but 1,000 people live there in the summer.

“By ‘tourism’ we mean occasional visitors but also second residents,” explains Jouni Lehtonen, also a member of the board of directors of the LEADER group and, through his involvement in all kinds of social and cultural activities, a genuine “Mr Culture” of the municipality of Hauho. “The second residents are of great importance in our strategy. Here in Hauho, the population grows in the summer from 4,000 to 10,000. In Lammi, from 6,000 to 8,000. A lot of people also come on the weekend, because we’re strategically located in the centre of the Helsinki-Tampere-Lahti triangle. Second residents are interesting people, and this for a variety of reasons. Of course, they are consumers, but they are also and especially citizens who are very attached to the village where they have their second home and which is often where they are originally from. Therefore, they are always ready to get involved in a project when they haven’t launched one already themselves.” In Vihavuosi, a village with barely 10 permanent residents, it was the involvement of some one hundred volunteers who, with LEADER, helped convert an old sawmill, beautifully situated between two large lakes, into a restaurant and museum. How could there be 100 volunteers when there are only 10 inhabitants? Answer: there are 300 second residents in the summer and on certain weekends.

The importance of second residents in local development is even easier to understand when one is familiar with the demographic geography of the Finnish countryside since the 1970s. People are living, more and more, in the main municipal towns while villages are becoming mere hamlets with about ten souls. However, in the summer, the families in the cities and towns move back to their country home which becomes their main residence. The villages then come back to life for several months. With the improved comfort of these “summer homes” - a lot of them are now inhabitable year round - and with the widespread use of the Internet in Finland, it is not unrealistic for developers to try to extend the stays of second residents by encouraging the maintenance, modernisation and creation of facilities and services that benefit all the residents, beginning with the permanent population.

 

Village activation


The procedure is part of what the LEADER group calls “village activation”, the third - or first? - prong of its intervention. Basically, that means helping local groups, associations and village networks elaborate and implement projects to improve the quality of life.

In Hauho, the LEADER group is supporting three projects of the 4H Club [*]: the setting-up of a recycling centre that operates as a network with young people and farmers, the creation of a newspaper, and the preparation of an exhibition vehicle to promote rural areas and the environment in the main towns of Finland.

In Hämeenloski, the scouts have turned an old barn into a place where young people can meet and a mechanical workshop, and LEADER has paid for 40% (EUR 13,000) of the costs.

On the edge of Lake Päijänne, the LAG has co-funded (EUR 24,000) the transformation of a home for the elderly into a privately-run inn and craft workshops (managed by the villagers association).

Then there is the most colourful project: the conversion of the house of Enni Io into a summer cafe. This original, amateur naive painter spent the end of his life painting flower motifs on the walls, floors, ceilings and furniture in his house. It is certainly a unique work that will add to the tourist attractions and social points of the village in question.

The examples are many. LEADER Tavastland Heart has implemented more than a hundred of these “community” development projects, designed for and by the villagers. Their completion in turn strengthens the “natural” local network which emerged when the first project was elaborated. There is a snowball effect, so to speak.

“People have to take their future back into their own hands,” says Tapio Tuominen, director of the municipal services of Lammi. “For years, people had become used to expecting the municipality and public initiative in general to do everything. Now, it’s up to them to take the initiative. They have begun to do so with LEADER. All I wonder is, afterwards, is it going to continue?”

 

LEADER KESKI-HÄME

LEADER TAVASTLAND HEART: 2 412 km²
Population: 23 100 inhabitants
LEADER II funding: EUR 3 102 443
EU: EUR 1 033 212
Other public funds: EUR 1 033 212
Private: EUR 1 036 019

Keski-Hämen LEADER II

Syrjäntaantie 6,
FIN-14820 Tuulos
Tel: +358 3 6336 242
Fax: +358 3 6336 242
E-mail: tavast@sci.fi

 


[*] International youth organisation very
active in rural areas in North America
and Scandinavia. The four “Hs” are
“Heart”, “Head”, “Hands” and “Health”.


 

source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000


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