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The added value of LEADER

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Village dynamics in action:
the example of Mommila

 

The small village of Mommila was
the first to be examined in the
seven “village appraisals” by the
Tavastland Heart LEADER group. It
is an example of a village that is
taking responsibility for its future
and fighting to keep its school.

 

Mommila is not an ordinary village. It stands out from the others in the Tavastland Heart LEADER area, “perhaps because we are far away from the centre of government and we are used to fending for ourselves,” suggests Tapani Termonen, one of the leaders of the village committee. “It’s also maybe the cultural heritage of Alfred Kordelin.”

The visitor is in any case struck by the way in which the houses are laid out. They are not built next to one another as is the case elsewhere in the LEADER area. Instead, the dwellings are separated by large open fields. Rather than a village, Mommila at first glance looks like a group of farms. Besides, it has a specific agricultural and cultural landscape, recognised and protected by the Regional Council.

This particular feature is due to the fact that Mommila was built on a 3,000-ha estate organised around a 13th-century manor. The property was purchased in the beginning of the 20th century by a talented industrialist, Alfred Kordelin, who broke up 700 ha of it for the settlement of refugees expelled from Karelia by the Russians. A nationalist hero, Kordelin was assassinated in Mommila in 1917.

In those days, the village had fifty farm worker families who tended 1,000 ha of crops, 400 cows and 70 horses, a sawmill, a flour mill, a brickyard, a joiner’s workshop, a forge, a dairy, a grocer’s, and a primary school.

Today, Mommila only has 300 inhabitants left. Without the few remaining farmers, who all work part time, and the commuters, the place would inevitably be doomed to desertification.

Concerned about the village’s future, a group of villagers applied for and obtained in autumn 1997 EUR 18,000 in LEADER funding for a village appraisal. The purpose was to objectively assess the situation and to identify solutions not only to reverse the decline but also to develop the place in a sustainable manner.

A “community worker” and LEADER development agent, Liisa Häme then convened the people of Mommila to a “workshop of the future” where the following elements were identified:

 

Weaknesses Assets Possible solutions
  • Ageing of the population
  • Isolation
  • Shortage of jobs
  • Disappearance of public services (post office)
  • Dwindling of voluntary work
  • Environmental problems (polluted lake)
  • Availability of land
  • Large towns relatively close by
  • Tradition of working together
  • School
  • Shop
  • Craftsmen
  • Multipurpose centre with auditorium
  • Nature
  • Attract new families
  • Evening classes
  • Tourism
  • Teleworking
  • Service pool (businesses, taxi, etc.)
  • Socio-cultural activities, newspaper

 

A village meeting then elected a working party representing the various local actors and interests such as farmers, second residents, the church council, hunters, fishermen, and sport associations. Each member was assigned the job of analysing and monitoring a specific aspect. Tapani Termonen was appointed project coordinator.

This marked the start of a process that would last a year and a half, with the group meeting every fortnight. It led to a ten-year action plan that included the following actions:

  • draw up a list of available building lots;
  • improve the water pipes;
  • train and establish a network of tour operators;
  • create a pool of business owners (grocer’s, food production, forestry, construction, joinery);
  • promote the area in a coherent manner;
  • organise festivals, cultural activities and sport events;
  • organise guided walks and hikes;
  • offer evening classes;
  • put on a play about Alfred Kordelin.

The key player in helping carry out this village action plan, LEADER proceeded in financing work to refurbish the multipurpose centre and funded the tourism training programme and the integration of tour operators in the networks of the three municipalities near Mommila.

However, the village’s future still hangs heavy in the balance, with the uncertain fate of the school. If the school closes, and that could very well happen, the prospect of attracting new families would vanish. “While we are fighting to keep the school open, we are trying to specialise it, particularly by taking advantage of our experience of environmental education.” With the support of the LAG and the University of Helsinki, Mommila has began an environmental awareness programme. It is being implemented throughout the LEADER area and is based on the organisation of 10 thematic seminars.

“With the risk that the school may disappear, the village’s future is far from guaranteed, but local dynamics have developed and nothing will ever be the way it was before. I’m confident,” says Liisa Häme who will never forget that Mommila was the first village of the LEADER area to have a village appraisal done and to devise an action plan on the basis of the findings. Six villages in Tavastland Heart followed suit in 1998 and 1999.

 

source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000


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