Facilitating regeneration and environmental improvement in rural areas
The Rural Futures team was at the forefront of pioneering a new approach to regeneration in rural areas. Support for regeneration in rural areas was seen as fragmented and remote. Private sector farmers and business owners lacked the knowledge of how to access support and funding. Public sector policies were little understood by the private sector and not integrated within their development plans.
In 1999 Rural Futures team members were appointed to run the Bowland Initiative which was a national pilot for integrated business and environmental support to the landbased sector. Operating across north Lancashire this facilitation service became a “one stop shop” for the private sector businesses in the area. Key to its success was that it delivered both business and environmental support.
Through acting as an intermediary between private sector businesses and public sector bodies, the service was able to make sense of a complex framework of initiatives originating at European, national, regional and local level for the business owner. It was also able to educate business owners about public policy initiatives and persuade business owners of the benefits of adopting environmental initiatives within their business development.
Because of the success of the Bowland Initiative, support was expanded to form Lancashire Rural Futures operating from 2002 to 2008. This was developed to be the UK’s largest specialist service delivering business and environmental support to all rural business sectors. It facilitated over £26million of public and private investment into the area, created over 1200 new jobs and placed 12,000ha of land under positive environmental management.
The service operated as a public-private sector partnership, involving all the appropriate partners: Business Link, Lancashire County Council, District Councils, Lancashire Economic Partnership, RSPB, NWDA, United Utilities NFU, CLA, Natural England, Forestry Commission, Myerscough College, Tourist Board. The service was able to bring an integrated and collaborative approach to regeneration. The most surprising links were established allowing parties which would not normally have interfaced to develop collaborative working.
Funds were provided from European programmes, NWDA, Lancashire County Council, and Forest of Bowland AONB, each with their own requirements to record and monitor the delivery. Although complex, this provided the Rural Futures team with considerable expertise at managing the demands and responsibilities of funding programmes.
To support regeneration the team assisted businesses with:
- The planning process
- Feasibility studies
- Market research
- Public policy
- Securing grants
To aid environmental development the team assisted landowners through:
- Environmental Stewardship schemes
- Woodland planning and woodland grant scheme
- Entry Level Stewardship
- Higher Level Stewardship
- Renewable energy development