Organised by Firstport, as part of our Vital Spark programme, the event heard from award winning journalist Lesley Riddoch, CalMac Chief Executive Martin Dorchester and a group of budding social entrepreneurs developing ideas that address the most pressing issues in the area.
Funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise with support from Caledonian MacBrayne, Vital Spark is an initiative specifically designed to revitalise local areas in Argyll and the Islands through social enterprise. The programme operates from local hubs in three of the biggest towns in the area- Dunoon, Campbeltown and Rothesay - and since last year it has been working alongside local people to make their areas better places to live, learn and create. The programme works collaboratively with the community to identify and recognise the best of what they have - their natural, built and people assets - and inspires individuals to set up social enterprises that generate skills, provide jobs and revenue streams whilst tackling the issues they care about.
The issues of population decline, youth migration and a lack of employment opportunities in the region are well documented and have again been brought to the fore by the recently published Argyll and Bute Economic Forum report. The report highlights the 2011 census, which showed a continuation of population decline- 3.4% overall. Data also shows that Argyll is losing younger people while gaining older, and cites the key challenge to the area’s future is to attract more of 20-44 age group to stay by providing sustainable jobs. It also identifies the biggest barriers to Argyll’s growth: mobile connectivity, affordable housing and transport links.
It is not all doom and gloom though. The report identifies opportunities in key growing sectors, namely tourism and food and drink production and the potential boost of the almost-complete digital infrastructure. It also highlights the strong entrepreneurial tradition of the area, the existing base of great small businesses and the potential of retaining young people who want to stay in Argyll, by providing high-quality education and exposure to local businesses and opportunities. The report calls for a joined up approach from the private and public sectors, schools, local and national government and the local community.
Programmes like Vital Spark can and are already supporting the ambitious objectives of this report.
says Karen McGregor, Firstport’s Chief Executive. She sees clear links between the recommendations of the report and the work already taking place in the three hubs:
We believe that the best ideas to regenerate local areas come from the people who live there. And we have examples of ideas being developed through Vital Spark that directly relate to the areas of opportunity identified by the report. For example, we are supporting a cooperative of growers in Dunoon, producing local, nutritious food; an enterprise rejuvenating the heritage of Kintyre through a programme of cultural events, which will bring tourism into the area and a youth centre being set up by two young local residents of Rothesay, who love their town and want to provide more opportunities for young people to get together, explore and enjoy the beautiful surroundings on their doorstep.
Nick Ferguson CBE, Chair of the Argyll Economic Forum, said:
A clear conclusion from the Forum’s report is that to achieve the potential of the area, a joint approach is needed and there are many possible solutions to achieve our shared vision. It is great to see that programmes like Vital Spark are playing an active role in realising that vision by unlocking local people’s potential to make a difference in the issues pertaining to their communities.
Douglas Cowan, Highlands & Islands Enterprise Strengthening Communities Director, said:
Social enterprise makes a vital contribution to society and to the economy. It helps tackle social issues, promote equality and achieve sustainable economic growth. We are delighted to see the progress that the Vital Spark participants have made towards developing their social enterprise ideas. Although diverse and wide-ranging, all of the ideas address the issues that matter the most to them and their communities.
Through programmes like Vital Spark, we can support these enterprises so they achieve positive impacts in communities across the area: creating opportunities for employment, training and volunteering, and often delivering vital local services.
Pamela Galbraith, a participant from Campbeltown, said:
The programme has enabled me to explore and experiment with reviving the natural way of learning about our local culture and heritage and forge links with other cultures, both with people living in Campbeltown and with those in neighbouring countries to enrich all of our lives.