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Online Symposium focuses on importance of rural integration

30 November 2021
The issue of Rural Integration was on the agenda today at a special Rural Symposium held digitally by Derry City and Strabane District Council's Rural Issues Group.
It was the first symposium of its kind since the establishment of the group, and the meeting offered the opportunity to reflect on the achievements to date through the delivery of the Strategic Growth Plan and the three rural Local Growth Partnerships, and the challenges that lie ahead on the path towards better Rural Integration.
For the past ten months, the Rural Issues Group has engaged with many partners across the District on key issues of challenge and opportunity for local rural communities. Through positive engagement and debate, excellent progress has already been achieved in the communication of these shared goals and all partners recognise the need to collaborate and be resourceful in supporting our rural communities on a range of issues.
During the online forum partners received an update on the Strategic Growth Plan for Derry and Strabane, and evidence that positive progress is being made in 32 of 49 of the outcomes identified within the strands of the strategy, with 76% of actions on track for completion. Participants were informed about the forthcoming review of the Strategic Growth Plan, and had the opportunity to provide feedback on the actions affecting rural communities and identify any gaps in the process.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, said the symposium had provided an opportunity for partners to reconnect and reflect on the work to date. "In the short time that the Rural Issues Group has been in operation it has achieved much through positive engagement and debate. The group has brought together a wide ranging network of stakeholders who are all committed to finding solutions to the problems faced by rural communities.
"It's clear that resourcing is a major issue and it's something that needs to be prioritised if we are to continue on the path to progress. But the commitment is there, and the drive to build resilient and proactive rural communities was obvious at today's symposium."
Director of Legacy with Council, Oonagh McGillion, said: "The Rural Issues Group was established in recognition of the need to escalate positive action in rural areas. Rural development is a major focus within the Strategic Growth Plan, so the Rural Issues Group aligns well with the overarching aspirations of the strategy.
"Over the past ten months, digital connectivity, capacity building, poverty, housing, safety and rural support have all been raised as priority areas. In this symposium we wanted to take one particular issue – rural integration, and really look at the importance of partnership working to driving change within our Council area. I think it's clear from today's event that all our partners are on the same page and keen to continue with the momentum to empower and support our rural communities."
During the symposium partners heard from the Chairs of the Local Growth Partnerships throughout the three rural DEAs – Derg, Sperrin and Faughan The partnerships have been pivotal to supporting rural areas throughout the pandemic, members heard, and provided a strong network of communication that proved vital in delivering aid. There has been some great progress in areas such as rural tourism, the environment and health and the partnerships all stressed that capacity building is essential going forwards to continue the positive momentum behind projects in rural areas. Groups are under significant pressure and need trained staff in place to deliver vital services, with retention posing a major problem in rural areas, the Chairs stressed.
Members also heard more about best practice in rural areas in Donegal and Scotland, as well as N. Ireland, and how rural communities are being supported. Jane Atterton from Scotland's Rural Policy Centre, gave the group an insight into rural policy in Scotland and the focus on raising the voice and empowering communities by channelling additional resources into rural groups. Ciaran Martin from Donegal County Council provided an update on digital connectivity in the NW region, with the growing need for better connectivity to facilitate remote working. Clodagh Crowe from Loughry College also gave an overview of rural integration from an agricultural perspective on a regional level. Mental health and wellbeing are key concerns, as well as providing support for farming families spanning all ages.
The feedback from today's event will now be taken forwards in a report to be brought before Council and the Strategic Growth Partnership, to help shape new approaches to rural issues as part of the wider Rural Strategy for Derry and Strabane.