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By Aisling Murtagh and Maura Farrell

Repositioning rural areas in response to problems of decline means overcoming complex, interconnected challenges. The RURALIZATION project is exploring innovative ways to overcome issues of rural regeneration and support generational renewal. Aisling Murtagh and Maura Farrell from the Rural Studies Cluster, Discipline of Geography, National University of Ireland, Galway tell us more.

The Need for Rural Regeneration

The challenge of rural population decline and need for rural communities to become more attractive places to live and work is a concern for rural people and policymakers alike. It is discussed in policy statements such as the 2016 Cork 2.0 Declaration ‘A Better Life in Rural Areas’ and the 2018 OECD Edinburgh Policy Statement on Enhancing Rural Innovation. With a smaller population to serve, decline can threaten the development or preservation of services such as public transport and healthcare. Additionally, it makes new services, such as broadband provision, less economically viable to develop the supporting infrastructure creating a digital divide.  

The decline trend can also result in an age disparity, with rural demographics dominated by older populations rather than younger people.  The age profile of European farmers in particular is an issue with a high proportion nearing retirement. Limited job and education opportunities, alongside a social scene that lacks the vibrancy of cities can make rural places not just unattractive but also an unrealistic option for youth.

A downward spiral of decline starts to emerge. Nonetheless, when youth leave rural areas, it isn’t necessarily forever, but realising the ambition to return can generally only occur if there are the work or entrepreneurship opportunities needed to sustain a livelihood.  Farming as an option for rural youth has challenges stacked against it. Becoming a farmer can look unattractive compared to better paid occupations that offer potential for greater work-life-balance. But even beyond these considerations high farmland prices often means high capital investment is required to gain land access. Getting into farming through the family farm is the most realistic option, but this too is fraught with difficulties as many European countries face on-going succession and inheritance challenges.  

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In November 2022, we had the pleasure of visiting Arenas De San Pedro for our ACORN Kick-off Meeting. We would like to extend a big thank you to our Spanish partner, ASOCIACION JOVENES SOLIDARIOS, for welcoming us and organizing a memorable and informative meeting.

The two-day meeting was filled with interactive sessions and informative field visits that helped us witness the positive impact of rural regeneration and the role of youth in driving this change. It was an eye-opening experience that allowed us to learn from the experts and see first-hand the difference they are making in their community.

The ASOCIACION JOVENES SOLIDARIOS team did a fantastic job of organizing the event and making sure that everyone felt welcome and engaged. They put together an exciting program that included presentations, discussions, and visits to local projects that are making a difference.

One of the highlights of the event was the field visits that allowed us to see how local projects are transforming the community. We were able to visit local municipalities, renewable projects, co-working organisations that are being developed to drive change. We were also able to meet with local youth group who are actively involved in community projects and learn about their experiences and challenges.

The ACORN Kick-off Meeting was an excellent opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and organizations and learn from their experiences. We are grateful to ASOCIACION JOVENES SOLIDARIOS for their warm hospitality and their dedication to the youth and the progression of rural regeneration. We look forward to continuing our partnership and working together to create a positive impact in rural communities.

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Our experienced team of trainers, researchers and technical experts are uniquely placed to guide educators from VET, HEI, Adult and Youth sectors to harness the opportunities that innovative and collaborative e-learning and digital tools offer for learners.

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Aine plays an important role in the learning design and subsequently in evaluating the effectiveness of our eLearning products on completion. Aine is always keen to engage with her creative side and implement the newest digital tools, pedagogies, and trends into our e-learning solutions. She is passionate about finding effective and relevant ways to engage learners from all walks of life.

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Including our key role in the initiation of the ACORN project we will also work tirelessly alongside our project partners to deliver the highest quality project results as possible. Within the project EUEI will develop the project website and be responsible for the technical realisation of the materials.

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