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Live Cases are a real-time journaling process for the Living Lab case studies. Follow along quarterly to learn more about the experiences and lessons learned taking place in the ROBUST Living Labs.
Wed 16 Jan
Live Case 1: Going "Off Script" in Mid Wales
How can we grow positive rural-urban connections at a distance from the city? We are trying to answer this question through our Living Lab in Mid Wales. As a region which doesn’t have a dominant urban centre, models of city-led growth are not always the answer in this part of the UK. These models also leave us stuck with the assumption – historically put forward by academics and policymakers alike – that predominantly rural regions like Mid Wales will always be left behind, or at least disadvantaged in some way. It’s easy to put Mid Wales in a box marked ‘rural development’, and to seek funding on the basis of being a ‘problem area’, but it is a lot harder to imagine more positive alternative futures.
In the meetings and consultations we’ve attended in Mid Wales, we have often heard the same issues come up: young people are leaving, shops are closing and other services are being lost, and the roads are bad. These are real problems and they cannot be simply overlooked. However, they’re a bit like a script that people repeat when they hear the word ‘rural’. And, the more people repeat these same scripts, the less they tend to think about the complex causes underneath and about the differences between places. What’s more, repeating these truisms means that the issues that don’t fit get left out of the conversation. So, our first experiment in the Mid Wales Living Lab is simple: what would happen if we worked without the usual rural script?
In the coming months, we’ll be working through the Welsh Local Government Association’s Rural Forum to talk to local authority stakeholders about their localities. We’ll be asking what needs to change and what can grow – but we won’t be asking stakeholders to think "rurally". We want them to surprise us! These talks will help us build a new picture of Mid Wales: one that might still have bad rural roads, but also one that has local food networks, book-a-bus services, and innovations over the radio waves. Rethinking the rural script in this way isn’t about a new definition of the rural, or the kind of academic rethinking that ends up in articles nobody reads. The Mid Wales Living Lab gives us real opportunities to understand our region in new ways, and to turn that knowledge into practical action.
Admittedly, the UK will face many challenges in the coming year. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, there will be implications that domestic legislation, policy and funding will need to address. It will be critical that the needs and aspirations of rural communities are front and centre in the design of new funding approaches that replace what we’ve traditionally known as EU funding. It’s certainly a challenge to try to tell new stories about Mid Wales when we don’t know what the economic future holds in three months, let alone three years. Let’s remember, though, that politics in Brussels, London, or Cardiff is also a rural-urban connection … what matters for Mid Wales is that the traffic isn’t one way.