Approaches to Rural Sustainability and Regeneration:
Dreams, Processes and Decision-Making




Patrick Wright
Patrick Wright is a writer, teacher and broadcaster. He is the author of On Living in an Old Country (1985), A Journey Through Ruins (1991), The Village that Died for England (1995), Tank: the Progress of a Monstrous War Machine (2000), Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War (October 2007) and Passport to Peking: a Very British Mission to China. (2010). He has written for the London Review of Books, the Guardian (where he was a contracted feature writer in the early 1990s), the Washington Post, the Independent and the Observer. He has been a presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves and his television work includes The River, a four part BBC2 series on the Thames (1999), A Day to Remember, a documentary history of Remembrance Day, broadcast by Channel 4 in 1999, and a number of more recent programmes on BBC4. He was co-curator of Tate Britain’s exhibition of Stanley Spencer’s work in 2001, and has recently completed a collaboration with the film-maker Patrick Keiller on a research project entitled ‘The Future of Landscape and the Moving Image’. He has taught at Nottingham Trent University, and was a fellow of the London Consortium. He is currently Professor of Literature and Visual and Material Culture in the English Department at King’s College London.

Professor Michael Woods,
Director of the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University.
How can a rural region like west Wales respond to globalization? Is it doomed to economic marginalisation and cultural homogenisation, or is there an alternative? This presentation critiques some of the myths about globalization to examine how globalization processes really impact on rural communities. Drawing inspiration from the work of geographer Doreen Massey and observed examples in Wales and beyond, it argues for a more proactive and progressive engagement with the opportunities presented by globalization. This means being open to new cultural influences and hybirdization, using international markets to develop new sustainable regional products and reinvigorate traditional products, and countering the more threatening dimensions of globalization by strengthening local social and economic systems as part of an outward-looking progressive sense of place.

Professor Carl Lavery,
Louphole: Howling for Wolves in Newtown.

Carl Lavery is Professor of Theatre and Performance at Glasgow University, and thinks about ecology, ruins, and location. He is currently working on 2 AHRC projects ' 'The Future of Ruins: Reclaiming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island' and 'Homing in'.

Jane Davidson,
Director of INSPIRE, Trinity St. David's, and former Environment minister for Wales.

Jane will talk about change management within an organisation/country – the systemic introduction of thinking and practising sustainably - and why we should!

Roisin Willmott,
Director of Royal Town Planning Institute.

Dr. Matthew Jarvis,
Matthew Jarvis is the Anthony Dyson Fellow in Poetry at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. He has written the books Welsh Environments in Contemporary Poetry (2008) and Ruth Bidgood (2012), as well as numerous essays and reviews.

Ruth Bidgood’s poetry of the north Breconshire uplands is an act of imaginative regeneration. Its commitment to creating a multi-layered, multi-temporal vision of the region around the village of Abergwesyn affirms the potential for community and refuses to abandon the nearly-lost lives and numerous ruins which speak of the area’s past. In Bidgood’s poetry of deep engagement with this particular place, a dynamic life is given rich articulation.

Dr Emma-Jayne Abbots
Emma-Jayne Abbots is a Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and a Research Associate at the SOAS Food Studies Centre, University of London. A political and economic anthropologist, her research centres on the cultural politics and practices of consumption and exchange, with a particular focus on food and eating.  She has further interests in intimacies, materialities, the mediation of food/body knowledges, heritage practices, and rural sustainability.  She is co-editor (with A. Lavis) of Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters between Foods and Bodies (Ashgate, 2013).

In this brief paper I discuss the social and economic of effects of inward and outward migration on local food markets. Drawing on research in both the Ecuadorian Andes and North-West Europe, I explore the often-unanticipated consequences of migration, and the new incomes that are created as a result, on both food production and consumption. Topics addressed include the rejection of small-scale agriculture, fast food consumption, land values, and the creation of new markets. I also briefly consider the potential opportunities these demographic changes create and the ways a number of smaller producers are looking to exploit them, asking what models and knowledges of the countryside are being discursively (re)produced and circulated through these new dynamics and examining the role of the state and its agencies in this process.

Yvonne Davies, photographer,
Current areas of interest involve practice led research recording Northumberland and its rurality as a working environment. Photographing people in rural working communities around Northumberland, the work observes the social effects of economic changes and the evolving conversation between a host community and the tourist. Subsequent areas of research scrutinise how photographic archives are collated and interpreted and how through compilation and dissemination the contemporary photographer might seek to affirm greater longevity in the narrative of their work. Exhibitions include ‘In Our Back Yard’ in 2010, ‘Enduring and After’ in 2012 and Civic in 2012. She is a member of the newly formed collective Mimeses North.

The rural inhabitant is observed by the visitor to Northumberland who is often a ‘tourist of reality’ arriving with misperceptions of the rural as an idyllic, restorative place. Traditional representations of the rural depict an idyll which overlooks economic and social challenges exacerbated by geographic rurality. This work considers the working space of the rural as a working landscape, establishing a more realistic version of rural life bringing forward a series of complex interrelated issues in representing Northumbrian rural communities. It raises urgent social issues which have been given almost no voice in a world of globalised attitudes.
Exploring the tension between issues of representation and the ethics of making work about other people’s lives, collaboration with the subject offers participants the opportunity to directly present their own verbal narrative. This is paramount to creating faithful narrative highlighting personal points of view whilst establishing the platform for a collective voice leading to a deeper understanding of how individuals and working communities are affected by specific issues.
The work combines the photographic image with other digital media seeking ways to develop a progressive, evolving collection of photographs and multimedia sequences representing modern day working life in rural Northumberland. This method of presentation shifts the emphasis from seeing the photographs as aestheticised illustrations or historical documents to being understood as a record of people.
The originality of the creative processes used in this work and its analysis in terms of theoretical debate around the issues of representation and narrative, draws some traditional issues to a parallel with new ideas and interpretations. Using photography as a medium combined with digital media and dissemination, this work can go some way to bridge the gap between the rural inhabitant and the urb, the tourist and the host community and offer rural communities a sense of ownership over their heritage.

Jennifer Goddard
Community Arts Partnership

Community art is a process of harnessing the transformative power of original artistic expression and producing a range of outcomes… Looked at politically, socially, culturally and/or economically, community arts aim to establish and maximise inclusive ways of working, providing an opportunity for communities and their participants to continue to find ways to develop their own skills as artists and for artists to explore ways of transferring those skills. Through this process, community arts aim to maximise the access, participation, authorship and ownership in collective arts practice. (Community Arts Partnership)

The Exploring Change Project is a collaboration between Community Arts Partnership (CAP), Rural Community Network (RCN) and rural community groups and seeks to explore community arts as a catalyst for change within rural Northern Ireland. Contemporary research on the impact of community arts and its presence in rural areas has been identified as a gap and critical to the sustainability of community arts work. The primary aim of the project is to ensure continued and increased rural access to community arts as a medium for building community and personal development. It tracks the progress of groups as they creatively think through changes they want for their communities. It demonstrates and reports on this process with the purpose of enabling participants to understand, inform and change policy. The project aims to have an impact on both the rural sector and the community arts sector through mapping where community arts take place, and how provision may be extended.
The project is in the beginning phases of researching community arts in rural Northern Ireland, and currently undergoing a consultation process with participants in the region. This paper outlines the project aims, methodological approaches and aspirations of the work to create lasting sustainable change in some of the most under-resourced areas of rural Northern Ireland.

Sioned Haf,
School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography
Bangor University

Energy projects that are part or fully owned by a recognised community of place or interest - are increasingly seen as a means of creating renewable energy, in a sustainable and equitable way. Mounting academic research has led to assumptions that unforeseen social and economic benefits can also accrue from community energy projects. These include community cohesiveness, higher financial returns, autonomy and resilience, a sense of local pride through ownership and behavioural change through an increased understanding of energy consumption and sustainability issues. Apart from contributing to the overall production of energy from renewable sources, community energy projects seem to have the added benefit of attaining more support within their locality, and contributing toward regeneration. As many renewable resources are found in abundance in rural communities, the sector could be central to the rural development of such areas.
It is presumed that these types of ownership patterns in the renewable energy sector can contribute to the development, resilience and sustainability of these communities. These developments can also be beneficial for cultural sustainability, a branch of the sustainable development model that is increasingly gaining acceptance. The research project will review the current nature and status of community energy projects in rural Wales and Scotland. A comparison of policy work and review of current trends will be carried out to account for the differences in community projects between both devolved
countries. The research will then aim to delve into the aspirations of rural, peripheral communities who have attained local ownership of renewable energy generation projects. The communities selected have Welsh or Gaelic as a living community language – allowing for an analysis of how aspects of cultural and language resilience can be encouraged through community owned renewable energy projects.

Shan Ashton,
Lifelong Learning, Bangor University

In rural Wales there is an acceptance that change is happening; ‘inevitable’ and is most often, perceived as threatening or limiting. Nevertheless, levels of understanding of change vary considerably between different populations and across different rural areas. This variance can lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of change, a resistance to the need to address change, a rigidity in response to change, a lack of opportunity to change, a ‘can’t do’ or ‘victim’ mentality amongst people - where the population loses its sense of ability and resilience, its sense of place and supporting values and cultures.
This variance means that a simple, ‘one cap fits all’ model of development and learning will not be effective and will significantly stifle innovative ways of dealing with rural issues and pressures. Coupled with overly complex, poorly integrated funding structures that can create dependencies and distort local activity and markets, the attitudes to change listed above can to lead to stasis and an inability to deal with the future.

Yet there are positive community examples of addressing change in rural Wales and these illustrate how an ability to critically interrogate and understand change, how to develop and integrate ideas arising from that, can lead to innovative responses that build adaptive-ness, resilience and sustainability. Developing learning strategies that are appropriate, engaging, resourced, accessible and local and challenge the negative and limited responses to change already listed are key to the process. Influenced by the author’s related work on rural Learning Community Networks and a commitment to developing Welsh solutions, these opportunities are a means to co-produce confident and reflective communities able to plan for and respond to continuous change.

The co-production of a local framework for identifying and understanding change is developed with communities, one that is eclectic, integrated and dialectic. These communities would explore their understandings of change in relation to and reflecting upon the skills and knowledge banks already within their sphere. Each learning community then develops a community based ‘personalised course’ flow with learners-as-producers, building their own learning content. This necessitates a research based learning process combined with integrative learning (how-to-get-it-all-together) practice. This process includes developing networking and study exchanges where the learners build communities of practice and resource – both physical and virtual.

The final outcome will be active learning communities where learning is the ‘drive-wheel of transformation’, with communities ‘in charge’ of change and resistant to its erosive aspects but always open to the positive opportunities arising in the process. Learning communities can anticipate and identify potential issues ahead of their impact and plan, adapt or change and create resilient and sustainable alternatives.

Richard Tyler & Jill Venus,
Brecon Beacons National Park Authority & University of Wales Trinity St. Davids,

Rural Alliances aims to explore practical methods of implementing sustainable development in rural areas. It is an Interreg IVB NWE funded project with 12 partners across North West Europe. It is led by Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA), with the University of Wales Trinity Saint Davids University (TSD) acting as one of two academic partners who advise on the theoretical context and gather data for reporting on outcomes.
BBNPA had a former Interreg project called COLLABOR8 developing clusters of tourism businesses based on sustainability, sense of place and quality and seeking to improve the visitor experience. They noticed that as the project progressed, local people were becoming increasingly interested in their work.
Tourism has been said to ‘rent out other people’s living spaces for private gain’ but on the other hand, has much to offer the sustainable development of those communities. Local people had every right to be heard and every reason to engage with businesses in this process.
The Rural Alliances project was developed in order to explore how the power of the private sector could be harnessed to the values of the community in a way that would pursue triple bottom line outcomes. The premise is that, by doing so, we will increase rural vibrancy and so help counter the negative impacts of demographic change. Whilst BBNPA is using tourism as a focus, other partners are engaged in micro-power generation, care of the elderly, mobility and other expressions of the core concept.
TSD will report on the development of a Rural Vibrancy Index, enabling the project to understand better the components of the Vibrancy concept and measure progress towards it and also its role in interpreting partners’ practical experience into an evolving Alliance Building Model.
The project is one year into its three year term and examples of outcomes will be presented.

Patricia Brien,
Senior Lecturer, Fashion Promotion,
University of Glamorgan.

Spiritus Loci is part of a cumulative research project that examines whether ecological thinking, meaning and intrinsic values can be embedded within fashion and body decoration artefacts or objects, through a hybrid process of ritual gatherings, place-sensitivity and materiality. Fashion is inextricably bound to urban settings but fashion itself is part of the system in crisis, at odds with the earth’s resources capabilities. Spiritus Loci investigates alternative places of creative interaction responding to human and non-human networks as a way to embed meaning and deeper connectivity to our objects and garments.
The project took place within a 15km radius of Melbourne and involved eight participant designers, makers and crafters. Over the course of the spring (Spring Equinox, Sept. 23 – Summer Solstice, Dec. 21, 2012) participants chose a nature place to connect with and draw inspiration from. They worked with a length of minimally processed and unbleached hemp and natural dyes, colours and materials that were sustainably and locally derived. Individual participants’ shared their ‘place’ at regularly-occurring gatherings throughout the project to heighten awareness of the process and experience.
Over the course of the season, a meaningful object or garment was created in response to nature and the dynamics of group interaction. This presentation will explore the project and its objectives of working with alternative design systems, participatory group networks and the role of connectivity to non-urban places in developing ecological awareness within a fashion context.

Margaret Ames,
Lecturer, Theatre and Performance,
Aberystwyth University

This paper accompanied by photographic examples will discuss how people with learning disabilities use theatrical performance in order to communicate ways of life and experiences that are under , or mis-represented. The examples I chose from my work with Cyrff Ystwyth make clear that within a cultural ecology of people, life ways and values, such artists might play a critical part in opening up the practices and life ways from within a rural agricultural and bi-lingual Ceredigion. This paper therefore is an offering that places marginalised people and culture back in the mix of larger discourses around sustainable living.
I will argue that work that is the artistic vision of people with learning disabilities might provoke a re-envisioning of how artistic production in rural Wales contributes to deeper understandings of the fragile cultural position of its rural population and the remains of its indigenous cultural practices. The complex mix of individuals in Cyrff Ystwyth suggests a collaborative approach that offers a flexible response to language, expression and identity.
Following disability theory, in particular the work of Tobin Siebers who argues that: ‘Disability is not a physical or mental defect but a cultural and minority identity’ (Siebers: 2008, 4)and ‘ To call disability an identity is to recognize that it is not a biological or natural property but an elastic social category both subject to social control and capable of effecting social change’ (ibid), I propose that Cyrff Ystwyth offer a sustainable approach from the margins where individual and collective aspirations that propose alternative methods of thinking , sometimes beyond language, might contribute to a way of life and sense of shared identity that is both sustainable and necessary.

Dr Rowan O’Neill,
Rowan O'Neill is an artist and writer from Felinwynt, Ceredigion.  Her practice represents a continuing investigation of language and identity in relation to place and has been inspired by an academic background in theology and religious studies and the contrast between modern urban society and her agricultural upbringing.  She recently completed a Doctoral research project based on the archive of Cliff McLucas, a former artistic director of the performance company Brith Gof

In 2006 Channel 4 launched a project that would document the process of the creation of a public artwork from inception to installation in six locations in the United Kingdom. The program sought to investigate the fidelity of such public art processes to the needs and desires of the places and communities in which they are located. Amongst the six chosen towns was a small town in West Wales that stands at the mouth of the river Teifi, Aberteifi/Cardigan.

In this submission I will investigate the connections between the proposed project and its ultimate failure and an on-going regeneration program in Cardigan that has centred around the town’s quayside and the development of tourism. The submission will pay particular attention to the uses of heritage capital within the discourse that has surrounded that development.

For example the quayside development focused exclusively on Cardigan’s legacy as an important trading port and site of emigration in the early to mid 19th century implying a legacy of world trade and cosmopolitanism. The submission will juxtapose this with the current regeneration of Cardigan Castle, a site that stands adjacent to the river and opposite the quayside. The site is being regenerated as a major tourist attraction that foregrounds the castle’s claim to be the home of the first ‘national’ Eisteddfod in 1176.

Given the continuing status of the National Eisteddfod as a unique Welsh language event the importance of such a claim to Welsh language culture is self-evident. However, the implications for the co-existence of such heritage capital claims in a particular location have been less well documented. My submission will conclude by reflecting on the social utopias that a convergence of the uses of cultural capital might imagine or imply with particular reference to language sustainability in the face of rapid cultural and population change.

Dr Sophie Wynne-Jones,
Department of Geography and Earth Sciences,
Aberystwyth University

Speaking to the theme of 'natures' commodification and protection, this paper will outline the development of new approaches to conservation over the last ten years, exploring the rise of ecosystem services as a dominant framing. Set against wider processes of rural regeneration and the ambition for sustainability, ecosystem services are being developed as a means to transform the rural economy and reassert the interrelations between rural and urban communities. Exploring case-study projects, including the Cambrian Mountains Initiative and Pumlumon Project in Mid Wales, the paper explores the ways in which the differing values of local, regional and global actors are becoming manifest. Here-in, the distinctions between place-based iterations and ideal-type discourses demonstrate the necessity of attending to the spatial and temporal processes of articulation. In addition, the uneven relations of power and agency evidenced are highlighted as key problematics for future advances of ecosystem services.

Katherine Jones,
Geography, Aberystwyth University.

Katherine will be reflecting on her research with the Lammas ecovillage and considering the difficulties faced by a planning and regulatory system in comprehending and imagining sustainable development. Sustainable development is treated as a holistic and 'eutopian' idea which cannot be understood through compartmentalized and reductionist models of thinking. The research confirms Davoudi's (2006) hypothesis that planning is based on three misconceptions about evidence-based planning, and connects with Antony Gidden's notion of 'frozen trust in abstract systems'. Here, the abstract systems in which trust is frozen include a simplified conception of an urban-rural divide, and a hegemonic ideology of the possibility of neutral and value-free socio-environmental knowledge. In order to comprehend and move towards sustainable development it is necessary to be able to engage the imagination, and to think 'eutopias' holistically and collectively. The research concludes that the current system of planning and engagement is not equipped to handle sustainable development, and presents some suggestions for future thinking. 

Joe Evans,
Director of CPRE Avonside, the West of England branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He campaigns on local food, land use and planning issues and supports local groups in community-led planning initiatives.

Joe will talk about visions of the English countryside, as expressed and contested in the arena of the planning system, in relation to the Bristol and Bath Green belt.

Andrew Capel,
Director of Dragonfly Solutions Ltd.

A recently emerged 'Theory of Everything' offers an integrated approach to all human experience.  This presentation will show how it can help you to understand why differing points of view occur and how to deal successfully with conflicting viewpoints by going beyond the usual cultural, skin colour, historical, religious or political interpretations.

Oliver Morris,
Geography, Aberystwyth University.
Aspirations of young people in rural Wales.