The UK and Ireland Rural Futures Network: Preparing for social and economic transitions Post Brexit and Covid-19

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Natural & Environmental Sciences


This proposal brings together academics, policy makers and practitioners from across the UK and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) to develop a future research agenda and to reframe future rural policy. Covid-19 has brought refocused attention to rural areas, now seen as safer places to live and thus more desirable. Brexit has had, and will continue to have, significant social and economic impact across the British Isles. Responses to these drivers of change will require a new research agenda to ensure transition to a just and inclusive policy and practice environment. This proposal will support the process of reframing how we think about rural. The embryonic network will lead to longer-term collaboration, expanded to a wider network of academics and stakeholders.
Rural is often simply juxtaposed with urban, in a rural/ urban binary, generally unhelpful to nuanced social science research. We will examine the differentiated rural and consider emerging research questions and policies. For example, rural England is understood as idyllic, preserved, and unaffordable, yet this exists alongside left-behind rural places with low-priced housing and a stagnant economy. ROI is often understood as a landscape of small holders, but this varies between the East and West. Remoteness in Scotland is quite different to England. Welsh agriculture is different to the rest of Britain because of landscape and environmental constraints.
These differences result in diverse lived realities of rural within and between each nation. Yet, there is a dominant and politicized narrative in the UK and ROI engrained in research and policy practices. It is notable that in some cases the research focus has changed little in decades e.g. affordable rural housing in England, disadvantaged rural in Northern Ireland. Our comparative analysis will employ a state-of-the-art methodology that will nurture new thinking, creating an environment that forces participants out of established ways of thinking about the rural. It will allow us to understand the different priorities in each place, how they are determined and maintained, why polices have not always been effective. Recognising these processes will allow us to determine the dynamics of policy blockages and thus to identify future research needs.
The loss of EU networking structures presents an opportunity to think creatively. We do this in a novel way. While EU networks were siloed (practitioners with practitioners; policy/policy; academics/academics), this network will facilitate six four-day knowledge exchanges where individuals move between spheres (policy/practice/academia) and across territories (ROI, NI, Wales, England, Scotland). Knowledge exchange is the subject of the final workshop.
We focus on three distinct areas of the rural to collaboratively develop future research questions: the spatial, the sectoral, and the socio-political construction of rural. Each has a dedicated workshop. The named Co-Is, policy makers and practitioners will attend all workshops. The spatial focus will be on rural policies, what the loss of the EU Rural Development Programme means for different nations of the UK, how it functions in ROI, the impact of planning policies on rural housing, identifying future research needs post Covid-19 and Brexit. The sectoral focus will consider research questions about the future of agriculture, and the use of measures, both within and outside the CAP, to deliver public goods and maintain natural capital. The socio-political workshop focuses on how the rural both at a sectoral and spatial level is socially constructed, which actors hold power, in whose interests they act, who is marginalised, and what research is needed to enhance socially equal access to the rural. The knowledge-exchange workshop will bring fresh insights about different ways of knowing and acting, and help each jurisdiction ensure just transitions to a future rural.


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Description The Rural Futures Network brought together policy makers, researchers and practitioners from the four UK regions and the Republic of Ireland. There were four workshops on different aspects of rural society, and each region presented how that looked for them; agriculture, rural housing, socio-political context, rural communities. People from the regions learned from each other, and followed up between workshops about best practice they had learned about. There were also knowledge exchanges between partners; civil servants in Northern Ireland visited civil servants in the South of Ireland, academics did exchanges and so too did practitioners. There is now a well-established network of expertise amongst a group of diverse people working on, or informing rural policy in the British Isles.
Exploitation Route The Network is keen to continue and the devolved governments are considering how they might fund it. The Network met over two half days, with an overnight and dinner. Participants found this social time to be critical to developing the trust needed to share examples of good and bad rural policy from their regions. People were also very honest about the barriers that need to be addressed in academia, community and voluntary sector and policy making. The time to develop trust is critical for effective knowledge exchange.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description Our Network was premised on knowledge exchange. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Northern Ireland, did a knowledge exchange visit with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) in Dublin. CAFRE, the land based college in Northern Ireland and part of DAERA, did a further knowledge exchange visit with Teagasc, the southern training body. As a result of these exchanges, DAERA and CAFRE are now thinking about delivering their programmes online in the same way as Teagasc, who have a much higher attendance. A colleague from the National Innovation Centre from Newcastle University visited the business School in the South East Technology University, Ireland. They shared best practice on Living Labs which they are now adopting in research projects. The Rural Community Network Northern Ireland spent time with Rose Regeneration in England understanding the different nature of the community and voluntary sector in different places. A colleague from Aberystwyth University spent time in the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise in Newcastle University to help develop an innovation project in Wales. Four policy briefs are being prepared. It seems likely the devolved governments will fund the continuation of the Network because they found it so useful.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services