'Hacking' ideas with rural youth

Monika Reichelt

In a determined quest to reverse the loss of young people from rural areas and Scotland’s islands, the Rural Youth Project ran two Ideas Hacks over weekends in March and April on Hoy, Orkney and in Huntly, Aberdeenshire.  

Funded by Scottish Rural Network (SRN) and the Scottish Government, the aim of the pilot has been to explore the challenges and opportunities that island and rural communities face, and ideas to make communities stronger by asking young people for their ideas for change and improvement.   

You can watch highlights from both Hacks below:

In a report submitted to the Scottish Government and SRN following the Hacks, directors of the Rural Youth Project, Jane Craigie, and Rebecca Dawes, recommended that Scotland needs to invest more in community-owned social housing – including some specifically for young people, community-owned energy cooperatives and community growing spaces, linked to community ownership. The Hacks also highlighted youth representation as an important next step for community groups and local councils and that there would be a lot of energy and drive injected into rural and island communities by directing community funds into the “hands” of our 18–30-year-olds.  

“We picked Hoy and Huntly because they are very different in terms of their connectivity – it takes two ferries to get to Hoy and Huntly is easily reached by road or rail, both communities have strong Development Trusts and also have diverse opportunities linked to community ownership of land, property and energy generation,” they said.  

“The young people who came to hack over a weekend came from diverse backgrounds and places, including wider Scotland, and young people studying in Scotland from Australia, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria,” they add. “Our aim was to have half the young people from the community and half from elsewhere to ensure that there was both a deep understanding about the barriers and potential of the place, and a healthy input of objectivity and fresh thinking from the outsiders.” 

They explain that the pilot has given insight into how other communities across Scotland can run their own Hacks to improve youth engagement and migration back to, rather than away from the Scottish countryside. “We have produced a toolkit which we want other communities and development trusts to use for themselves.” 

Phil Gaitor, Rector of the Gordon Schools in Huntly said: “The Hack’s been a fantastic addition to Huntly. I think it’s great that young people from Huntly and outside Huntly have come together with such energy, dynamism and creativity, and they’ve been building on the foundations of some of the young people that have been at our school. The Hack’s been a fantastic success and I’d like to thank the Rural Youth Project for the support that you are giving our community. I’ve been very inspired. I think the themes suggested - art, events, mental health and wellbeing, attracting families to the area, are fabulous opportunities made possible by the landscape here. Young people need to be front and centre of stage of this empowerment and they have to be the ones driving the creativity and moving it forward, and then, hopefully, as they get older, they can inspire the younger people, in turn, to come back here and stay.” 

James Stockan, Leader of Orkney Council attended much of the weekend’s Hoy Hack, he said: “Hoy’s got so much potential. It is a place of abundant opportunity. I think that from the beauty of some of island and the places that have got an ex-industrial, ex-military past, to some of the traditional farmlands, I think that there’s scope for so much to happen. Sometimes people, they forget what a place can be. From what I saw and heard you can certainly be very proud of all you achieved over the weekend. I felt very privileged to have had a chance to be there. Well done! I’ve found this engagement really beneficial. It’s good to get fresh young voices who are really thinking about how to plan a way forward, how to really engage with what the place really needs and what the potentials are and I’m hoping to put some of these things into action.” 

Christine Bolton, Chair of YM Empower and a local food entrepreneur on Hoy, said: “The Island of Hoy was privileged to have such a group of young people who came and saw the potential and benefits of living on a small island. They were a breath of fresh air, and their enthusiasm and positive thinking is just what this island needs! Haste ye back.” 

Natalie Palombo, Director of Deveron Projects in Huntly added: “My impression of the Huntly Hack has been really encouraging, it’s a great opportunity to have lots of young people together in the town and to think in really dynamic, and also pretty complex, ways about what the town needs and what if can do better. It’s been fantastic for my whole team to listen to what those gaps might be and how we could, potentially, develop our programme to meet them. The ideas were really energetic, they were fun ideas, but also very tangible and I think that’s what’s encouraging to us. “ 

Commenting on the Ideas Hack approach, Mags Currie from the James Hutton Institute added: “I joined the Huntly Ideas Hack because I’m an academic interested in rural communities and thinking about what the future looks like for them and, obviously, an important part of that is rural youth. It’s been really interesting to be a bystander and just seeing what ideas young people have for their communities. I’ve not been to many workshops focused specifically on young people, and it’s been really refreshing to hear the perspectives of young people. There are a lot of voices that aren’t heard by Scottish Government, but they want to hear from diverse groups; I think there are ways, like this, that voices can be fed back.” 

See below videos produced as part of both Hacks:

Huntly Hack - Full Huntly Playlist

Hoy Hack - Full Hoy playlist