Reflections from our visit to Ayrshire

Dr Therese Conway and Eamon McMullan

In this guest blog Dr Therese Conway from the National Rural Network in Ireland and Eamon McMullan from the Northern Irish Rural Network reflect on the recent LEADER cooperation visit to Ayrshire.

A busy 24 hours . . .

Setting off early (although not too early!) an intrepid bunch from all parts crossed the seas to Scotland. Our destination: Ayrshire and the warm welcome of Ayrshire LEADER.

A total of ten representatives of Northern Irish Local Action Groups (LAGs), accompanied by two colleagues from Donegal travelled to join Scottish colleagues for the two day ‘LEADER Cooperation Exchange’, hosted by Ayrshire LEADER and the Scottish Rural Network team.

The event was a vital opportunity to develop ideas for cooperation projects, hear about other project ideas and meet potential project partners. The event was especially beneficial for LAGs interested in cooperation around cultural heritage, tourism and coastal communities.

Making it to Woodland Bay Farm in Girvan just in time for a quick spot of lunch it was straight to work with each LAG contributing to the discussions in a way that clearly demonstrated their motivation and commitment to the principles of LEADER and to improving their local area. It also showed the similarities and common interests that were shared by all of the participating LEADER areas.  The conference room was the old lambing shed of the farm – which in itself highlighted the value of LEADER funding for aspects such as farm diversification.   

The central tone of the event become apparent very quickly, not only through the very warm welcome from Elinor Mitchell, Director for Agriculture and Rural Economy in the Scottish Government, but also through how she highlighted the importance of “learning across boundaries and the importance of innovation and ideas sharing”, all aspects which are central to the LEADER cooperation process. Elinor further imparted the significance of focusing on “what is important to you and what matters to you”, which was the cornerstone of some of the proposed projects on skiffys, industrial heritage, pilgrimage and tourism trails to name a few. This aspect was seconded through the welcome from Chris Savage, Chair of Ayrshire Local Action Group, who stated that cooperation and community is what LEADER is all about.

The ‘Cooperation Café’ networking dimension of the event was based on the successful Pro Action Café method

After a very successful start to the event, through LAG introductions and an initial round of the Cooperation Café, all attendees got the chance to kick back over dinner and switch off from work. However, such was the appetite for developing cooperation projects that discussions lasted well past 11pm!

Day two led us to a visit to the Maidens Boat House and project presentations in Maybole at the Carrick Centre where we witnessed first-hand, the wide range of innovation across the projects, and collaborative approaches in Ayrshire.

photo of people in a boatshed with boats


The event has clearly resulted in a strengthening of their commitment to both engaging in more networking and exchange activities and  in developing cooperation projects to take forward that explore and develop the potential that our coastal areas and communities have to offer.

The Cooperation Café workshop was an excellent success and a credit to the Scottish Rural Network for a number of reasons. Firstly due to the many viable and possible project ideas that were developed and discussed over the short 24 hour period. Secondly due to the networking capacity that the approach allowed for. Thirdly, LAG members cited that the size of the group along with the cooperation café approach led to a very positive, productive and enjoyable exchange of information. Informal networking over dinner also further cemented the cooperation process commenced on day one.

It is important to mention that the power and responsibility now lies with the LAG members who attended in order to develop ideas further, engage over skype or other means to conduct project meetings and further discussions to bring these excellent project ideas to full fruition.

Thank you to all our colleagues in Scotland for a very well organised and productive event. As we prepared to depart Ayrshire, the comment was made that we need more events like this so we look forward to seeing you all again soon. 

Find out more about the event in the report Cooperation Exchange: skiffs, trails and augmented reality.