RURITAGE is a 4-year-long project funded within the H2020 programme (GA No 776465); it started in June 2018 and includes 38 partners coming from 19 countries. The project aims at turning rural areas into sustainable development laboratories in order to demonstrate Cultural and Natural Heritage as an engine of local regeneration and community empowerment.
This project year has in many aspects been coloured by the COVID-19 pandemic: the crisis has not only halted a critical development phase for the RURITAGE rural communities but generated a real-life test for human resilience. All RURITAGE Replicators and Role Models have worked hard to support their local communities and stakeholders through the ongoing crisis. The Replicators finalized their Heritage-led Regeneration plans at the beginning of the year. Although some of their actions were partly postponed, they rapidly managed to rethink and adapt to the new conditions. A few of their actions were moved online, however, they were all carefully planned to ensure that no members of the community were left behind. At the same time, the Role Model communities are currently working together with their local stakeholders to develop their own Enhancement strategies, where they will demonstrate the role of Cultural and Natural Heritage to further boost economic competitiveness and inclusive growth of their territory. The Additional Replicators, that joined the project through an open call in 2019, are now successfully beginning to establish their local Rural Heritage Hubs and building their network of stakeholders.
Social distancing and isolation have highlighted the crucial role of Cultural and Natural Heritage for social cohesion, local development and mental wellbeing. With this in mind, RURITAGE initiated activities to increase collaborative learning within the project and beyond. The idea was not only to examine the threats of the current crisis for rural areas, but to understand how these challenges can be turned into opportunities for development beyond the crisis. RURITAGE carried out three activities: I) An open call for actions launched in April 2020 to collect practices to increase and strengthen resilience in rural communities; II) A participatory workshop that took place during the RURITAGE General Assembly in May 2020, where all project partners discussed the challenges and opportunities for rural areas; III) A public webinar on the 8th of July 2020 where the preliminary results of the initiatives were presented. These were discussed with EU institutions and relevant actors in rural development (EC, CoE, and ENRD). The main conclusions of this work are summarised in the RURITAGE Vision paper, providing recommendations at European, national and local policy level. With confidence, this paper aims to stimulate the debate on the future of rural areas and how to continue to aid the sustainable development of rural communities in Europe and beyond.
For now, RURITAGE partners will continuing to support their rural communities through their persistent work on their plans, help re-adapting to local COVID-related challenges and reassure the support from their stakeholders. With this said, RURITAGEs’ rural communities have showed and are continuously showing a remarkable resilience and solidarity, continuing to feed collaborative learning across the RURITAGE network – through the crisis and surely beyond it.
Communication Officer for RURITAGE