The Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland’s digital future is being realised through a local initiative designed to help rural communities reach their potential online.
Business network Digital Scotland has launched the first Smart Village, designed to help equip Scotland’s rural communities with the same technologies enjoyed by large cities. Smart Village Scotland aims to provide small towns and rural villages with their own websites and digital tourism portals as well as integrating active feeds like weather and flooding alerts.
Trialled in Strathyre, Stirlingshire, as well as in Lanark, the hyper-local project involves the local community who help to build an online portal for their town or village. In Strathyre, the platform provides essential standard information such as weather, storm and flood alerts, road traffic conditions, links to Stirling Council services, National Park planning and advice on managing flood risk from Scottish Flood Forum.
The Smart Village digital platform will eventually be maintained by local champions with training provided to allow further enhancement. This can include local business listings, history, heritage and tourism links such as places to visit, accommodation, food and drink locations, village events, community news and any other information of value to the community or future visitors helping to boost the local economy.
The concept was designed by senior consultant Kenny Higgins, who lives in Strathyre and was previously a senior manager with BT and led on the nationwide adoption of wireless data services. “Strathyre offers a good example of the positive impact that simple measures can have in providing the aspiration and ambition to create a thriving community,” he said. “With Scotland facing uncertain times ahead through Brexit, there has never been a more important time to introduce a fresh, unique strategy to help safeguard the future of Scotland’s 2112 rural villages and 273 towns.”
The project has found praise in Parliament, with Stuart McMillan MSP leading the voices of support. “As Convener of the Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Tourism (CPG Tourism), I am always pleased to hear of the outstanding progress being made to improve Scotland’s tourism offer. Digital Scotland are active members of the CPG Tourism and I am delighted they are delivering a product to help Scotland’s rural communities. I wish Digital Scotland every success,” he said.
Inspired by National Columnist Lesley Riddoch’s series of short films based on the connected rural communities of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, Higgins saw an opportunity to use the Scottish Government’s digital ambitions as a platform. “Lesley’s findings helped show what can be achieved with the right positive mindset.
We are very much focused on the needs of a nation at a rural level, which is just as important as the need to maintain the well-funded global attractions of our cities – important as they undoubtedly are,” he said. The project, which will rely on grants and crowdfunding, aims to raise £55,000. Higgins has been invited to present the Smart Village Scotland strategy at the European Congress of Local Government in Krakow, Poland in April.
SNP MSP for Stirling, Bruce Crawford said that the local spirit of Strathyre made it an ideal example of the positive impacts of the initiative. “It is a real accolade for Strathyre to be recognised as one of the first Smart Villages. Strathyre is an outstanding village in my constituency where local people have a track record of getting things done and I wish them every success with this new venture,” he said.
Cllr Evelyn Tweed, SNP councillor for Trossachs and Teith, was also supportive. “This is a fantastic initiative for Strathyre that will open up a whole new digital arena run by the community for the benefit of the community and local businesses to aid business and tourism and other services,” she said.