Smart Village a Strategy for Rural Scotland

Smart Villages of Strathyre, Cairndow and Banff & McDuff are up and running. Web and Tourism Portals for Biggar and Lanark are also live. Kenny Higgins & Neil McEvoy have been busy on the final preparations for the development of a string of new Smart Villages in Perthshire, Highland Perthshire Fife, North Aberdeenshire, Stirlingshire, Argyll & Bute and with enquiries from other parts of Scotland building

As members of the European Network for Rural Development and as members and Scottish representatives of Smart Village EU, we have daily requests from European communities, keen to learn more about our bottom-up grassroots approach on Rural and tourism development and how we take this into digital connectivity as a seamless process. It’s not always a three element strategy that is required, some rural communities are already thriving and some already enjoy some tourism appeal. Such situations can take to the digital element sooner. For some, they actually need the digital platform to deliver the rural and tourism strategy. All approaches can work and gel together quite quickly.

The only barriers to success are apathy and a lack of aspiration or ambition or a reluctance to accept change. Once the digital portal is delivered things can soon change as communities quickly or sometimes slowly, see the potential the Smart Village initiative offers their community.

One of the key benefits of the Smart Village process is that it offers the opportunity to bring communities together, to make the “Village” a safer, better informed, better-connected place, opens the community up to tourists or even local visitors and all of this can have a positive impact on the local economy.

Sometimes it is necessary to take a few steps back, to look at what the community has to offer, what are the natural attractions? is there history and heritage to boast of? and is the kerb appeal of the village attractive enough to encourage people to stop a while? If they do, what can they see or do or where can they sit a while with a tea or coffee? This simple analysis is so important. If the answer is no, what can be done to address this through people power? addressing these simple steps can make such a difference.

Once a Smart Village is set up with volunteers to contribute to it, the natural progression is to take the build of one community on to its neighbouring villages with networking, where events and special occasions, attractions and services can be promoted to mutual advantage. By replication of this throughout Scotland, linking village to village, villages to towns and to smart cities, then we create a digital nation. Apart from the villagers themselves benefitting, there are wins for local businesses and big wins for Broadband providers who see people increasing the uptake of their networks. Another big winner is the Sottish Government who see a major increase in the rural, tourism, and digital economies.

The mindset of the future will see much greater use of fast Broadband to deliver smart processes such as digital voting, cashless activity, easy integration of Internet of things technology (IOT) and so much more that will become commonplace in the village of the future.

Coming back to the here and now. In Scotland we face many challenges in having 97% of our land mass as a rural designation. Some people are becoming new rural dwellers being driven from cities to more affordable and more relaxed lifestyles. Smart Villages with slowly improving broadband put a new slant on home working helping to reduce our carbon footprint in reduced commuting, especially in times of bad weather.

We do however need the services and resources to support this change. Many communities are moving to hub creation with a local IT person arranging support to communities – a Smart Village portal is an ideal tool to integrate into this process with only a few volunteers spending a few minutes each day or each week to keep it up to date.

Last century and even before that, Scotland suffered from Highland clearances with thousands of the population leaving the islands and remote glens to make a life elsewhere in Scotland or the world. This has and one might say, still does pose a major challenge. The very worrying situation of Brexit shows the impact of losing jobs in the health sector, catering at hotels, fish processing, fruit picking and factories with European workers employed here, leaving in large numbers.

With the indigenous population not able to fill all the vacancies, we face a challenge for the future.  A no deal Brexit compounds the problem in an even more extreme way. Smart Village does not resolve this problem but it helps communities cope as well as they can through improved connectivity and if developed with some inspiration, can create targeted employment opportunity to bridge the gaps. This can lead to career possibilities for school leavers offering local employment in meaningful industries rather than moving to unaffordable cities to seek employment.

Lessons are taken from distant Scandinavia and in one extreme, in Finnish Lapland where a drive to the main city of Helsinki can take up to 16 hours. This has forced many rural communities to make the most of Digital connectivity and services come to Communities and Communities set up their own Smart Village environments to cope, sometimes in far worse seasonal challenges than our worst fears can imagine. Scandinavia has provided some very good examples on rural self sufficiencies highlighted in the valuable Nordic Horizons project which hs for nine years opened eyes to new ways of thinking that Scotland can learn from.

As a result of the Smart Village Scotland initiative and its 5-6 year development phase, many lessons were catalogued to help deliver an eventual strategy and action plan. Blending this with Digital Scotland’s CEO-Neil McEvoy’s 20-years experience in Cloud Technology and as the founder of Cloud Best Practices, was the perfect combination to create a national integrated approach known as Smart Village Scotland.

Neil McEvoy and Kenny Higgins made a conscientious decision to ensure that for Rural Communities, the standard Smart Village platform would be a free to all approach to encourage the best possible uptake. This has meant Kenny and Neil self-funding the early stages of the application, development and hosting and extensive meeting attendance. Despite the lack of sponsorship and delay in securing funding, they have battled on to take the concept to working prototype and then onwards to roll out, in under a year. We have some positive interest in future funding to help us achieve our goals.

In our nation of great innovation, invention and a strong reputation as a global leader in green energy through wind and tidal sources and with our future engagement with rocket and satellite launching capability,  we admit to being excited at the possibilities for the future and making a positive contribution to a digitally connected Scotland.

We look forward to welcoming you to your own Smart Village soon.

Gur math a thèid leat air do thuras,

“Good luck on your journey”

Kenny Higgins Neil McEvoy

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