Future of communities and family farms at heart of rural summit

HRH The Prince of Wales joined industry leaders at a rural summit on Tuesday in central London to hear how funding of over £7 million from The Prince’s Countryside Fund has helped to improve the long-term viability of family farms and rural communities.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund, which aims to improve the prospects of family farm businesses and the quality of rural life, convened the special Forum event in Westminster, bringing together rural campaigners, community groups, not for profit organisations and education providers to understand some of the future opportunities to tackle the issues in the sector.

An expert industry panel chaired by journalist, Charlotte Smith opened the day with a debate involving rural stakeholders; Lord Curry of Kirkharle (Chairman, The Prince’s Countryside Fund), Steve McLean (Head of Agriculture & Fisheries Sourcing, Marks and Spencer Plc and Trustee of the Fund), Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE (Director, Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and Trustee of Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE)) and Leigh Morris (CEO, National Land Based College UK).

Key issues discussed during the debate included the importance of providing training and opportunities for young people to get into agricultural careers, as well as creating stronger partnerships for social innovation to help strengthen rural communities and farming.

To mark the occasion, His Royal Highness was presented with a special book called ‘Our Stories So Far’ featuring messages from grant beneficiaries about how the funding has helped to create legacies for their own communities. Artist Debbie Roberts from Engage Visually also crafted a unique canvas to capture the day’s discussions.

Lord Curry, chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “The next five years are critical for our rural communities. Against a background of growing uncertainty, today showed what passion and commitment people have in wanting to secure a better future for the British countryside. It’s easy to forget just how much we depend on our rural businesses and family farms in our everyday lives. It’s therefore vital that we continue to support grassroots initiatives to ensure we maintain a thriving and sustainable future for our rural communities."

As part of the special event which was sponsored by M&S, guests joined creative workshops and heard presentations from rural leaders and organisations who have received grants from The Prince’s Countryside Fund including the Plunkett Foundation, Pub is the Hub, Farmer Network, Dartmoor Hill Farming Network, Duchy College, Cosmic and the Good Things Foundation about how they are responding to current pressures and trying to secure a sustainable future for the countryside.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund was established in 2010 by HRH The Prince of Wales in response to his long-held concerns for the future of Britain’s rural areas. The Fund provides more than £1.3m in grants each year to rural enterprise projects across the UK, ranging from enhancing community services, provide training opportunities for young and unemployed people and projects that focus on developing stronger, more sustainable farm businesses.

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