Thursday, 7 July 2011

Café Connect 3 – Tuesday 5th July, Isle of Lewis

Tuesday kicked off with an early-morning drive from Bonar Bridge to Ullapool in time for the ferry to Stornoway and to meet up with tonight’s speaker, Dr David Corsar (dot.rural Computing Science Research Fellow).



Once in the Outer Hebrides (for the first time!) we popped in to the famous Charles MacLeod butchers for a Stornoway black pudding (or 3!)…





…ticked off another stone circle at Callanish and went into the blackhouse at Arnol… and came out smelling like a kipper!





Thought for the day: Forget me, more importantly, how long can a black pudding survive on the road?!

The Ravenspoint Café Connect community champion – John Randall (Chairman, Co-Chomunn na Pairc, the Pairc Community Co-operative) – cleverly tied in our talk date with the launch of the brand-new extension to the Ravenspoint Community Café.



The café, funded by Big Lottery Fund, HIE and CnES, is the latest addition to the Co-Chomunn na Pairc community enterprise. Locals and tourists can also find the Ravenspoint community shop, museum, archive and hostel on site.



The community turned out in full force, supporting John, the new café extension and the Café Connect pilot. During the speeches and obligatory ceremonial ribbon-cutting…



…the supporters were literally queuing out of every doorway.



David delivered his talk on ‘Driving Rural Transport: Mainland technologies for a small island?’ to a 24-strong audience!

David introduced the two dot.rural Accessibility & Mobilities projects, FITS and IRP, proposing that the Q&A session that followed be used to discuss the demand for, and applicability of, such initiatives within the context of island communities.



Tonight’s Café Connect turned out to be our most successful one yet. The audience was sizable – given these are all taking place in remote and/or rural communities – and demographically varied. Attendees included Donnie Morrison (Director of Co-Chomunn na Pairc, the Pairc Community Co-operative and HIE employee), Helen (Community Development Officer) and Malcolm Burr (Chief Executive of the Western Isles Council).

The Q&A session prompted lively discussion and lots of comments for me to feedback to the dot.rural researchers, potentially shaping the research. The venue (and the views!) was superb and there was a real sense of occasion.

A summary of the discussions…
- Reassessing the community bus use (expertly spotted beforehand by David, parked outside) which is currently estimated to be in use ~<5% of the time!
- Utilising the current hospital transport provision to maximum effect
- Concerns over the cost of fuel and the socio-economic impact on rural transport services
- The idea of having one ‘shared’ car per village, or even investigating what the optimal number of shared cars per village would be.
- The tensions of cheapened transport provision vs rural development and the potential (negative) socio-economic impact, e.g. free/subsidised transport to supermarkets in larger villages and towns reducing spend in community shops
- Looking into the introduction of ‘driver incentives’ (“driver is key”) when relying on goodwill is not sustainable.
- An idea of the timescales involved when tailoring such systems to each individual community.
- Issues over the legalities and ethics associated with FITS-type schemes and wider concerns for the ‘disengaged’, those who are not computer literate or who chose not to be digitally involved.

One member of the audience, who may turn up at Lizzy Tait’s ‘Power of Social Media’ Café Connect in Drumnadrochit on Monday 11th July, recorded the audio of David’s talk…

I managed to get online briefly (if I lived in the Outer Hebrides I don’t think I could ‘live’ without an iPhone) and finally tweet.

Unwinding over a couple of bottles of Celtic Black Ale back at the spotless Loch Erisort Inn, I knew that, if nothing else, the Café Connect principle has been proven tonight through this success at Ravenspoint.

Over the Café Connect series, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the success of such a pilot, and any follow-on initiatives, hinges on the champion; their place within the local community, the connections they have and their efforts invested in promoting the event locally beforehand. John has been an absolute star.

I’ll definitely be back. If not to stay in the Ravenspoint Hostel and (re!)sample the fantastic cupcakes, then to catch-up with John.

What’s the most impressive part of the evening? Being privileged enough to see such a focused and community-spirited group of people working together towards common goals.

Sadly there’s no time to see the looms weaving Harris Tweed with this gruelling schedule. Tomorrow, three ferries, a Café Connect in Castlebay and a 5.30 am start to check out the Harris beaches all lie in store. Yawn.

Claire

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