Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Café Connect 5 – Thursday 7th July, Knoydart

We made our way from Oban to Mallaig en-route to the next stop, Knoydart. Meanwhile, the Stornoway black pudding safely on its way back to Aberdeen, accompanied by Ruth, to be refrigerated.

The Lonely Planet describes Knoydart as “the only sizable area in Britain that remains inaccessible to the motor car… No road penetrates this wilderness of rugged hills – Inverie, its sole village can only be reached by [Bruce’s!] ferry from Mallaig, or on foot (a tough 16-mile hike)” so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

There’s no denying it; Inverie, Knoydart is a fantastic place. I almost don’t want to tell you about it because I’m definitely coming back. Its the remoteness and the friendly locals that make it so special.

To top it off, we stayed at the Gathering, a superb B&B ‘with a difference’… and with Internet connection to rival Aberdeen City, despite the (almost) non-existent mobile phone coverage.

The Knoydart Café Connect champion, Davie Newton (Local Development Officer, Knoydart Foundation) had done a superb job beforehand spreading the word across the peninsula, and beyond with attendees making a dedicated overnight trip from across the water on the Isle of Eigg!

Prof Claire Wallace (dot.rural Enterprise & Culture theme Lead and newly appointed Co-Vice Principal of Research and Knowledge Exchange, University of Aberdeen) was there to deliver her talk, entitled ‘Rural Futures: people + business + technology = sustainability’, to a strong turnout of 13 (population just 120 people). This meant the wonderful Knoydart Tearoom and Pottery was almost at full capacity!

Claire set the scene with an overview of our Enterprise & Culture projects: SIRA, CURIOS and ASSURE. CURIOS, and a possible extension to it – a whole new dot.rural project! – became the main focus of the 90-minute discussion that followed.

A sample of some of the discussions…
- Economic and copyright queries over ‘ownership’ of people’s memories.
- Demand to extend projects like CURIOS, beyond a family history recording tool of ‘who married who’, linking into a bigger historical (and possibly an agricultural and land use) context… “Not just for community history, but for community futures”.
- Questions over the quality of information, and the filtering of what’s input into such databases, drawing parallels with the unmoderated world of Wikipedia.
- How does the technology behind such databases distinguish between, say, 100 people of the same name?
- The real need to search within, and also between, community databases and records, with a possible temporal element incorporated into the interface.
- A need to map community initiatives and infrastructure schemes (sewerage, electricity, broadband etc) to facilitate full-scale knowledge sharing across the UK, and in Europe.

The ‘quote of the evening’ has to go to Alex Boden for “we want to turn our resources into cash”, demonstrating the need for a new, effective community business model, in a broader sense…
- There are only 3 indigenous people currently left on Eigg.
- The period of 1900-1970 local history is rapidly disappearing. There’s a desperate need to "capture this before it disappears".
- How can technology deliver new ways of creating a sustainable economy, particularly outside of the (limited) tourist season?
- Similarities with technologies being developed for walking tours on Eigg, with those presented at the Digital Futures 2011 conference and off-the-shelf applications.
- Concerns over tech-supported walking guides reducing the social contact between locals and tourists, with a potentially negative impact.
- The Hebrides.net project delivering ~6 MB broadband to 40 subscribers on Eigg for ~£15 per month (with a BT backhaul). This will be delivering connectivity to the Isle of Muck next week (July 2011). How does this compare to the current provision in Knoydart? £43 per month for 1 MB.
- Practical issues experienced with LEADER project and funding applications.

Afterwards, it was great to chat with Isla and Rhona (Knoydart Tearoom and Pottery) about life in Knoydart, the role of Facebook in the community and its impact on their business… and the infamous New Year democratic discos!

Thanks to Isla and Rhona for opening up late, experimenting with this new format and for putting on a special ‘Café Connect menu’, and big thanks to Davie.

With the obvious successes of Ravenspoint and Knoydart under our belt, we’re now at the halfway point: 5 down, 5 to go.


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