“Thinking beyond the COVID-19 crisis: heritage-based opportunities for rural regeneration” – EU Vison Paper

At the end of October, we published the European Vision paper Thinking beyond the COVID-19 crisis: heritage-based opportunities for rural regeneration. In the meantime, you can read more about how to turn challenges into opportunities with lessons from the RURITAGE community in the article The COVID-19 pandemic effects in rural areas.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck Europe at the beginning 2020 it has, and still is, causing extensive challenges towards rural areas and their communities. Worsened by low available financial resources, inaccessible health services and greater isolation issues, rural inhabitants all over Europe are suffering great challenges. At the same time, rural areas have also been considered refuges for better living conditions during the pandemic as they often ease social distance and access to nature as well as to cultural and nature-based recreation activities. In this regard, the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the crucial role of natural and cultural heritage for social cohesion, local development and mental wellbeing. With this in mind, we aimed to understand the main threats the current crisis is posing to rural areas, but also how these challenges can be turned into opportunities for rural development and regeneration in the future. Insights and recommendations have been summarized in this European Vision paper.

The RURITAGE Vision paper is built upon the RURITAGE methodology, that uses cultural and natural heritage as a driver for rural regeneration by promoting a transversal and holistic approach through six identified Systemic Innovation Areas (Pilgrimage, Local Food Production, Art and festival, Landscape Management, Migration and Resilience). With the help of the RURITAGE SIAs, the paper summarizes how challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in rural areas can be turned into opportunities for sustainable growth in the future. The major conclusions of the Vision paper are recommendations focusing on six capitals (natural, cultural, social, human, built, and financial), where we identified three overarching areas of action that are applicable at EU, national/regional and local level:

•   Policy: a need of more effective and coherent implementation of existing EU policies, legislation and instruments. We do not propose new regulations, rather informal revisions of existing and suggestions to future EU regulation, to better reflect on rural needs, practices and responsibilities

•   Funding: a need to identify, support, integrate and improve traditional and innovative sources of funding for rural areas at the relevant institutional level, including European structural and investment funds (ESIF).

•   Knowledge: a need to boost evidence-based policy making and to work on capacity building at local level, introducing actions that aim at improving local knowledge or skills through dedicated education or training activities.

In sum, the RURITAGE vision paper aims to stimulate the discussion on rural futures, while aiming to contribute to an open-minded, and thoughtful discussion for the sustainable development of rural communities in Europe and beyond. The full vision paper is available among our publications.