Hey Sverige! Northumberland Uplands group visits rural projects in Småland
The Revd Canon Dr Dagmar Winter, Rural Officer for the Newcastle Diocese, writes:
Two full and richly varied Indian summer days greeted the Northumberland Uplands LEADER* Local Action Group (NULAG) on their visit to their partner organisation LEADER Linné in southern Sweden. Staying in a youth hostel on the shores of a lake in Växjö, the aim of the trip was to learn and share experiences from projects supported by the Swedish LEADER group and to extend further some transnational joint projects.
On Day One I joined the subgroup that looked at Linné's social and village development programme. We visited "Integration Rydaholm", a state funded adult school in Värnaholm and met Salaam from Iraq, Jennifer from Ghana, Mohammed from Somalia and Nick from the Netherlands who were all immigrants to Sweden and on language courses. In addition, Linné had funded an integration programme which brought various partner organisations together, including the Lutheran Church of Sweden, in order to bring immigrants and Swedish families together for activities and growing friendships. It is a very important initiative in this particular part of Sweden where 20% of the population are immigrants due to the high number of jobs in the area and very little unemployment – maybe limited similarities with the North East then, but very encouraging to see the successful efforts of welcome and integration.
In Lagan there was a project which immediately reminded of Core Furniture Recycling in Hexham: selling second hand furniture and staffing the shop with people who are often marginalised in the labour market. "Slussen i Lagan" (pictured right), run by a free church, is about bridging the gap and helping long-term unemployed people and those with mental health problems. They volunteer in a very large second-hand shop and raise their sights to what they can do rather than what they can't. Half of the profits are re-invested locally and half supports the church's charitable projects in Eastern Europe (Moldovia, Rumania, Ukraine etc). As a result, as the project manager explained, the volunteers find themselves transformed from depressed little elephants to large trunk-up elephants (see picture) and find their way back into the regular labour market.
In the afternoon, we drove to Agunnaryd, the birthplace of IKEA's founder Ingvar Kamprad (fondly referred to as "IK"). In the late 1980s, the village in the middle of a forest was facing the all too well-known rural problems of decline and when the village shop was about to die, the villagers took action. With IK's help who offered half the funding if they found the other half, they have since then built a new shop with a petrol station, started glass recycling (back when everyone else thought that was a cazy idea!), bought canoes which are rented out to tourists, developed a tourist package for canoeists, created a fishing association, added a café to the shop to reinvigorate community life, made a charcoal kiln centre and festival, built affordable homes, organised a cooperative nursery, produced a local free magazine etc etc. Some parallels to LEADER-aided Humshaugh Community Shop are obvious and we plan to get the two to talk to each other and share ideas.
Day Two saw a visit to Nydala Abbey (pictured top), a Cistercian foundation with ruins on the grounds of a now Lutheran church. A group of volunteers are recreating the monastery kitchen garden and a school improvement officer from the council is organising children's heritage days, using latest digital technology in conjunction with Jönköping University (3D printing and interactive apps). From my point of view it was disappointing to hear from the school improvement officer that the church was not interested to be involved.
The last part of the visit included a visit to Caroline Johansson's studio in Tuddabo who has cooperated extensively with the Northumbrian basketry group.
To round off, the Swedish and Northumberland LEADER group then had a good discussion on our current and future joint work. We are running a youth exchange programme, "giving young people in the Northumberland Uplands exciting opportunities to develop their skills and encourage their aspirations", as youth engagement officer Jen Hewitson says. For a fortnight, Swedish and Northumbrian young people will be in host families and on work placements in the other country over the next 12 months. We are also exploring joint learning on promoting fishing in our respective areas. There are differences in the ways the markets are developed and Northumberland can learn from some of the networks of accommodation created in Småland.
It was a packed and inspiring visit. And the hospitality was fabulous, from elk stew in a wonderful old Swedish country house to crayfish and Småland cheese cake (recommended!) in a fantastic village hall on an island. The thought crossed our minds that we have something to live up to when the Swedish group visits here!
* LEADER is an acronym for a European rural development programme that works bottom up with local people.
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