On Monday 6 March 2017 Action with Communities in Rural England hosted a delegation of 3 academics from Japan – Dr Shogo Kudo, Dr Yoshitaka Kumagai and Yoshitaka Ohara – whose combined expertise run the ‘Akita Age Lab’ project in Japan. The visit focused on the sharing of ideas and best practice, when it comes to supporting the independent living of those living in rural areas.
"The visit was a fantastic start to a relationship which we hope will lead to the continued sharing of case studies and learning from action in rural communities in our respective countries"
From the offset the similarities were apparent in terms of the challenges our two countries face. It was interesting to learn for example, that in Japan (like in England) they are also faced with the ever developing challenge of an ageing and diminishing population in rural areas. Without supported action to sustain these communities, this population trend could lead to the loss of services, local traditions and ultimately rural areas being unsustainable. As in England, local shops are decreasing in number, but the ‘community-owned and run’ approach which is used here (supported by organisations such as the Plunkett Foundation – who Akita Age Lab have visited previously) are only just beginning to gain traction in Japan. The need to consider wider usage of religious buildings, such as Buddhist Temples as community meeting spaces is also something our delegates are very keen to explore – so it was really fantastic to share with them the expertise of the ACRE Network and the work of our Village Hall advisers.
The day took on the form of visiting ACRE Network member, Gloucestershire Rural Community Council to hear about the Village and Community Agents and In Touch projects – both of which gave Akita Age lab a good understanding of how low level investment could deliver such huge benefit to the most vulnerable and excluded in our communities. From here we visited the beautiful Chalford Village Shop, with the chance to speak with volunteers involved with a project which has safeguarded a service which would have otherwise have been lost without community intervention. And finally, we spent an hour or so back at the ACRE offices talking about how the 38 ACRE Network members support rural action across England – they were particularly interested in how the network use evidence gathered from local communities to influence local and national politics and policy.
In summary, the visit was a fantastic start to a relationship which we hope will lead to the continued sharing of case studies and learning from action in rural communities in our respective countries. In Japan, the infrastructure support linking Government aspiration with developing community-led initiatives doesn’t exist to the extent that it does in England and yesterday was an opportunity to reaffirm that what the ACRE Network are doing is so valuable and has such great impact for rural communities. Going forward, the collective experience of our membership is likely to be something that our colleagues from Japan may wish to tap in to once more, as they look to replicate successful action and activity back home. At the same time, learning the lessons of how another country works to sustain and retain the identity of their rural areas will only serve to enrich our approach to enabling rural action here, in England.
Visiting GRCC and meeting Jim (Community Agent for Cheltenham), Kevin (In Touch project co-ordinator) and Kate (GRCC Executive Director)
At Chalford Village Shop
Meeting with ACRE colleagues at our offices in Cirencester