European delegates inspired by Norfolk Rural Community Council summit

Projects to kick-start community activity in Norfolk could be replicated in Europe after foreign conference visitors applauded the county's home-grown initiatives.

Norfolk Rural Community Council (NRCC) teamed up with its EU partners to explore localism, sustainability and community activism at yesterday's event at South Green Park Enterprise Centre in Mattishall, near Dereham.

Among the 60 delegates from community groups, councils and voluntary organisations were visitors from the Netherlands, Iceland and Portugal.

They were introduced to Transition Norwich, part of an international sustainability movement which has been involved in diverse schemes including 'farmshare' self-sufficiency drives and community street parties.

The conference also heard about Aylsham's role in the international Cittaslow project, which originated in Italy and aims to make quality of life central to town development. In Aylsham, the concept has underpinned arts and music festivals, specialist craft and farmers' markets, and pilot projects like a plastic bag-free campaign and a community car club.


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The foreign delegates said they were inspired by the socially-spirited projects on display.

Janneke Verdijk, who works with 21 small villages in the rural Dutch province of Drenthe, said: 'The positive way of looking at the future is exactly what we are looking for. It is all so negative in the media and people get fed up and want to do something about it.

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'The Transition model is really inspiring. I am bubbling up with all these ideas and I just want to go back and get started. It is about working together and finding that spark that moves people to make something happen.'

Jantsje van der Spoel, a regional government officer in the province of Frysl�n, said: 'There are a lot of similarities in my province. We have started a network of sustainable villages, who wanted to do something about sustainability but needed help to execute their plans. It is mainly about helping each other, and I feel that here as well. It is good to see people so enthusiastic. It shows a lot of energy and it gives energy.'

The conference also included workshops on localism, rural transport, online communications and getting people involved in the planning process.

Jon Clemo, NRCC's chief executive, said: 'Although there is a hugely different context in the way our governments work and the way our villages are set out, there are enormous similarities in the issues we face. We have got a lot to learn from each other, and we need to reflect on what works well and be open to new ideas.'

Earlier in the day, Chris Hull introduced Transition Norwich – part of a worldwide movement founded to tackle the threats of climate change and declining oil resources while creating a 'positive image of the future'.

The conference was shown a film featuring sustainability initiatives, 'farmshare' self-sufficiency projects, and community street parties.

Mr Hull said: 'It is not an ideology, it is about people using their creativity to build resilience.'

Aylsham town clerk Mo Anderson-Dungar explained the Cittaslow philosophy, which was founded in Italy in 1999 and translates as 'slow town or city'.

'Cittaslow fitted Aylsham like a glove,' she said. 'It is a philosophy, a hook to hang projects on, and an umbrella to bring projects together. It is about building a living, breathing community.

'Market towns like Aylsham need to grow to survive. It is lovely to have independent shops, but we have got to shout about it. We cannot just shut up shop and block development.'

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