Farewell to LEADER after 20 years and £20 million invested in region

The Dumfries and Galloway LEADER project, which has supported hundreds of community, business and farming initiatives with investment totalling £20 million, has ended after more than 20 years.

It supported over 200 projects and worked with around 100 groups, organisations and businesses. Projects supported in recent years included:

• Day of the Region £198,000 invested in supporting community celebrations and capacity building in Newton Stewart, Annan, Kirkconnel & Kelloholm, Sanquhar, Locharbriggs, Dundrennan, Kelton, Lochside and Lincluden, Galloway Cricket Club and D&G LGBT+.

• Kirkcudbright Galleries £125,000 invested in the education programme to support the opening of the new galleries.

• D&G Sensory Project £57,000 invested in an outreach programme to support sensory impaired people across the region (delivered by Visibility).

Many different part of the region have also been supported over the past 20 years including:

• £160,000 of support for cultural projects in Wigtown.

• £260,000 for youth and environmental initiatives in Langholm.

• £500,000 for community assets and capacity building in Glenkens.

LEADER, which operated in several parts of the country, was largely funded by the European Union and has had to come to an end due to BREXIT.

Without a replacement scheme, an action group fears that the region’s efforts to regenerate and rebuild after the pandemic will suffer.

Cathy Agnew, member of the Local Action Group and founding chairman of Glenkens Community and Arts Trust and said: “Our rural communities are constantly being encouraged to do more for themselves but they face ever increasing challenges with ever decreasing resources.

“What LEADER proved time after time is that these communities are full of incredibly creative people with innovative ideas and lots of determination. But they need support, guidance and investment to get things going.

“That’s exactly what LEADER did and the investments it made were repaid many times over through the success of the projects they assisted, as was seen in the Glenkens. The loss of LEADER could have a really significant impact unless an alternative is put in place very soon – our communities need support and investment right away if they are going to rebuild and thrive.”

LEADER made grants on a match funding basis, so its offers were used to raise the same amount again from other sources. As a result its initial £20 million resulted in £40 million of additional investment in Dumfries and Galloway.

Adrian Turpin, artistic director of Wigtown Book Festival, said: “LEADER has had a tremendous impact on the region over the last 20 years.

“It has played a vital role in Wigtown and in the development of events like the book festival – which now generates millions of pounds a year that is ploughed back into the local economy. And this is a story that’s repeated all across Dumfries and Galloway.

“The absence of LEADER could leave a major hole in the local economy as we all struggle to find new ways to build for the future. There is an immediate and urgent need for a replacement to be created and for the level of investment to be maintained in the years and decades ahead.”

Judith Johnson, former Langholm Initiative Project Manager, said: “LEADER reached the parts of rural Dumfries and Galloway that other organisations did not always reach. The communities of Langholm and Eskdale have benefitted massively not only from the financial investment in a wide range of projects, but from the encouragement and support of a proactive and supportive LEADER team.

“From the early years of the ‘Moorland Education’ project, through ‘Making the Most of the Moorland’ to the recent community buyout of part of the Langholm Moor, LEADER has enabled a community to engage with its environmental resource over a sustained period, to build confidence and expertise, and create a host of environmental, economic and educational opportunities for the future.

“Communities across D&G have proved that with the right support, they can achieve amazing things. It is vital that this bottom-up way of working does not grind to a halt.”

Some of the groups that have benefited are included in a short video about the legacy of Dumfries & Galloway LEADER which can be seen at https://www.dgleader.co.uk/documents/leader-documents/

LEADER programmes ran for six years at a time. The most recent programme invested £5 million in Dumfries and Galloway since 2014 (match funding doubled the value to £10 million).

LEADER differed from many programmes because it gave hands-on practical support and advice. LEADER also encouraged new ideas and collaboration and co-operation between areas, communities, businesses, and organisations. Co-operation across national borders was also an important part of Dumfries & Galloway LEADER’s work.

And its bottom up approach was one that empowered communities to harness the drive and enthusiasm to deliver change for the south of Scotland.

Nicola Hill, Programme Manager for Dumfries & Galloway LEADER said: “It has been a pleasure working with our communities over the years to see their ideas come to fruition and our rural areas thrive.

“LEADER may no longer be around but the vision, the desire to collaborate and the drive for change will still be there in our communities and they will be well-placed to maximise the benefit of any future funds that replace it.”

LEADER has helped to build sustainable local economies across sectors including cultural heritage, tourism, food and drink and providing employment opportunities for young people.

Peter Ross, Chair of the Local Action Group, said: “The range, value and breadth of the activity would never have happened without the endeavour and commitment of many people giving of their time, knowledge and experience.

“I am extremely grateful to the LEADER Staff team, all 27 members of the Local Action Group and the many community members who initiated, implemented and oversaw all the successful projects. The LEADER approach, of community-led development, has shown how much can be achieved when local people take control of their own destiny.”

Picture: The LEADER group picture shows (l-r): Tony Fitzpatrick (Local Action Group member), Teresa Dougall (LAG Member), Cathy Agnew (LAG Member), Harry Harbottle (LAG Member), Sharon Glendinning (LAG Member), Clair McFarlan (LAG Member), Annan Johnson (LAG Member), Nicola Hill (Programme Manager) and Peter Ross (LAG Chair). Picture: Mike Bolam.