SIR – While community groups, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout West Cork will no doubt welcome the news that a decision has finally been reached in the delivery of Leader in the region to 2020, concerns remain. Development projects and ideas in the pipeline that have been waiting to complete the funding application process will now be able to take the next step.
However, the appointment of ‘Leader West Cork,’ comprised the West Cork Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) of Cork County Council (as manager of this Leader funding) and the three implementing bodies all based outside of West Cork (assigned to deliver Leader within the region) means that this will be a new arrangement unlike any seen to date.
Unfortunately, the new arrangement signals the abandonment of the outstanding team at West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP), the Leader delivery body rooted within West Cork and established by its communities that has successfully, fairly and transparently delivered this vital rural development programme, and levered several other programmes into the region since the early 1990s. The projects and ideas now primed for funding from 2016 have been brought to this stage by WCDP through the implementation of a distinctive approach that is as much about the ‘process’ as it is about the ‘outcomes’.
The Leader approach has been so successful in Ireland because independent Local Development Companies such as WCDP are committed to its ethos of being led by communities and sustained through authentic partnerships. Anchored by these grassroots, a local development strategy should emerge from the bottom up (i.e. communities), not from the top down (eg consultants and statutory authorities).
The strategy should emerge from a participative process that genuinely engages with citizens and with multiple partners from the smallest voluntary and community groups through to the statutory sector at the national level, and is not simply cloaked in the language of community-led local development.
Based on the lack of public participation evidenced in the generation of its local development strategy for ‘Leader West Cork’, we urge Cork County Council to invest in the following as soon as possible. Upskill all council staff who now fill roles administering and inputting to the West Cork LCDC as well as members of the LCDC, in the theory and practice of community-led local development (CLLD); trainers can be drawn from the pool of experienced practitioners and community leaders already in West Cork. This will help to fill the CLLD knowledge gaps and give the new arrangement a sounder footing for the challenging work ahead.
As citizens across West Cork say a reluctant, and hopefully just a temporary, farewell to the WCDP team that served our region so well for 25 years, along with their knowledge and expertise, we recognise and pay tribute to their commitment to CLLD that nurtured relationships with project promoters around the region, as well as collaborators across Ireland and overseas, and breathed new life and colour into West Cork’s communities.
We ask the successful appointees to remember that they stand on the shoulders of the WCDP and that they have some very big shoes to fill.
Community groups, businesses and entrepreneurs seeking support through ‘Leader West Cork’ will be best placed to assess how well the new arrangement works.
First and foremost, the selected local development strategy is there to serve the needs of communities across West Cork and to invest in their futures.
The most important thing is that ‘Leader West Cork’ fully take on board the input, feedback and aspirations of their many and diverse community-based partners as these are the key stakeholders in the CLLD process.
Caroline Crowley, PhD
Rural Development and
Dr Brendan O’Keeffe
South Circular Road,