Rural Talks to Rural Conference hailed as a success - Oct. 6, 2016
BY DENNY SCOTT
Blyth’s population swelled Sept. 28-30 as delegates from around the world converged on the village to talk about what matters to rural communities.
The Rural Talks to Rural (R2R) Conference, held by the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity (CCRC), which is a part of Blyth Arts and Cultural Initiative 14/19 Inc., brought more than 103 delegates and 66 presenters to Blyth last week.
The event was held to bring innovators in rural communities and rural-focused enterprises from across the country together to share success stories and focus on the problems facing rural Canada. Five different groups of panels were held looking at everything from youth retention to rural stories to health care in rural communities and organizer and 14/19 Project Director Peter Smith said that the panels were well-received, but success of the conference would be determined by what comes out of it.
“As they say, the proof is in the taste of the pudding,” Smith said. “We have to see what we’re going to do with the ideas and the themes that were brought up and continue that energy and that problem-solving process through the next year.”
Smith, at the end of the conference, announced that it would be held again in 2018, and said that the CCRC will be looking at projects and events during the off-year to keep people’s mind focused on changes that need to happen for rural communities to be successful.
“We’re considering TED-like talks where people discuss things that interest them,” he said. “We want people to come back and talk about investment in rural communities, the growth of rural areas and what ideas were spawned from the conference.”
Karen Stewart, 14/19 administrator, also felt the event was successful, stating that participants were excited to be involved and that important conversations were held throughout the event.
“The challenge now is to keep it going,” she said. “We had people engaged and excited, and now we have to make sure we capture that energy.”
Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson also spoke at the end of the conference and, in later correspondence with The Citizen, explained that the conference was a real benefit to rural stakeholders.
“The commitment to rural communities as the common thread amongst participants was clearly evident,” she said. “I am pleased my team in Blyth attended the conference. As I said at the closing luncheon – it is my hope the dialogue ‘Rural2Rural’ continues so we can continue increasing awareness of rural opportunities, as well as issues that need addressing.”
Smith also felt the panels clearly displayed the passion for rural communities, saying he heard several people remark on the quality of the panels on youth attraction and immigration.
“They spoke during the youth attraction panel about the fact that the person that is coming back to their community is not the same person that left, but the reason they are coming back is because they want to return to what they left behind,” Smith explained. “We want to change things so that people are coming back to communities that they want to live in earlier in life and we have to focus on that.”
The panel on immigration, and whether rural areas were ready for immigrants, showed that rural communities need to do more to welcome migration Smith said, adding that the panel “really affected people”.
Similarly, the rural health and well-being panel focused on the question of rural health care and whether it was sustainable and its presenters, according to Smith, felt it wasn’t in its current form.
Smith said he had also heard that the Fashion Arts and Creative Textiles Fibreshed event hosted by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston was great and it showed off some incredible artists.
“There were so many of these panels I wanted to stay at and take in, but, between setting up chairs and spaces and being part of my own panels, it was difficult,” he said. “What I heard from people, however, was that things went very well.”
The conference also featured a special dinner and an investment-opportunity event in Belgrave called The Pitch, The Catch where local investors had the opportunity to invest in or partner with local companies.
Stewart said approximately 200 people attended the event and dinner, which featured keynote speaker Amy Cronin, a pork farmer from Huron County with numerous provincial and national accolades.
As for how the 2018 conference might be different, Smith said feedback is still coming in and will shape those decisions. He did say, however, that the inclusion of new infrastructure in the community will change how the event is run.
“We will be using different assets,” he said. “This year we used a tent, the arena, a church and the Legion branch to house the events, however next time we will have the recently-renovated Memorial Hall to use, so that will definitely make it look different.”
Smith also said the focus of the conference might switch and it could be Rural Talks to Urban, or Rural Talks to Innovation or Rural Talks to Government.
“We need to be able to act and react to the changes that communities are facing,” he said. “We also hope that, with a larger committee, we can have the event happen a little smoother. We were still running around just before the conference trying to get things together.”
The conference itself is the creation of many people including The Citizen Publisher Keith Roulston who has had the idea of a rural-focused conference for several years.
“Seeing that original vision realized had me on a high all weekend,” he said. “We set out to bring these people together and it was fabulous.”
Roulston said he would have loved to have other speakers there to add to the already impressive diversity, energy and excitement.
“There were additional things we could have accomplished but, with anything like this, there is the realization of what you hope to do versus what is allotted,” he said. “People were incredibly excited and impressed with Huron County and it was great to see the creative energy of the people gathered, speaking off each other and being inspired.”
Roulston was part of two panels, one on rural stories and one on creative farmers. He said that, in talking to people afterwards, what they were learning and taking away was obvious.