Eight women with links to crofting started their journey of rural innovation at the first UK Living Lab of Grass Ceiling in Scotland.
Held in Ullapool on 29 June, the event brought together women from across the vast remote area of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
‘Crofting’ is a form of land tenure and small-scale food production unique to this area of Scotland.
The women have a mix of backgrounds and experience – some rear livestock, keep poultry and grow produce on their crofts, while others have diversified by opening businesses in water sports and wildflowers seeds.
Every one of them, however, is bursting with ideas and enthusiasm to innovate and grow their business.
The day began with everyone sharing a ‘sparkling moment’ in pairs to enable their partners to tell the group two strengths or qualities they saw in them.
Melanie Thompson-Glen, of the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) which is leading the Living Lab with the Centre for Rural Economy at Newcastle University, said: “The ‘sparkling moment’ was the perfect ice-breaker for the day.
“This was before formal introductions were made and it was an excellent way of getting to know each other. There was so much positivity in the room, and it was also very emotional as the women learnt they have more confidence and contribution to make than they realised.”
After formal introductions, the participants then used Lego to build a model of a ‘rural innovator’ before explaining their thinking to the group.
The morning session concluded with roundtable discussions on the types of innovation women are undertaking on crofts and in rural businesses and how business support/initiatives can be better shaped to support rural women innovators.
Many stakeholders involved in this project gave presentations to the group in the afternoon, namely: Scottish Government, Soil Association, SAC Consulting, Wester-Ross Biosphere, NatureScot, Crofting Commission, Impact Hub, Northern Innovation Hub and Scottish Crofting Federation.
Melanie added: “It was great to meet the women, and the organisations involved, and get the project underway. We look forward to very exciting times ahead.”