In January 2017 we held a seminal conference called Rethinking Diversity in Rural Regions. This was the first culmination of our work to understand the diversity of our communities in our rural perspective. Cornwall has a highly distributed population of nearly 540,000 people. Although the Government defines Cornwall as ‘mainly rural’ we have a large number small urban centres around which our population clusters. The additional dimension of our coastal aspect – we have the one of longest coastlines of any region in Europe – Cornwall’s land and seascapes are as diverse as our people. To top this, we have a transient population of 4-5 million holidaymakers between March and October, but increasingly year-round. What of the diversity of our visitors?
The categories of exclusion and diversity don’t always work well for us, and indeed for other rural regions in Britain. Cultural policy around diversity is heavily centred on the visible diversity of big cities. The barriers that city-dwellers face when looking for cultural opportunities are not the same as the ones people here face, for example, time and cost of travel is probably the biggest barrier to most people regardless of their background experience or origins when accessing culture. This has a profound impact on cultural attitudes that creates a picture of participation and a set of challenges that are quite different.
We have established a network of people who want to problem-solve the rural dimension in diversity, initially here in Cornwall but also elsewhere. We want to develop methods that could inspire those grappling with similar or entirely novel challenges elsewhere and we want to share our learning and learn from others. Although we aspire for the network to have a national and even international reach, in time, we first want to tackle what diversity here in Cornwall is all about.
We are careful not to ask the question “What does diversity look like?” Why? Because we want to promote diverse-led practice rather than define a look or set of criteria that is not meaningful to those we categorise. We also know that many factors that lead to cultural exclusion are hidden and so you are not going to see what it looks like.
What do we want from a Rural Diversity Network?
- Representation and advocacy to policy makers and stakeholders (including communities and their anchors).
- A place to put diversity into practice – training activities to help us apply practical diversity in our businesses and programmes.
- Networking, with each other and with each other’s organisations.
- A safe space to challenge and be challenged, including having difficult conversations, without giving or taking offence.
- Put Cornish diversity on the agenda. What does it mean? Is it a thing and what about the Cornish National Minority. How does Cornish diversity inform or compare with rural diversity in other regions?
The group also felt strongly about including people from outside our professions and sectors in the network, or at least as groups or individuals invited to events and workshops to challenge our thinking from the outside.
Got a bright idea?
Tell us about it by emailing Tehmina Goskar, Change Maker on: firstname.lastname@example.org.