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The Shannon Valley Comuniversity

What is The Shannon Valley Comuniversity?

The proposed Comuniversity initiative, or Academy of rural development, seeks to pioneer new and transformative approaches to rural regeneration . It will work with a number of communities in Europe and outside and create a living laboratory  of mutual  learning and exchange exploring the different components of regeneration – psychological, cultural , organisational and  economic-  within an integral ecological framework.

Specifically , the project will establish a number of real-life sustainability action research hubs  involving partners throughout Europe and beyond, all dedicated to co-creation of innovative and transferable responses to the environmental crisis and acting as local centres of dissemination and best practice models.

Project Summary

Rural communities  have increasingly taken on the character of peripherality , merely residual survivors in a world that moves inexorably on a developmental axis that further alienates and isolates these communities.

The climate/environmental crisis now accentuates this problem. The requirement to move away from extractive sectors and particularly to rethink agriculture and food production in the face of this crisis presents a further disruptive challenge to these communities and individuals already poorly equipped -in terms of knowledge, skills, organisational capability or personal agency -to deal with this disruption. The traditional knowledge, communal instincts and connections, cultural patterns and multiple ways of engaging with nature have largely fallen victim to the overwhelming power of a global economic model predicated on tapping the planetary reserves of stored solar energy in fossil fuels, thereby enabling unprecedented-even if unequal- global consumption.

The environmental crisis consequent on this economic model now demands a profound re-appraisal of the pervading economic model involving a shift away from fossil fuels; a changed food production paradigm involving a shift from cattle production, dairying and intensive production based on fungicide, herbicide and pesticide use and a shift to home based commuting-free work.

These changes present opportunities and threats to rural communities. A digital economy whereby time overcomes distance means that work can once again become de-urbanised and domestic. Rural living therefore is no longer a particular barrier to digital based work and rural areas can once more become attractive places of residence. New possibilities for rural regeneration now emerge , even in the context of  major disruption to the prevailing economic  base of these communities.

The Theoretical Paradigm

The approach in this initiative will draw on a synthesis of the Charter for Rural Communities developed by the Carnegie Commission for Rural Community Development in 2016 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals . A synthesis of these two frameworks is best expressed in the so-called Natural Step , the principles of which will underpin this proposal. These are:

  1. Reduce or eliminate the use of materials sourced close to the earth’s core as nature cannot easily break these materials down – described in the Charter as enhancing environmental capacity and in the SDG’s -Goals 6.7, 13, 14 1nd 15.
  2. Reduce the use of synthetic materials which nature finds hard to break down -including pesticides, fungicides and herbicides- described in the Charter as optimising assets and in the SDG,s , Goals 3, 7, 9 12.
  3. Clean Air , Water and Soil –described in the Charter as enhancing environmental capacity and in the SDG’s , Goals 6,7,12,13,14,15
  4. Meet Human Needs- described in the Charter as enriching social capital and well being; supporting a dynamic local economy ;achieving fairness for everyone; empowering local governance and increasing financial resources.In the SDG’s this principle is reflected in Goals 1,2,3,4,5,8,10,11, 16 and 17.

The Carnegie UK Trusts A Charter for Rural Communities. proposed that the viable and sustainable rural community would display a number of inter-related capitals and capacities as follows:

  1. Optimising assets
    • The Trust divided assets into 7 sectors-financial, built, social, human, natural assets, cultural and political assets.  It recommends that communities,own manage and ensure access to the 7 capital types in order to mobilise them for local development
  2. Achieving fairness for everyone
    • The vibrant community works to redress poverty and disadvantage and promotes the representation of all sectors of the community in its structures.
  3. Empowering local governance
    • The community should have the capacity to participate in decision-making both elected and participative governance structures, such as local community councils.
  4. Increasing resources for community benefit
    • The sustainable rural community is well-linked and networked both locally and internationally in a position to run its own businesses in essential areas such as energy and food production.
  5. Enjoying locally relevant services
    • Access to good and healthy food, a community meeting space, education services, benefits, health care and security are all basic rights and must be guaranteed by the state
  6. Enriching social capital and well-being
    • The charter places emphasis on the importance of volunteering and local social action in a community. It also states that a welcoming ethos to outsiders and newcomers is important.
  7. Valuing local distinctiveness
    •  The Charter also places great emphasis on language and music in generating and maintaining a ‘sense of place’.
  8. Developing Reliable Infrastructure
    • The importance of community involvement in developing key infrastructure such as telecoms, broadband, transport services, energy, water and affordable housing and the importance of renewable energy sources for local amenities and the possible ownership by the community of the energy production capacity.
  9. Enhancing Environmental Capacity
    • The Commission states that the sustainable rural community will be able to adapt to the low carbon economy of the future and and benefit from the retention of local bio-diversity.
  10. Supporting a Dynamic Local Economy
    • The charter emphasises the importance of the diverse local economy to the area itself and to the wider economy as the source of food and fuel production and as the site for recreation and resource management.
    • The charter set out three enabling factors that are pre-requisites for successful rural communities:
    • Developing the capacity of local people, agencies and organisations
    • Enhancing community assets of all kinds
    • Effective community-led planning and strong local governance

Aims and Objectives of the Project: The Proposal

This proposal aims to create a  Comuniversity which will pioneer training , education and participative research in rural regeneration informed by innovative approaches to giving expression to the schema described above. As such the proposal aims to develop educational and training interventions which :

  • Emphasise the concept of active learning or learning by doing
  • Build social and collaborative approaches into the curriculum as normal
  • Be attuned to different learner motivations, emotions and aptitudes
  • Build a curriculum which is aligned with the developmental challenges and opportunities of each type of intelligence
  • Promote horizontal connections across actions, subjects and programmes
  • Avail of the resources and opportunities in a real world setting as opposed to the classroom and avoid the tendency of  removing learners from such settings for the purposes of instruction.
  • Recognise that all learning approached within an integral ecological framework  must involve skill development, knowledge enhancement and attitudinal change.

Project Outputs

There are 3 areas to consider here:

  1. The Action Dimension
  2. The Research Dimension
  3. The Teaching Dimension 
  1. The Action Dimension-this is where the actual development project or initiative takes place. The Development Actors could be centred in various geographical areas in Europe (The Midlands of Ireland, Italy, Slovenia…) and Internationally (Zimbabwe…). Each Development Actor and Area will focus in and specialise on particular aspects of rural development-that may be based on a National Specialism  or on a number of SDGs or on a number of the Carnegie Petals.
  2. The Research Dimension-this is where the development action in area is studied and documented by the Partners. Each Action Dimension needs to be accompanied by a rigorous research arm that collects data from the projects, draws out the lessons learned and documents these for dissemination. A particular emphasis on Digital Research may be a feature here.
  3. The Teaching Dimension-this is where the results from the Action Dimension and the Research Dimension are disseminated. This can happen in a variety of ways and means, up to and including a Masters Programme.
Contact Information

Catherine Corcoran



Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest

Offaly Local Development Company

Laois Offaly Education and Training Board

Offaly County Council

Trans4M Community Associates