Future Support and Advice to Rural Communities - Research Findings

This report explores the nature and level of existing support and advice available to rural communities in Scotland.


Rural community groups' needs in terms of advice and information on funding are complex and diverse, so there is a preference for bespoke one to one advice. Advice providers also emphasised that community groups often "don't know what they don't know", meaning that the required level of support may be higher than community groups have suggested in this research.

Across a wide range of areas of advice and support, rural community groups did not feel that their needs were met by currently available support.

The provision of advice and support around funding for rural communities is complex and diverse, with some identified risks of duplication of efforts amongst different providers, from Third Sector Interfaces (TSI), Local Authorities, LEADER[1] groups, national thematic organisations and other local organisations.

Despite there being significant identified capacity for funding advice (which was questioned by advice providers), advice providers reported that the demands on them were high. Community groups' responses identified gaps in the availability of high quality support across all of the areas of funding advice and support.

The most significant source of capacity that was not currently being fully used was the experience, expertise and knowledge of those in communities with a history of successful project development and implementation. This related well to the high value placed on this source of support by communities and other providers.

In general there was a consensus that the best source of advice and support would be a local one and the TSIs were identified as being the obvious source of this, having been established to 'provide a single point of access for support and advice for the third sector within the local area[2]'. In the medium term at least they would need to work in close partnership with other local providers, notably Local Authorities and LEADER projects.

The findings from our review of Rural Direct service are:

  • Delivery has been "patchy", with some reports of a high quality service from knowledgeable staff with specific expertise around rural funding routes, and other more critical comments about a service which has not been focused, or not been accessible or of a high quality. However, it is important to note that the sample size of respondents who gave an indication of their views about Rural Direct was small.
  • Awareness of Rural Direct was low amongst community groups in the sample, even when taking account the fact that Rural Direct has been scaled back (so not necessarily at the forefront of respondents' thoughts). Awareness amongst advice providers was much higher (75% of the sample who responded had heard of it), but the number of advice providers who indicated that they knew even a little about the nature of the service was low.
  • A number of community groups and advice providers remarked that the service has not been promoted well enough to help advice providers and community groups really understand what the offer is. According to monitoring data the level of awareness of, and engagement with, Rural Direct saw a step-change in 2011/12 after roadshows were introduced.
  • To some extent the reported confusion about Rural Direct's specific offer is unsurprising, given that the service has changed throughout its delivery period (as evidenced by the changes in its required outcomes). These changes have reflected changes in the landscape of rural funding in Scotland.

Our main conclusions are that:

  • There is a sustained need for advice and information about funding opportunities for rural communities.
  • In particular there is a demand for one to one advice which can either be provided face to face or at a distance
  • In general, there is a strong preference for a locally based service - in terms of both accessibility and a better appreciation of local needs and context.
  • There is a wide source of advice available in response to these needs, which seems to be facing significant demands. This advice focuses around Local Authorities/LEADER and the TSIs, but it is complemented by a range of specialist national providers of advice on specific topics.
  • The main need seems to be to create some clarity about where the first port of call is in any area - and to ensure that behind this is a high quality service in terms of information and advisory staff knowledge, expertise and experience.
  • The most commonly expressed view - and one that is consistent with intended purpose - is that the TSIs in every Local Authority area should be promoted as the first port of call. However, it is clear that the TSIs will need to work very closely with their Local Authority and LEADER project to ensure that a locally coherent service is available for groups.
  • With many sources of advice and information facing significant demands the most underused resource appears to be the expertise and experience of those in community groups who have been through the experience of developing and successfully funding a project.
  • It has proved hard to separate out support for the funding of projects from support to develop ideas for funding, and this may in practice be an artificial distinction for communities as the two are so intertwined (e.g. the development of a business plan is also, in many cases, part of the application for funding and needs to respond to funder interest and requirements).
  • Finally, while we heard some voices challenging the existence of a separate service for rural communities (compared with urban groups). Most of those we discussed this issue with felt that there was a need for a dedicated service for rural communities to avoid the risk of a service being dominated by demand from urban groups.


Email: Liz Hawkins

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