Engage and Inspire Rural Communities

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Social innovation


At the centre of rural communities across the 2Seas area is a church building. These buildings reflect our shared cultural and architectural heritage. However, many of these buildings are underused. Changing societal habits mean these buildings, once the centre of community life, serve a dwindling number of worshippers. Meanwhile, societal challenges exist across the 2Seas rural areas: flight of the youth due to lack of opportunity; the exclusion of the elderly from community life; economic stagnation; demographic transition. Before the era of state intervention, communities themselves responded to such challenges, often organised through the local church. With public resources across Europe under pressure, we need to recreate this community model to tackle the challenges of today. This project will kick-start this rebirth. We will develop and support projects, led by local residents, to find new uses for underused religious heritage and respond to the challenges facing rural areas today. This will build on the best pioneering examples of community ownership and the regeneration of church buildings. We will test this model in a number of sites in rural areas across the 2seas area. A common intervention logic, Theory of Change and evaluation framework will bind projects together while allowing them flexibility to deliver the best solution locally. The result will be revitalised rural communities across the 2Seas area, with church buildings once again at the centre of the community, alongside proven results and a how-to guide that will allow organisations to roll this model out further. Church buildings are our common European heritage: they can also provide a common European future for rural communities in the age of secularism.

Creation date: 24/05/2016

Bloc onglets

Bloc 1

Overall objective

Empowering rural communities to create projects that address their societal challenges through local church buildings.

Bloc 2


• Community-led events and activities that integrate the young and the old into their communities • Adaptable, self-sufficient space for such activities to take place – so communities can respond to changing societal needs in the future • In some sites, space for local businesses to rent and meet, encouraging rural entrepreneurs

Bloc 3

Expected result

• Stem the flight of the young from the rural areas of 2Seas • More entrepreneurial rural areas in 2Seas • Revitalised rural communities where the elderly are looked after and feel part of the community – without added cost to the public purse • Rural communities across the 2Seas area saved from social extinction

Bloc 4

Cross-border added-value

Europe is United in Diversity – and nowhere more so than in our rural areas. Church buildings, however diverse, share common architectural themes across the 2Seas area. Villages across the 2Seas area, however diverse, grew up around churches and traditionally were socially centred on churches. Rural areas today, however diverse, face similar demographic challenges. Individual communities in the 2Seas area are responding in diverse innovative ways: for example, community ownership in rural areas is being pioneered in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom has trialled logic models in the approach to church regeneration, while organisations in Flanders are expert in working with community groups. Only by learning from each other can we get the greatest added-value from these innovations. By working together we can cherry-pick the best of each Member State’s individual models and build a model that is superior to all, and which can then be deployed more widely, not just in the 2Seas area but across our diverse, united Union. Rural decline and underused religious heritage are problems common across Europe. Only a common European solution can address them.