Lillian Kelly, development officer with Soil Association Scotland, reports on an innovative new project.
Crofting Connections is a ground-breaking new project that will inspire over 1,000 young people aged 5-16 living in communities throughout the Highlands and Islands about crofting past, present and future.
They will learn traditional skills from crofters create their own climate-friendly food-growing projects and help safeguard the history, culture and heritage associated with their crofting communities.
The purpose of Crofting Connections is to encourage young people to sustain a way of life that promotes shared environmental, economic and social goals, vital for sustaining vibrant and healthy rural communities in the 21st century.
To date over 30 schools and communities have signed up to participate in Crofting Connections. The project is led by the Scottish Crofting Foundation and Soil Association Scotland with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage, LEADER, Argyll and Bute Council, Cairngorm National Park Authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highland Council, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council.
Crofting Connections is modelled on a highly successful pilot to celebrate crofting in the Year of Highland Culture 2007. A report of the pilot by Health Promoting Schools (now part of Learning and Teaching Scotland) demonstrated that in learning from crofters, young people developed a sense of belonging to the land and the community, whilst older people enjoyed passing on their knowledge and skills.
Young people also grew enthusiastic about the food production skills and traditions associated with crofting, and became more confident individuals with increased knowledge and pride in their heritage. Many also expressed an intention to live and work in their communities when they completed their education.
Involving the community and promoting inter-generational relationships are key themes. Young people will learn traditional skills from crofters to create lazy-beds/rigs, grow and harvest heritage crops such as bere and Scots kale, learn how to cook recipes that were once the mainstay of a crofter’s diet and share them with the community at harvest celebrations. They will also try out traditional crafts such as weaving, boat building and fiddle-making with local craftsmen and learn more about the history, culture and geography of their local area, as well as the enviornmental and health benefits of crofting.
Safeguarding the history, culture and heritage special to local crofting communities is a key outcome. As part of Crofting Connections, schools will undertake local history and oral tradition projects to record the memories and stories of older generations. Records will be made available to the public through an interactive website, and local museums and heritage centres.
Through Crofting Connections, young people will learn about the influence of crofting in sustaining their heritage, which is reflected in a rich legacy of music, song, dance, poetry, storytelling and literature.
A unique aspect of Crofting Connections is that its programme of activities directly link to the Curriculum for Excellence, and will contribute to a range of environmental, cultural and social objectives.
SCF chief executive Patrick Krause commented: “We are delighted to be able, in conjunction with our colleagues, to be launching this new project. Crofting makes a major contribution to healthy communities and the environment – and our young people have a great deal to offer. We need to invest in them for the future of crofting.”
Hugh Raven, director of the Soil Association Scotland said: “Set against the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil, crofting with its low-input, low-impact farming practices and strong cultural identity has a unique role to play in inspiring today’s younger generation about the environment and the need for sustainable lifestyles.”