Coastal Communities: Webinar 1 of Cirican and The Open University’s Rural Natters Webinar Series

When we think of the UK’s geography, our first instinct might be to focus on inland nature such as the Lake District, Scafell Pike or the Northwest Highlands. However, it is important to not forget about coastal communities, with 50% of the UK surrounded by sea. The communities living in these areas face real challenges which are often missed by policy makers.

Rural Natters, a three-part webinar series developed by Cirican in collaboration with the Open University, used its first event to focus on these Coastal Communities. The event aimed to inform its audience about new developments in these communities and within the fishing and maritime industries.

You can watch the webinar here:

The joys and challenges of changing coastal idol

Coastal communities have changed significantly over time, with new challenges being formed through shifts in population, the cost of living, and Brexit. Vicky Johnson from the Open University used Cornwall as a case study to examine how these changes are materialising, beginning with financial struggles.  Cornwall is one of the most deprived areas in Northern Europe with a median income earning of £18,000 (as of 2019) which is ¾ of UK average, and a third of residents earnless than the national living wage.

Local industries are changing from traditional mining and fishing to a focus on tourism and leisure as people who can afford properties or want a better quality of life slowly move to the coastal areas. A third of a million tourists now descend upon Cornwall during the summer months, creating demand for work but also instilling a seasonal economy.

The tourism industry was hit hard by Covid-19. Employees in the tourism sector, often on zero-hour or seasonal contracrs, were not offered furlough, and restaurants were forced to close. The market for fish harvest or other local crops such as flowers and fruits dried up. However as the UK restrictions lifted, local producers experienced a boon with restaurants unable to source products abroad. Vicky illustrated how fish end up on our plates more generally in this online resource.

Brexit is another key factor impacting life in coastal communities. Prior to the referendum in 2016, British fishing was mobilised as a key battleground, and Cornwall voted for Brexit despite receiving more economic aid from EU than any other parts of the UK.

Using Cornwall as a microcosm for coastal communities ascross the country, we can see how national decisions and world events still have an impact on not only tourism and fishing, but also on the coastal community itself, leading to both joys and challenges.

Funding opportunities

One such challenge for businesses and authorities in coastal communities, as anywhere else, is winning grants to fund projects or ideas. We were joined at the webinar by Rob Poole of Fishing Animateurs, who talked our audience through the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme developed by the government. The scheme aims to help support sustainability, resilience and prosperity in the coastal areas across England.

Unfortunately the scheme is complex, and was likened to a Battenberg cake. The scheme has four main themes and 40 measures to apply for, leaving prospective grantees baffled by just what exactly they can access. This complexity is a detriment to its potential success with vast amounts of the scheme’s funding still unaccessed despite grantees able to win funding between 30-80% of the cost of their project.

Fishing Animateurs helps local businesses and stakeholders navigate the scheme and apply for funding completely free of charge. The organisation has supported 57 projects to date, improving facilities in Ilfracombe Harbour, Looe Harbour and Whitehaven amongst others. Grant winners have created a disabled platform for fishing boats, held community festivals and markets, and funded toilets for fishermen and fisherwomen use only. Other ‘wacky’ ideas included using fish skin in the clothing industry, and a mobile smokery which travels to festivals across the UK.  

If you’d like to continue these conversations with our chair and speakers you can reach out to them at the following:

Rob Poole, Fishing Animateurs:

Vicky Johnson, The Open University,

Ivan Annibal, Cirican & Rose Regeneration,

You can download Rob’s slides here

You can download Vicky’s slides here