Living in a rural area should not be seen as a disadvantage – that was the message delivered to more than 100 young delegates attending the ‘Rural Youth Europe’ annual event ,in Perth, last week.

The European rally was held in Scotland for the first time since 2005 at Kilgraston School, in Perth, and was hosted by the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs. The week long event, which – now in its 61st year – was set up by the late chief executive of SAYFC Bob Gregor, who is fondly remembered as the ‘father’ of the YF movement in Scotland.

The rally brings together members of YF and 4H clubs from each of the 21-member nations and through a series of workshops, farm visits and social events, aims to strengthens the bonds between its EU members. Most of the funding for the event is provided via a grant from the Erasmus Programme and via the SAYFC as part of its International Trust, which had been the brainchild of Mr Gregor.

The Scottish Farmer:

The European Rally saw over 100 attendees, including 83 delegates from 16 EU nations

Rural Youth Europe represents 0.5m young people and aims to raise the voice of rural Europe, driving change at a decision-making level. “RYE is a parent organisation that all the YF clubs and organisations within Europe can join and acts as a representative voice,” explained David Lawrie, chairman of the SAYFC.

“SAYFC has really run with the 'Year of Young People' theme and this week we have been looking at the barriers which young rural people face. It has been really interesting to hear from other organisations and learn that there are a lot of similar challenges, but also totally different issues facing each nation,” said David.

“Hosting the event on our own turf has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase our Scottish culture,” he continued. “You don’t appreciate it really until you are with people who have never experienced it before. On our first night we did basic ceilidh dancing and every night thereafter in the bar, the Gay Gordon’s has been played out.”

Working behind the scenes to deliver an action-packed week of motivational workshops, inspiring speakers, interesting farm visits and fun social events, was a hard-working voluntary team, who dedicated a lot of time to running this successful event.

The Scottish Farmer:

Farm visits were organised for the delegates on the Thursday of the rally

The prep team also doubled up as mentors to others from the member nations, acting as a point of contact during the trip. Former SAYFC chair, Katherine Marr, was the main organiser for the event in her role as European Rally chairman for 2018.

“We threw a highland games on which was officially the first day of the conference and this served as the prefect ice breaker for all the nations to get to know each other and to get a feel for Scottish traditions,” she stated. “Later that day, in groups, we discussed the barriers we all face living rurally and on the following days we organised speakers and workshops to address ways to overcome these barriers. Mid-week, we looked at ways in which delegates could participate in lobbying for their rural communities,” Katherine explained.

“On the Thursday, there were four different trips organised, farm visits in the east and west of Scotland. One group visited Andrew Stewart’s farm in Lanark and then on to Steph Dick’s in Stirling. The other went to Andrew Peddie’s in Anstruther and Craig Malone’s in Lochgelly.

"A lot of the delegates were very interested to discover at Craig Malone’s farm that he had been given a 10-year tenancy from the forestry commission, something which many had never come across before,” she explained.

Katherine added that some of the Norwegians highlighted issues they have with succession back home. She learnt that the eldest child will inherit the farm regardless of gender but if they decline their right to inherit the farm and business, then the farm will go the next eldest child and so on. If none of the children wants it, however, the family can sell the farm.

Reflecting on the overall goal of the rally, Katherine added: “Our ideal hope is that the delegates will go away thinking they want to stay in a rural area, thinking ‘I don’t want to be disadvantaged because I live in a rural area’ and ‘what can I do to change things so I can stay in my rural area’,” she concluded.

The Scottish Farmer:

Board members of Rural Youth Europe and chair's of the young farmers' associations of the UK and Ireland (L-R) Sebastian Lassnig, chair of RYE, David Lawrie, SAYFC, Lynsey Martin, NFYSC, Laura Elliot, Welsh YFC, Linzi Stewart, vice-chair of RYE, James Healy, Macra na Feirme and James Speers, YFC Ulster

RYE consists of four categories of member nations – group one is made up of the five nations of the UK and Ireland, with group two consisting of western members such as Germany and Austria. Group three contains the Nordic countries and the final group is made up of the Baltic nations.

These four groups are led by a team representative who sits on the RYE board along with the chair and vice-chair of the organisation. On the Friday of the rally, a general assembly saw office bearing positions up for grabs and it was fantastic news for group one representative, Linzi Stewart, who was elected vice-chair for RYE.

“I am delighted to have been elected as vice-chair of RYE,” said Linzi, a member of Ulster Young Farmers, who spoke with The Scottish Farmer after her election.

“I came on board last year as the representative for group one and due to the joint support and encouragement I have had from my home organisation, the five nations and the organisation throughout Europe, together with the board, I’m delighted I have had the confidence to run for this position and they have had the confidence to put me in this position,” she concluded.

The role of chair went to Sebastian Lassnig, from Austria, who will now steer the reins of RYE from its headquarters in Finland.

“My goal will be to develop this fantastic rural network further, with the aim of raising the rural voice in Europe, as we are a minority and we need to shout out loud, so we are heard," he said.

“Events like the European rally are important as they bring together young people from different countries, backgrounds and beliefs, all of whom unite in the similar challenges facing our nations living rurally, such as poor transport, infrastructure and broadband, and collectively we can come up with an action plan moving forward,” he concluded.