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Rural communities

Learning from supporting rural communities
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At Big Lottery Fund, we recognise that rural communities have specific needs. We address these through a number of programmes. To make sure we help these communities in the best way, we also carry out research and programme evaluations. These help us learn what works and brings the most benefit to communities in need. Through them we’ve also seen how our programmes help reduce isolation, improve environments and revive community businesses.

On this page we highlight what we’ve learnt to be successful. We also identify some of the key challenges faced by projects working with rural communities.

What works?

We've supported rural communities through a number of projects. Here are some of the key factors identified as central to their success: Communities need skills, knowledge, contacts and confidence

  • community roots for the project
  • partnership working and involving beneficiaries
  • schemes providing some form of community hub are more likely to achieve higher community involvement. Meeting immediate service needs is particularly important
  • providing facilities where people can meet and spend time together strengthens bonds between community members and across generations
  • different models work in different villages:
    • there is no one-size-fits-all for reviving rural communities
    • different models of social enterprise can co-exist
    • community ownership may not be suitable in all circumstances.
  • community ownership directly promotes local interaction and networks
  • small grants often suit initiatives in rural areas
  • involving local schools can encourage engagement with communities from a young age
  • volunteer-centred initiatives supported by local infrastructure organisations have been successful
  • energy generation projects can save money and generate new income for villages
  • wide consultation, producing newsletters and making the most of word-of-mouth communications can help sustain participation.


By identifying some of the main challenges of working with rural communities, we can better address them going forward. They include:

  • ensuring financial sustainability
  • social enterprises can bring tensions. They need to meet the community’s aspirations while also focusing on sustainable business models
  • running projects in rural areas tends to cost more. This is often due to increased transport and communication costs
  • broadcasters’ priorities differ to our priorities and beneficiary communities’ priorities. This caused some tensions for Village SOS which worked with the BBC.

More about the research

Our learning on this page compiles evidence from a number of research projects, detailed below. More information is also available on our Community assets page. In particular, see our evaluation of the Scottish Land Fund

Impact of funding in rural Scotland

The University of Strathclyde helped us evaluate the impact of our funding in rural Scotland. It considered:

  • what factors affect rural communities’ ability to apply for and make the best use of funding
  • the effectiveness of funding distribution and projects
  • how we can most effectively address the needs of rural communities in the future

The full report, appendices and summary are available under Publications below.

Reducing rural isolation

In 2010 and 2011, Leisure Futures Ltd assessed our projects tackling rural isolation. The report considers the nature and causes of rural isolation. It also reviews our approach to meeting rural communities’ needs.

The report is accompanied by 52 case studies of Big Lottery Fund projects.

Village SOS: Evaluation

Village SOS sought to revive rural communities by raising the profile of village-based enterprises. ‘Village champions’ who had extensive business experience moved to one of ten villages to help rural communities. The BBC followed the experiences of six of the ten funded villages.

We commissioned the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University to evaluate our Village SOS programme between 2011 and 2012. We wanted to know:

  • whether our innovative approach worked
  • whether the programme had helped revive rural communities and enrich residents’ lives.


Village SOS

Village SOS evaluation report

Scottish Land Fund

Scottish Land Fund evaluation
Scottish Land Fund evaluation summary
Scottish Land Fund second evaluation report
Scottish Land Fund first evaluation report

Reducing rural isolation

Impact on reducing rural isolation report

Impact of funding in rural Scotland

Examining the impact of funding in rural Scotland report
Examining the impact of funding in rural Scotland summary
Examining the impact of funding in rural Scotland appendices