Far from it. This weekend is Small Business Saturday and the alert readers amongst you will have also noticed that this is my first blog since joining Scottish Land & Estates. As you will no doubt be aware, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are hugely important to the rural economy – both in terms of employment and in turnover. Small Business Saturday is a grassroots campaign, which aims to highlight the success of SMEs while encouraging consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities.
To give it some context, the Scottish Government’s Businesses in Scotland 2016 publication stated that SMEs account for a larger share of private sector employment in rural areas. As at March 2016, SMEs accounted for 79.3% of private sector employment in remote rural areas. The figures show a total of 52,290 enterprises in rural areas with a turnover of £37,662 million and employing 303,240 people.
These statistics will come as no surprise to those who work in a rural context on a daily basis. But it is worth underlining the importance of the private sector to the rural economy and taking this opportunity to celebrate its success.
There are more than a few examples of this rural success story, take Rory Dowling, a master craftsman who has been making stringed instruments for well over a decade. His business, Taran Guitars, is on Comie Law Farm in a farm steading restored by the Balcaskie estate. In addition to Rory’s guitar workshop, the development has attracted a number of other highly skilled and passionate artists who have chosen this unique destination to ply their trades. These include: Ben Silk, woodworker; Tom Pigeon, design prints, jewellery, metalwork and stationery; Sean Dooley, photographer; The Gothenburg Experiment, drinks industry; and East Neuk Glass, which operates a series of glass courses and workshops.
The highly recommended Zip Trek Park at Aviemore is another example of estates, in this case the Alvie Estate, working with local business. With over 2km of zip wires the park provides an opportunity to zip slide through stunning scenery in the Scottish Highlands under the safety of trained instructors. Sessions run at least twice a day – up to 4 times per day in the summer – and the Zip Trek Park has been highly recommended on the tripadvisor website.
An integral part of our rural communities is food production. With that comes an opportunity for SMEs to highlight the best of that quality farm produce. One such example is The Scrib Tree based in Lanark. Douglas & Angus Estates supported – and financially assisted – the establishment of the coffee shop which sells farm fresh produce. Created with a view that communities and local ventures are key to sustaining rural areas, The Scrib Tree sells quality farm produce, cakes and coffee and beautiful gifts to those who stop in the village, but it now also acts as a hub for local villagers to meet and chat in warm and cosy surroundings. The project has delivered a range of benefits to date, including: Provision of local jobs for local people through the 12-month construction period; Improvement of the physical form and amenities of the village through the construction of the retail outlets, car parking and landscaped grounds; Creation of two or three new local businesses; Provision of a service to the local community; and enhanced tourist facilities to attract visitors and increase revenue to the rural economy.
These are just some of the fantastic examples of small local businesses working in partnership with estates to enhance rural Scotland. It is important that this type of venture gets broader recognition, not only on Small Business Saturday but throughout the year. I for one certainly hope to be writing more about success stories like this in the future.