Hundreds of Scotland’s rural communities will be represented in Oban this weekend at the first ever Scottish Rural Parliament. It’s an ambitious project, whose aim is to give a new voice to Scotland’s rural communities and to work to achieve a confident and thriving rural Scotland that is fairer, healthier and more socially just for all.

The people who travel to Oban to debate, learn, celebrate and be inspired will mostly be the unsung heroes, the ‘fiery spirits’ of rural Scotland, who want the best for their local area and are prepared to put in the unpaid, and often under-appreciated, hours of work to overcome the challenges of rurality and make their community the best it can be. They are some of the most enterprising people you will ever meet, even though many have never been near the private sector.

As Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said recently, the circumstances in which those rural citizens find themselves “have already fostered numerous examples of creativity and resilience, producing great examples of enterprise and projects boosting rural development”.

SCVO’s Rural Direct service has been supporting these people and their organisations since 2008, in particular helping them to find their way through the thorny maze of European Rural Development funding. After a few months of hiatus due to funding cuts, Rural Direct is back with renewed funding from the European Regional Development Fund, SCVO and the Scottish Government. This time, we have a focus on helping community groups to take those important first few steps in the creation and development of income-generating enterprises.

Through information, training and networking support, we aim to give rural community-based enterprises a helping hand with the practicalities and make it easier for them to turn their ideas into action.

That could mean help with getting their legal structure and governance into shape, understanding the legal requirements involved, finding support and funding, developing a business idea, keeping tip-top financial records or deciding whether to set up a trading subsidiary. We’ll also be touching on e-commerce and marketing, and energy and resource efficiency.

Rural Direct won’t give these community groups all the answers, but we will increase their knowledge and understanding and help to signpost them to other sources of support, including projects in other parts of rural Scotland with similar ambitions and achievements.

With the launch of our new webpages and our upcoming programme of training and events, Rural Direct is on course to continue its proud record of supporting the creative and resilient communities that are the lifeblood of rural Scotland.

We are confident that Rural Direct will play its part in helping to achieve the confident and thriving rural Scotland that everyone in Oban this weekend is working to achieve.