South Pembrokeshire Action for Rural Communities (SPARC)
SPARC came into existence in 1991 and extended the methodology of TCRI to the whole of rural south Pembrokeshire, serving a population of around 45,000 in 37 villages and towns.

Many of the organisations involved with TCRI were committed to continuing or increasing their activities through the new European Community (EU) Leader programme for the area.

In 1992 SPARC became one of the first of 217 LEADER groups in Europe selected to energise local community action and pioneer innovative and integrated approaches to community development and disseminate good practice.

As with TCRI, SPARC was about creating awareness, inspiring confidence, encouraging commitment, working with partners and ensuring local access to advice and training. It retained the principle of improving the quality of rural life but pushed the boundaries even further.

It found opportunities to:
  • Keep expenditure in the local community
  • Provide opportunities for young people
  • Provide private employment opportunities in different sectors
  • Supplement farm incomes
  • Establish training programmes to help existing businesses in communities
  • Provide information and training to encourage new businesses.

Pilot experimental work with the Leader initiative took every opportunity to develop mechanisms for communities to learn lessons and share good practice.  It was a fundamental principle that improving social and environmental resources was inextricably linked to creating tourism/agricultural and business training opportunities. Co-operation was encouraged to develop even more business opportunities eg linking those who provided accommodation with those who wanted to provide walking opportunities or other outdoor pursuits.

An underlying aim was to give local people the chance to play a significant role in assisting and developing their communities, planning to meet their needs and responding to opportunities. Partnership working was a key factor to encouraging diversification from a predominantly agricultural economy to a more broadly based economy with an effective but environmentally sensitive tourism sector. It sought to encourage added value and to promote leverage of private sector investment.

Community participation was still key. Experience had shown that reaching out to as many people as possible, forming a Community Association; agreeing an Action Plan and keeping the process open to develop projects, celebrate them, review them and set new targets was an effective and productive way of working.

During the 1990s SPARC developed an international reputation as an innovative rural development initiative. Over a decade it had developed a methodology for community participation and ownership of the local development process. It evolved a new way of working that brought the specialist skills and funding of key partners, both individually and collectively to the benefit of local people.

There was a justified sense of pride in SPARC’s wide range of achievements. It was one of the first partnerships in Wales, perhaps even in Europe, that provided a genuine and real opportunity for local people to be full and equal partners with key players, working together to address the economic, social and environmental needs of the area and applying innovative solutions to the long term and persistent problems caused by economic decline and peripherality.