A centre that leads research into the rural economy has launched a fundraising campaign to help expand its work.
Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) has been running for 21 years and has played a significant role in shaping the infrastructure for rural policy in the UK, including the establishment of Defra – the Commission for Rural Communities – and several rural white papers.
In Europe, the CRE had a major impact on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Yesterday, a special event was held at Alnwick Castle to celebrate the group’s achievements. The Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, cut a cake to mark the 21st anniversary and praised the centre’s work.
The organisation was established in 1992 through a public appeal in memory of the 10th Duke of Northumberland, a man with a lifelong interest in agriculture and rural affairs and the first chancellor of Newcastle University.
A committee of volunteers, including his son, the present Duke, and chaired by Viscount Ridley – who was chancellor of the university at the time – raised £1m to set up the centre. Now the group wants to raise £2.5m to secure its position as a leader in rural economy research.
The Duke said: “The centre is very important – it has become the leading voice in the country for rural research.
“The rural economy has changed so much and we need something like this to keep in step and make sure it is going in the right direction to help formulate Government policy.
“The centre has done a good job over the last 21 years. I fully support its fundraising campaign and hope it will continue its good work for at least another 21 years.”
The group’s achievements include establishing the Northern Rural Network, bringing together academics, businesses, professionals and community leaders to foster rural development in the region, playing an active role in the establishment of the Northumbria Larder following the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2002, and directing the UK research councils’ £25m Rural Economy and Land Use Programme to look at options for the future of Britain’s countryside.
And last week, the CRE was recognised with the award of a Queen’s Anniversary Prize.
Guy Garrod, the centre’s director, said cash raised through the appeal would help to fund three members of staff and retain the organisation’s independence from Government funding. He added: “It was fantastic to mark our 21st anniversary with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Now we need to look ahead to the next 21 years and beyond.
“Rural issues embrace everything from providing education and healthcare to people living in the countryside through to the management of national parks and the challenges facing the farming and food industries. Rural areas also have a role to play in combatting climate change through renewable energies and land and water management.
“A growing focus of CRE is also around food security, addressing concerns over the integrity of our food supplies and helping society and policy-makers to better assess and communicate the risks associated with new technologies and novel food sources.”