Saturday, 23 November 2019

#2: The SHIREs - don’t hold the horses, Helen

I was at the first Scottish Highlands and Islands Rural Economy conference on Thursday in Inverness, (The SHIREs2019) which turned out to be an inspirational event (if you thought this blog was going to be about Shire horses then feel free to skip to the end).  The Scottish Highlands and Islands is an innovative and entrepreneurial place to be. Mike Donald from Harris Gin (which is transforming the community on Harris one beautiful bottle at a time) had us dreaming of sandy beaches and hand-picked sugar kelp drying in the sun. Tom Campbell, founder of the North Coast 500, wowed us all with some seriously impressive economic and marketing stats from one of the world’s most iconic routes, which now has an annual reach of 5 billion people.  Not only is it the ultimate road trip but is the artery and lifeline to a thriving and diverse rural economy in Northern Scotland.  “Rural” is not the problem, it is the solution. Our table discussion covered a wide range of developments including the Scottish Re-Wilding Alliance, wellness tourism and ancestral walks - literally walking in the footsteps of your ancestors, a hillwalkers version of ‘Who do you think you are.’ A great new twist on a walking holiday. 

But it was Helen McAlpine who had the most impact on me yesterday.  Helen, another conference delegate like myself, approached me in the break following my question to the panel.  (By the way; top conference networking tip: always construct a carefully worded question and name yourself and your organisation before asking it when there is an open Q+A session for the whole conference.  This has the effect of drawing people to you in the break. If this scares you, write it down and be the first to put your hand up, so you have to do it.)  My question was about the potential opportunities for people with dementia to benefit from wellness tourism, active travel and the various nature-based activities on offer in some of the world’s best landscapes in the Highlands.  Helen came over because she is starting a new business, supporting people with dementia. What a great thing to be doing. She is just as inspirational as Mike and Tom and is symbolic of a fundamental societal shift as we re-calibrate what it means to live longer lives (you can read my post on the 100-year life and take the 100-year life audit here).

Helen McAlpine

Helen is finishing work as a nurse on Tuesday, after over 20 years in the NHS.  But rather than simply stopping there she is one of a growing number of social entrepreneurs over 50 embarking on setting up social businesses.  An increasing number of studies point towards 45 and 50 being either the average age or most successful ages to start up a business. I am sure we will see this age go up quite soon.  Life experience, common sense, competence, knowledge and agency all make a potent positive mix for those setting up businesses later in life. When we contemplate a 100-year life (which many of us are statistically likely to reach), it follows that the normal three stages of study/work/retire no longer fit.  The authors of 100-year life, Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, painfully remind us that unless we are saving substantial amounts of money (which is a tiny minority of people, namely those in the FIRE movement) or win the lottery (hope is not a strategy!) then we are going to need to carry on working for financial reasons, but also to answer the search for purpose and meaning in later life.  Establishing businesses in later life will become more common, and this has far-reaching impacts for education and learning, family finances, kinship care and pensions to name but a few of the obvious things.  

There has been a lot of focus on interns over the last decade, which often refers to a student (mostly younger) gaining work experience, often without pay.  The other use of the word intern is to imprison. The next decade we will start seeing more #Re-Terns where older people are the target audience for courses, webinars, incubators and accelerators to support them start and grow their businesses.  The University of the Highlands and Islands are seeing this already with growing demand for their courses from the over 50’s; people like Helen. So rather than wait, don’t hold the horses, be like Helen and get on with that project, that dream idea for a new business and if you happen to be over 50, chances are you will be successful.  Rather than languishing in retirement, take proactive steps to re-educate, re-learn, re-focus and re-tern to work with a sense of freedom and control. Good luck to all the Helens (and Harrys) out there.

Now for the Shire horse bit.  My Dad grew up with Shire horses on my grandfather’s farm in rural Essex.  Sometimes he slept in the barn with them to keep warm. There is something deeply relaxing and awe-inspiring about being next to the powerful weight of a Shire horse.  As we look to run farms and rural economies more sustainably I hope we see a resurgence in the use of Shires in the fields and forests of Scotland. Clearly, big machinery will not be replaced in modern agriculture, but those small plots and awkward steep forest hillsides might yet see Shires on them again.  Check out horse logging by the folks at Permaculture Scotland for more Shire horse joy.