Ian Weightman

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"Buy Local, Be Sustainable" in the Shropshire Hills

A scheme aimed at preserving landscapes, lifestyles and livelihoods in the remote landscape of the Shropshire Hills is slowly expanding in a way that could make it the model for other areas of the United Kingdom to follow.

Fuelled by the recession, and the need for smaller and more remote communities to work together and promote their businesses through more creative means, the “Shropshire Hills Sustainable Business Scheme” takes, as its starting point, a pledge from all its members that they are committed to preserving and promoting the area through innovative and sustainable measures.

Once they have paid their £25 membership fee, participating businesses in the area are then asked to sign a pledge, in which they list all of their current and future activities that demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices.

It’s an original idea and one which, as well as aimed at bringing obvious benefits to members, is also a big bonus for local residents - as well as tourists, holiday makers and visitors to the Shropshire Hills.

“In part, it’s about survival,” says Jodie Griffith, of the Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership which co-ordinates the scheme.

“Our members, by-and-large, are the smaller ‘cottage’ industries, which traditionally have helped to support the local economy of the area.  We need them to find new and sustainable ways in order to remain viable in an increasingly uncertain economy.  And we believe we have a better chance of preserving the Shropshire Hills by bringing them together like this, by encouraging them to share a more sustainable philosophy, and by helping to market them to a broader cross section of the general public.”

Participating members include local B&Bs, guest houses, farmhouses, cafes, restaurants, pubs, shops, food producers and some activity and service providers - all committed to follow more sustainable practices and many of whom have reached a special “Achiever” level.

But as well as benefiting the businesses, it is also turning out to be a boon for local residents, as well as for visitors from outside Shropshire.

Stickers displaying the “Buy Local - Be Sustainable” logo are becoming increasingly visible throughout the Shropshire Hills, and in the regular Farmer’s Markets in Ludlow, Craven Arms, Bishops Castle, Much Wenlock, and Knighton.

“If we can encourage more people, both from within Shropshire and from much further afield, to put their trust in these members, who are now following such sound business practices, then that - in turn - will help the local economy as a whole,” adds Jodie Griffith.

A walks initiative, which is also co-ordinated by the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has already shown what can be achieved.  Launched at a time when pubs nationally were closing at a rate of five a day, “Walking with Offa” featured a series of 12 new walking trails in the Shropshire Hills - all of which deliberately started and finished at local pubs.

“It’s green tourism at its best, and an example for other areas of Britain to follow.  Not least because it benefits local businesses, but also enhancing the overall experience of visitors - who now have a safe and reliable source of information on where to meet the people and see the places that will help them to better understand what makes this part of the country such a beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB),” added Griffith.

The innovate scheme, aimed at helping to preserve a centuries-old way of life, has also resulted in the production of a new directory mapping-out where locals and visitors alike can ‘go, buy, eat, and stay’ at countryside businesses committed to becoming more sustainable.

Eco, green and sustainable, the scheme has so far been able to sign-up more than 100 local businesses that have pledged to reduce their impact on the environment, to enhance wildlife and landscape, to involve both locals and visitors, and to support the local economy.

And the newly launched directory - featuring around 70 of those businesses in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) - is seen as yet another step towards preserving the traditional way of life in the remote Shropshire Hills.

For full details about the Shropshire Hills Sustainable Business Scheme, visit www.shropshirehills-buylocal.co.uk.

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