At the beginning of November, we participated in the Vuolijoki innovation camp, where we effectively tackled the four themes the villagers had presented to us in advance. Vuolijoki had won the innovation camp as a prize for winning the Finland's smartest village competition a year ago. In fact, it was a good thing that claiming the prize had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It gave us time to prepare the themes further, continue our development activities and strengthen new networks brought about by the victory.
The innovation camp was built around four different topics that challenge villages and regions: new forms of housing in rural areas, new perspectives on work and income, strengthening the village identity of children and young people and biogas and sustainable villages.
The camp was organised in collaboration with the Vuolijoki Rural Association and village activists, Finnish National Rural Network and its support unit and the consulting company MDI. The preparations were launched properly in September-October, and, within the application period of less than two weeks, the camp attracted over forty participants from different parts of Finland.
The Vuolijoki activists wanted to organise the camp in the heart of the village, in the old Bank House and its neighbourhood. The accommodation was arranged in the premises of the former municipal hall, and in cottages and homes of the locals. Four teams spread around the Vuolijoki centre: the remote work facilities of the old Bank House, the council hall of the former municipal hall and the Runokki flower shop. Team members also explored the main street of the village, the Vuolijoki school, the youth centre and the motor workshop space to be opened shortly. They also contacted local companies by telephone.
What did the camp give us?
The intensive two-day camp went by at a high pace and filled with high energy. After stopping to catch our breath, we have continued to stay in touch with people around Finland. We met many new faces and established new contacts! One of the best parts of the camp were definitely the various encounters. The only regret was that the teamwork was so intense that networking with participants in other teams remained limited.
Now, a short while after the camp, it is possible to take a more critical look at all the ideas and think about their future. Between the participants from the village and the organisers of the camp, we have held a few debriefing discussions about the implementation of the camp, its successes and further plans. The future plans are gradually starting to take shape, and hopefully there will be a few more shoulders to take on the responsibility for further implementation.
The innovation camp gave us a lot of ideas for coming activities. The camp brought new life to Vuolijoki, and hopefully a pleasant, positive buzz will inspire new people to take action and bring new residents to the village – at least by the time the miniature houses are completed and ready for new residents!
The villagers played a major role in organising the innovation camp. Great thanks to all those who participated in the arrangements and to those on the camp who spent your time, brainstormed with us and spurred us on in developing the village. Hopefully, you will take some of the camp's great ideas with you and implement them in other parts of Finland as well. And maybe we will see you again somewhere shortly. Let's greet each other with a big smile when we meet again. And, of course, you are always welcome to Vuolijoki!
Text: Tuija Kallio and Maria Helo
Innovation camp results
The Vuolijoki innovation camp sought concrete solutions to the challenges selected by Vuolijoki villagers, which could be promoted with the help of private or public funding after the camp. In addition, the objective of the innovation camp was to network rural developers both regionally and nationally and to enhance cooperation between different actors. In addition, the aim was to inspire the inhabitants of the Vuolijoki village to continue developing their own community and living environment.
In the finals, each camp team presented their pitch to the jury, with Marianne Selkäinaho (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry), Pirjo Oikarinen (Leader Oulujärvi), Teemu Hauhia (Finnish National Rural Network) and Teuvo Hatva (Kajaani, Chairman of the City Board) as members.
The first team contemplated how to attract new residents to the countryside and how to make them feel at home in the village. The team's idea for an experiment was based on an area with miniature houses, which would give people an opportunity to test both living in Vuolijoki and easy, communal housing solution. The area would feature a lakeside sauna, a boat and allotments for shared use.
The second team was to examine work and income from a new perspective. In its solution, the team came up with an idea for a recruitment campaign that would not only attract information workers but also labour that would meet the challenges related to the availability of competent workforce for the region's industrial needs. The team would start developing remote work opportunities in a concrete manner by mapping the needs and developing the functionality of remote work facilities. To make the remote workspace an attractive solution and to help everyday life run smoothly, the village would take advantage of the opportunities offered by the planned optic fibre line and provide remote workers with a range of local services. As a broader vision, the team would start commercialising the silence and calmness of the Vuolijoki village and further develop the position of remote workspaces in promoting communality and encounters within the whole village.
The third team, on the other hand, sought ideas for how to strengthen the village identity of children and young people. How to make children and young people feel comfortable about staying in their home region? How could we make their voices heard? The team identified some small experiments that could be implemented even quite rapidly, such as a club for horse lovers and airsoft game facility. The next steps would include an international Oulujärvi moped meeting in 2023.
The fourth team worked on biogas and sought a solution to the problem of profitability in the production and distribution of biogas in sparsely populated rural areas such as Vuolijoki. The team found a solution for promoting local biogas production and taking advantage of the market. If the plans were to be implemented, it would mean building a biogas plant in Vuolijoki, establishing an ecosystem benefiting the industry, agriculture and residents and creating a regional, climate aware brand that attracts young people.
The jury chose the biogas team's idea as the winner. The jury assessed that it took into account a wide range of aspects, such as the industry, agriculture and residents. The idea was considered ambitious but feasible. In its idea, the team also acknowledged how to take into consideration the rising appreciation of the environment and environmental thinking among young people, which could make the region an attractive place to move into to new environmentally conscious people in particular. The jury also felt that the idea served as a facilitator for the other inventions made at the camp.