From “Build that Man a Pool!” to a program for attracting “Digital Nomads” — this is the story on the revival of a small town by applying creative local spirit and helping together!

We are constantly looking to find stories which can best describe the local spirit, the stubbornness against all odds, and the will for excellence in the Faroe Islands. Here is one good example from the community of Vágur, on the island of Suduroy.

Dennis Holm photograph by Ólavur Frederiksen

Recently I had the pleasure to talk with Dennis Holm, the mayor of Vágur (picture) during one of his 2-hours transits on the ferry from Suduroy to Torshavn. I would like to share this flood of inspiration which he showered upon me during that chat!

The Faroe Islands are remote — the term of an Ultra-minor and Ultra-distant community gets it to the point. The small nation has 18 islands, and the most southern of them is Suduroy, situated at the periphery of the Faroe Islands. A climax of ultra-distance, you can say.

Just so you have an idea of this remoteness: Suðuroy is at approximately 50 km distance from Torshavn and connected by ferry to the ”mainland” with 2-3 departures each day with the Smyril, a good large ferry from 2005. Travel time is app. 2 hours.

In addition, a Helicopter connection is available 3 times a week in summer for max 15 persons –  the connection is organized by the Atlantic Airways helicopter-department. As part of a route to the smaller islands, Suðuroy is also connected.

courtesy @Visit Faroe Islands Meeting

PART I – The Vágur Formula — and how it all started

It is important to get a feeling for the distance in order to grasp the full meaning of the following story — the story of a community which moved from former flourishing times to a strong decline in both population and economy and now back to shaping itself and the future in a very encouraging approach.

100 years ago, half of the fish economy in the Faroe Islands was once based in Suduroy. It was a strong community with good economy and innovative entrepreneurs attracted immigration and ensured a steady growth until the crisis years of the 1930ies. Even the first electric supply in the Faroe Islands was provided in Suduroy in 1921 — celebrating 100 years anniversary of electric provision in the Faroe Islands next year.

Suðuroy was again in the early 1990s struck hard by economic crisis in the Faroe Islands. The period of crisis was long and painful and led to losing community spirit, hope, opportunities to earn money.

Until 2012 the village of Vágur saw declines in many ways, less population, unstable jobs and low wages, as consequence younger inhabitants moving out and not coming back. Then, in 2013, a decision was taken and the community of Vagur started several new projects to move into a new direction — in order to create a new future for the local society.

The focus of this strategic decision was to rebuild the local self-confidence and to create jobs and attraction.

All of this in a spirit of “experience economy”, building “The Vágur Formula”

An initial PR campaign had the aim of turning the perception from “bad news” about the community to telling the “good positive stories” through a smart campaign.  From 2013 regular bi-weekly Press Releases about “good positive stories” were distributed to local media. Until today, monthly press releases inform about activities and resulting coverage creates a positive effect on the local self-perception and pride.

Today a lot of “positive news” can be found about Vágur in national press, where earlier just were negative stories and bad news — a poor image was switched to a better or even good image.

As says Dennis: “We wanted to create a common local understanding that a lot of good things happen in the community.”

A face-lift to the town was the first step, which continues – to express the will for beauty and betterment according to  “the way you look is the way you are”!

And then something amazing started to happen – The formula started to be effective – with a campaign to strengthen the community spirit, around the thought of creating good memories for the children and youngsters.

Backed up by a Nordic Project from 2011 to initiate “Back movers” — people moving back to their communities to create the same good memories for their own children which they had once experienced in their childhood.

The community started to “invest” in good memories — from new offers in school and education and entertainment to lifting the community spirit by common activities.

One of the modules that I like very much is the program to hold on to the students abroad and to offer them creative support when they are coming back home for vacation, e.g. access to study rooms. One of the steps was to keep them home altogether by offering education that people did not have access to before.

They also created a “distant learning center” in Vagur, which is open to all people from the Faroe Islands and enables them to get an education without moving away. Around 30 people already got their education through this learning center (bachelor level or higher).  These numbers are not huge – but here you please keep in mind that the whole of Faroe Islands has only 53.000 inhabitants, and Vágur itself is a village of 1.350 people only.

The Vágur Formula story  to be continued…..

#UnordinaryPlaces #UnordinaryIdeas #CommunitySpirit


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