Last week, the Teeny Tiny Summit came to Holstein, the village whose souvenir T-shirts brag “Conveniently Located in the Middle of Nowhere”.

The Egremont Optimist Hall was the place chosen to share  ideas for growing business and services in small places.  

The event drew many economic development staff and some municipal representatives.  

Local volunteers and business people from Southgate spoke, and local businesses, Nella’s and Misty Meadows, provided the lunch and treats.   

Southgate Mayor Brian Milne welcomed people to the event, and EDO Brenna Carroll played a big role in keeping the day running smoothly.

The Teeny Tiny Summits have been presented since 2016, supported by OMAFRA and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA).  

SMALL TOWN IDEAS

The day’s keynote speaker was from Australia. Peter Kenyon has a reputation as a motivational speaker and has years of collecting and sharing usable examples in his “Bank of Ideas”.

“Besides my family and my faith, this thing called community really motivates me,” he said last Tuesday. “Whatever the issue – community is the answer.”

He’s an advocate of small places and their ability to
re-build after challenges such as losing employers or population.

“Re-inventing a town is an inside job,” he said.  

People in rural areas can make things happen by inspiring and influencing others. Creating new possibilities and collaborating with others are all strengths of rural people, he said. A positive mindset is key, along with fostering leadership, including inviting young people to contribute.

Mr. Kenyon called himself a “social capitalist,” noting that there is a great social capital in connections and knowing neighbours.

“What matters to you? What do you care about? See if there’s anyone else who cares about that,” he encouraged those attending.   


RURAL GROWTH

He had three hours sleep the night before, but hit the ground running with a non-stop stream of examples of how people re-built their small town after losing people, businesses or institutions.

He said that 80 percent of the communities under 1,000 people in Australia are dying. He looks at what the 20 percent are doing that works.

He gave examples of small town people in different towns who opened new enterprises: in one case a credit union, in another, a bar (a pub now called The Hub and used in the morning by young moms and toddlers) and also several tourist attractions.  

Many projects were self-financed by selling shares.

He told a story of a three-storey old brick building with a bar on the main floor that had closed and was at risk of being demolished.

“Three old farmers”, as he put it, thought they could do something with it. In 10 days, they put together $180,000 to buy it, and then had to raise the rest fast since the local council gave them 10 days to meet conditions in a work order. They turned it into a co-op through selling $5,000 shares, and sold 621 shares in a town of 800. It’s open, thriving and a tourist attraction today, since it has a view of a beautiful lake nearby.

Those farmers are what he calls “Community Champions”. They want to future-proof their town, and keep their young people at home, rather than travelling long distances to get to a pub.


WHAT DO YOU HAVE?

He’s from Marble Bar, Australia, which has a population of about 150 people. It has a challenge that it has turned into a tourist attraction – “Australia’s Hottest Town”. It recently had a year with 167 consecutive days over 40C (100F). There are a couple of humorous selfie locations celebrating the heat, including one where people can take a photo including themselves and a large thermometer.

He said the trend for experts and advisors is to start by  doing a needs study. But Mr. Kenyon recommends instead “starting with what we have got – not what we haven’t got!”

“The question is not ‘what’s the matter… the question is what matters to you?”

He shared many one or two line quotes that inspire him. One of these: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of experts”.

In times of rapid change, people in small places can’t keep doing the same things, he said. Doing something new together can build the economy and save businesses that are being closed while building local pride in community.

That might be done by adding a “wow” factor to Main Street. Some towns have added local art or promoted places for travellers to take a break with a playground and restrooms.

Others have created a tourist attraction. They started by making maps of different features in and around their towns, and went from there.  

YOUTH/YOUNG FAMILIES

People often are spurred into action because they want a place their kids would want to live when they were older. They gathered to have conversations about what they could do. In Kenyon’s view, there are enough meetings, but there need to be more conversations.

When the young people in the town were included in one    conversation, what they wanted was a water slide. A farmer found a second-hand water slide for sale online for $25,000 which was 3,000 miles away and six men drove the distance dismantled and re-built it. That small town now has the biggest water slide outside of the capital city.

Mr. Kenyon said that today, building a strong local economy doesn’t mean landing a factory, but becoming a place where young families want to live, and start their own businesses.  

Sometimes that involves local people putting their money together to buy downtown buildings, repair them and offer them as places for new businesses.

The lifestyle appeal of a small town “Main Street” is very strong today, he said.  

The 2023-2024 Teeny Tiny Summit series is themed “Creating Community Wealth and Well-Being”.  

FOCUS ON LOCAL

The summits are a chance to build connections and share ideas from rural communities, supported by the province and the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association.

Naturally, being in Holstein the focus was on Grey County and the Township of Southgate.

Several panels shared about areas that contribute to growth in the region: involving youth and including everyone in the community, no matter how long they’ve lived there.  Another panel featured a unique communication and training company called Horizon Quest.  

Entrepreneurs, community leaders or rural volunteers were all welcome, but perhaps because the event was held on a week day, there were many staff and councillors.  

Mr. Kenyon has a website with resources online with copyright-free materials,  called The Bank of Ideas. 

By M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 07, 2024 at 14:30

This item reprinted with permission from   Dundalk Herald & The Advance   Dundalk, Southgate, Grey Highlands, Ontario

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated