Inspired by good practice of Söderhamn municipality (Sweden), our Finnish partner from South Karelia is going to launch a Rural Service Points pilot in May 2020. In many good practices shared in SARURE project, the role of public bodies in preserving retail services in rural areas have been pointed out. In Rural Service Points pilot this aspect is implemented by testing a cooperation model where village shop serves as a platform for several service producers. Services are produced jointly by entrepreneurs, municipalities and other public and third sector actors. 

Pilot is conducted and led by Regional Council of South Karelia involving three municipalities from South Karelia: Luumäki, Taipalsaari and Rautjärvi. In this 1,5-year project new ways of producing services will be tested to develop the service offering in rural areas. At the same time the aim is to boost and activate vitality of these areas. Project was granted in December 2019 by Rural Development Program for Mainland Finland with budget of 156 565,58 euros. The implementation time for the project is 1.5.2020 – 31.10.2021. 

Project has two objectives. Firstly, it will bring together actors from different sectors and create model for cooperation that has not been done or even tested before. The key is to examine, in what way the cooperation would benefit all parties and enable something that could not been done without cooperation. Secondly the objective is also to build up one Rural service point in each municipality taking part in project. These points will be based on existing village shops. The idea is, that an entrepreneur (shop keeper) is not alone responsible for producing and offering multiple services, but there are several producers for services that are gathered in one location. A service provider can be municipality, association, public sector actor or other entrepreneur.

Cooperating this way, like Söderhamn good practice shows, it is possible to exploit resources that none of actors would have individually. The model gathers service offering in one place that makes it easier to customers and service users to benefit of these services. Project offers also a great opportunity to inspect the demand of services in rural areas: what are the customer segments? what kind of services are truly needed?

Ensuring the availability of most needed services in rural areas ask for new thinking and testing of new models and this project will offer an excellent platform of testing and rooting new ideas.