It may not be set in tropical Queensland, but the six successful ‘Village Champions’ will get to live and work in one of six rural villages for a whole year and use their expertise to support the community in starting up a new business – with Big Lottery Fund backing of up to £400,000.
The search is part of Village SOS, a new partnership between the BBC and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), which is challenging villages to come up with brilliant ideas for new businesses to help revive their communities, many of which are seeing rural life eroded by economic pressures and the closure of local amenities.
Village SOS is inviting rural communities with a population of fewer than 3,000, lots of enthusiasm and a great business idea – from retailing to manufacturing, the arts to leisure – to apply.
Six villages will receive Lottery Funding of between £100,000 and £400,000 to get their businesses of the ground. To help them achieve their ambitions, Village Champions are being recruited through a nationwide search run by the BBC and Make Your Mark, part of the charity Enterprise Insight. The Champions could be anyone with a successful track record in business – banker, baker or builder – as long as they have the drive and charisma to help launch a new venture, and the desire to live and work in a rural village for a year.
The BBC will be documenting the journey of the six villages and their Village Champions for a major BBC1 series in winter 2010.
The documentaries will be presented by Sarah Willingham, who previously presented BBC2 show The Restaurant, who grew famed Indian catering chain The Bombay Bicycle Club into a hugely lucrative catering business. She has also managed some of the biggest brands in the restaurant industry, from Planet Hollywood in France to Pizza Express International where she oversaw restaurant openings in 12 countries.
She said: “Village SOS is an ambitious campaign and one that I am really excited about. It will help regenerate rural villages and will hopefully arouse the interest of a range of individuals who are eager to escape the rat race and take on a new challenge. For them, this could be the best job in UK!”
Sir Clive Booth, Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “While rural village life is in decline we believe that many villages are sitting on a range of untapped potential that, with the support and experience of a driven individual, can be turned into thriving businesses.”
Alongside the series will be a major learning campaign* to help other villages use the learning and enthusiasm from the programme to take a bold step towards starting a new business that will regenerate their own communities.
Both the BIG grant application process and the BBC search for Village Champions are now open until 14 August 2009.