Organisations encouraged to support the Scottish rural economy with their staff rewards and incentives this Christmas

Mary founder of BAKKA - part of the REDS Rural Gift Card

ORGANISATIONS are being encouraged to support the Scottish rural economy with their employee rewards and incentives this Christmas. The REDS (Rural Enterprise Directory Scotland) Rural Gift Card was launched in 2020 by GrowBiz, Scotland’s rural enterprise support agency, and is available for organisations to purchase for their employees.

Andy Lambert, Enterprise Facilitator at GrowBiz said the coverage of the REDS Rural Gift Card across Scotland makes it a good choice for employers wanting to reward staff and support Scotland’s rural communities:

“There has been a 50% increase in the number of businesses on the REDS Gift Card in 2021, with coverage from Shetland to Dumfries and Barra to Dunbar, including many of Scotland’s most remote and fragile communities. Our mission is to put these independent rural businesses on the map, making the invisible visible and directing patronage to where it’s really needed.

“For employers, supporting the REDS Rural Gift Card with their staff rewards is a chance for them to keep rural communities vibrant. These are the places where their employees live, where their children go to school. It’s essential that we support rural and island economies. With the REDS Gift Card, employers can ensure the money they invest in employee rewards goes back into rural communities.”

Each REDS Rural Gift Card can be spent with over 150 rural and island businesses, including a number of businesses with a wellbeing focus such as Do It Outdoors, in rural Perthshire. Do It Outdoors’ founder Ian Macfarlane said: “Do It Outdoors is a small business creating bespoke outdoor activities and events like archery, foraging, axe throwing and even survivalist and woodland warrior sessions. It has become more popular for extended family groups to book in together.  The activities are accessible to old and young and we can include nature hunts, forest art and clay projects for the creative guests. 

“Nature and wellbeing awareness has rocketed since the pandemic. We regularly get groups of colleagues. The good thing about forest activities is that they’re accessible to all. Folk can go for a wee wander in the forest, sit around the open fire, have a go at stick whittling or have the tipi experience in the evening. They can do lots of different activities all from the camp, and it’s suitable for all fitness levels. People enjoy being outdoors because it’s totally different from their day to day lives, and it’s away from the usual distractions.”

A 2018 Scottish rural economy research paper suggests that more people are in part time employment in rural Scotland (31%) with 22% of people in self-employment. Women living in remote rural Scotland have the lowest annual income of any group, and the largest median gender pay gap.

The REDS Rural Gift Card gives recipients access to unique products created by artisan makers, such as Mary Macgregor. Mary moved to Shetland in 2010 to start her small textiles business BAKKA, and creates contemporary Fair Isle textiles using traditional patterns and colours:

“My mission with BAKKA is to preserve textile craftsmanship. All of my designs are inspired by Fair Isle garments in Scottish Museum collections, and use a luxury 100% superfine merino wool which is both sustainable and traceable. All items are knitted in a unique reversible Fair Isle fabric using only 5 distinctive heritage colours, to produce a luxurious, completely bespoke product. My work is unique and so is immediately recognisable as mine.

“The pandemic obviously curtailed visitors to Shetland and there were fewer sales online. I have extended my range downward so that there’s more in the lower price brackets. I offer workshop and croft visits at BAKKA too. The benefit of supporting small Island businesses for an employer is the feel-good factor of knowing that they are supporting the rural economy; for the employee it’s the ability to buy a very special Scottish product they can’t get anywhere else.”

A number of the rural businesses which are part of the REDS Gift Card have a sustainability focus, such as non-profit enterprise NEST Creative Spaces CIC in Blairgowrie:

Tracie Dick is a trustee of NEST and said: “We are a creative community hub, supporting 40 local makers with a gift shop offering everything from fused glass and homewares to bags made from recycled materials and jewellery. There is a greater appreciation for handmade items now, particularly the Blairgowrie gifts you can’t get anywhere else. Masterweaver Ashleigh Slater has his Tartan Caledonia workshop here, and many of the makers use the tartan in their crafts.

“As well as the shop there is the arts and crafts remnants area, saving craft items from landfill, selling them at reduced cost and reusing them in workshops. There are lots of ways to use a REDS Rural Gift Card at NEST, like learning a new skill with a craft workshop, buying craft materials to use at home or buying bespoke items. There is so much talent out in rural communities and it would be wonderful to see employers giving back to their towns and supporting local makers.”

The UK trivial benefits scheme enables organisations to give staff a tax-free non cash reward of up to £50. The REDS Rural Gift Card is part of the award winning Town and City Gift Card programme from payments provider Miconex, active right across the UK and Ireland. Colin Munro, managing director of Miconex said: “With one gift card, employers can access over 150 rural Scottish businesses for their staff, encouraging staff to shop locally, and providing essential support for rural communities.”

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