© Guardian photo by Ryan Ross
Ray Brow, one of the organizers for P.E.I.'s Festival of Small Halls, talks to delegates at the Georgetown Conference Saturday morning at the Kings Playhouse.
After three days of talks about rural renewal, organizers of the Georgetown Conference say the event exceeded their expectations.
Paul MacNeill, publisher of the Eastern Graphic and one of the conference's founders, said the organizers knew they had something positive going when communities in Atlantic Canada started talking to each other before the event started and carried that momentum into Georgetown.
"This is just a spectacular sharing of ideas for three days and all these folks are now gonna go out and be engaged in their community, I think, in a way they probably haven't been or at an elevated level," he said.
"Who knows where it can go from here."
The Georgetown Conference, which wrapped up Saturday afternoon, drew about 250 delegates to the small town for three days of discussions about rural issues and ways to revitalize struggling communities.
Saturday's first sessions differed from the rest of the conference as the delegates moved away from panel discussions and presentations, breaking up instead into smaller groups to hear about rural success stories.
One of those sessions, which was meant to talk about signature events, led to several delegates sharing their stories and seeking advice from the crowd after the scheduled speaker didn't show up.
Ray Brow, one of the organizers for the P.E.I. Festival of Small Halls, took to the podium to talk about his event and gave advice on the importance of knowing the community.
He gave the example of a concert scheduled for the festival that booked a performer who was oversaturated in the community and led to poor ticket sales.
"It was a bit of a dud," he said.
Since the festival started in 2008, Brow said it has been so successful that a group in Australia has copied what is being done in P.E.I.
"It just shows what you can do," he said.
MacNeill said it's hard to know what the final outcome of the conference will be, but groups were already getting together to plan meetings for the near future to make sure they follow up on the work done at the conference.
"That is a phenomenal, phenomenal follow-up because what it shows is the people who were in the room were the right people in the first place," he said.
Sally Grimm O'Neill, a trails development coordinator in Pictou County, N.S. was one of those people and said her community was doing a lot of the things discussed during the conference, such as collaboration and mentorship.
"It was very encouraging to me," she said.
The trick for the delegates and people back in their home communities will be to take what was learned during the conference and put it into practice.
Grimm O'Neill said delegates from her area met before the conference started to make plans for sharing information with their communities.
Meanwhile there were people in her community waiting to find out what happened during the conference and she hoped they can hold further sessions there, Grimm O'Neill said.
"I know I've made a commitment to do some things when I get back," she said.
With the inaugural event finished, MacNeill said it's hard to say what happens next with the Georgetown Conference and although the original plan was to have at least two or three, the organizers don't know where they will be held.
What they do know is that Black Press, whose chain of community newspapers includes several in western Canada, plans to hold a similar event in the Kootenay region under the Georgetown Conference brand.
With others taking up the conference ideals and communities around the region working to address rural issues, MacNeill said it was humbling and he was pleased with the outcome.
"You never know what you've got until you see how people respond to it," he said.