VILLAGE DEVELOPMENT IN FINLAND: A ‘village book’ raises the profile of rural areas in Kouvola
Are rural areas an asset or a burden to the town of
Kouvola? Do local authority decision-makers and officials know what kinds of
villages their sprawling rural town hides? How can villages get their voices
heard? Do even the residents of these villages actually appreciate where they
These were some of the
questions put to Kouvola Villages Advisory Board last year. The first step
towards finding answers was to compile information about the villages located
on the outskirts of Kouvola.
investigative work was delegated to the most
knowledgeable experts: the villagers themselves. Two local action groups known
as Pohjois-Kymen Kasvu and Kymenlaakson Kylät as well as the Rural Services
Department of the Town of Kouvola provided a support network for the project.
Johanna Hentinen from a local action group known as
Linnaseutu gave a presentation at the project’s start-up meeting in August.
Traditional village plans have been found to be very labour-intensive, so the
objective was to find a less burdensome model. The goal was to find a
compromise between a traditional village plan and a purely promotional
marketing brochure. This way the document could be used as a kind of business
card for villages as well as mapping out village development initiatives to be
carried out in the longer term.
The project group decided against a standardised
model. Each village was free to choose both the content and the layout of their
own section in the book. This way the book would also illustrate the diversity
of rural areas. This approach was also hoped to boost the team spirit of the
The book, which contains
information about 42 different villages, was printed at the end of the year.
The publisher was the Rural Services Department of the Town of Kouvola.
Each of the featured villages
was given a copy hot from the press. The book was also distributed to the
members of Kouvola Town Board, to the town councillors, and to various civil
servants. The wide range of stakeholders were not forgotten either. The town’s
libraries also got their copies, so that everyone can now enjoy the
Demand for the book exceeded all expectations, and
Kymenlaakson Kylät soon had to publish a second edition. An online version of
the book ensures that people from outside the area can also read about the
trials and triumphs of life in rural area
Uimila, the land of happy
The village of Uimila, which is located on the
outskirts of Heinola, calls itself ‘the land of happy people’. I decide to make
a brief visit to the north-western corner of Kouvola to find out just why. I am
greeted by Nina Anttonen, President of Uimila Village Association, and Kirsi
Mäntynen, the association’s treasurer, who I instantly recognise as living
examples of the bold statements featured in the book.
One phrase from the book – “Uimila is a village of
people of all ages” – comes to mind as soon as I get to Kirsi Mäntynen’s house.
The door is opened by Anni, who has just returned from school. This makes a
total of eight children in the house now that Nina Anttonen has also brought
her two toddlers to visit with the neighbours. Some of the older children have
already moved away from home.
Anni Mäntynen has worked several summers at the local
shop. She has now passed her job on to her younger sister, Fiia. There is
absolutely no sign of the myth that villages are run by grumpy old men and
Families at the heart of village action
So how on earth do you get teenagers involved in
“Families are at the heart of village action in
Uimila. We are used to doing everything together. Children learn the passion
for teamwork at a young age. Having the children involved makes the transition
from one generation to the next the most natural thing in the world. Children
and youngsters often put on their own shows at the Village Association’s
events, and they help out with the local shop in the summers. After a while of
tagging along, the kids become a real asset to the Village Association”, Nina
and Kirsi explain.
The children learn the importance of team spirit from
the example set by their parents. Anni has genuinely enjoyed her work at the
“It is a great place to meet people and to do something
The fact that young men from the village and the
nearby holiday homes tend to hang around the shop probably also helps. The boys
come to the newsagent’s either for Coca-Cola or for girls.
“We are always asking the youngsters for their thoughts
and ideas, and we factor them into the Village Association’s activities. We
have no young representatives on the Board of Directors, but the youngsters get
to have their say in village meetings, for example”, Nina explains.
Local pool of performers and
The children and young people of Uimila like to put on
shows both for their own community and for the neighbouring villages. The dance
performances, plays, and comedy shows put on by the younger residents have been
some of the most popular attractions at the Village Association’s events over
the years. A play called Sillyella, which was a 21st century
adaptation of the classic story of Cinderella, still drives Nina and Kirsi into
The youngsters’ dance performances have also been great
successes. One of the most memorable shows was a parody of a famous Finnish
dance instructor performed by Kirsi Mäntynen’s son, Santeri.
“But then he is amazing in any role”, Nina says.
The youngsters cannot do it all by themselves, because
someone also needs to direct the shows. Thankfully, the village has its own
directors: Nina Anttonen and Liisa Mäntynen.
Mari Kulomaa is a name that I hear
both in connection with running the local shop and recruiting the younger
residents of the village to work there in the summers. She is known as the
mother of the village.
Rewards for working for the
The residents of Uimila also know how to reward those
who contribute to the community. The Villager of the Year award is presented at
the Christmas party every December. There is also a whole host of distinctions
to be won. Both Anni Mäntynen and Fiia Mäntynen have been given distinctions.
“Getting recognition makes you feel like you really
have done something useful to help the village. It is also useful to those who
get the distinction, because they are given a written roll of honour. The roll
of honour explains why the distinction has been given. I have used it when I
have applied for summer jobs in the past. After all, it is also proof of my
work experience”, Anni explains.
“Minttu Purrenheimo, who created the website, was only
17 years old when she designed it for the Village Association. She got really
into web design and continued to update the site for several years”, Nina
Despite its briefness, my visit to Uimila certainly
answers the question about whether villages are an asset or a burden. The rural
areas around Kouvola are full of clever and enthusiastic people of all ages who
are not afraid to put themselves on the line. I have to conclude that villages
are definitely an asset for Kouvola. A strong team spirit both among villages
and between villages and the town is a valuable advantage.
Text: Anne Mettälä, Pohjois-Kymen kasvu ry
Photo: Anne Mettälä, Nina Anttonen, Kirsi Mäntynen and Sirpa Vähäuski