A RURAL development officer with the Clapham based charity The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has won a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the United States on a fact-finding mission.

Rima Berry is one of 150 people across the country- including Jo Rhodes from Settle - to be awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship.

Almost 1,800 people applied for a fellowship which offer a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the world and research cutting-edge solutions to important topical issues for an average time of six weeks.

Rima, who lives in Askrigg, will visit the States to research how Community Land Trusts practically operate over large geographic areas. She said she was delighted to win the award and described it as a most remarkable opportunity.

“With community land trusts, one size does not fit all and organisations operate in lots of different ways,” she said. “This will be the most challenging task and remarkable opportunity that I never thought I’d have.”

She added: “I will be researching how we can get better at supporting rural community land ownership in the UK for the social, economic and environmental good of all members of rural society and learning from the pioneers who started it, tested it and are living it.

“This is important because protected landscapes and national parks not only conserve habitats but they conserve cultural values too; the communities and people who maintain the farmed landscape.”

Rima’s research will centre on innovation in public sector partnerships, awareness of the social benefits of community land trusts, and how they boost individual and community equity.

She will also look at how the trusts create foundations for more equitable development and better opportunities for low income home ownership in rural areas.

“My fellowship experience will be professionally and personally challenging and potentially career changing,” she added. “I am hoping to bring back lots of transferable good practice, case studies and new ideas.

“When I return to the UK, I intend that the research will better inform the development of community land trusts in rural areas and positively impact the sustainability of rural communities - by testing the feasibility of a pilot rural landscape scale CLTs , working in collaboration with rural communities, charities, local planning authorities and housing associations and developers.”

To find out more about applying for a Churchill Fellowship, visit: wcmt.org.uk.