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Remaining relevant – how a 235-year-old organisation connects with its members and drives impact & influence

Remaining relevant – how a 235-year-old organisation connects with its members and drives impact & influence


Not many modern organisations are able to trace their heritage back over two centuries. Even less can say they have remained true to their founders’ values and beliefs.
Almost 235 years ago to the day (9th February 1784) around a table or two at a Tavern on the High Street in Edinburgh, a group of 50 gentlemen and noblemen met to discuss what they could do to revitalise Scotland’s rural and Highland communities. It was at this first meeting that they unanimously agreed to form a Society that would drive forward change. They called it The Highland Society of Edinburgh.

At the heart of the Highland Society’s petition for a Royal Charter in 1784, was its purpose to ‘unite the exertions of the proprietors of the land’, to develop, grow and promote the rural economy of Scotland.

What started as just 100 members has turned into a community of over 16,500 and RHASS membership remains its strength. They represent the grassroots, with a huge range of farming and rural business, in terms of size, structure and success.

What’s changed?

The industry has evolved somewhat over the last two centuries and so too has the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS). While our focus has remained true to our charitable objectives, we have been at the forefront of creating a resilient sector. From uniting consumers with producers through our flagship Royal Highland Show to developing a food literate Scotland in partnership with our education charity, The Royal Highland Education Trust, to supporting our grassroots members as demonstrated by our recent Doug Avery tour that tackled the thorny subject of rural mental health.

It is without doubt that there remains a constant stream of challenges: technological, political and environmental facing the industry but RHASS remains a constant and in these unsettling times it is important to have a trusted organisation that members believe in.

The charitable objects of today’s Society focus on education, innovation, community and investment, and a determination to see our industry thrive. As a charity, the organisation must be sustainable and wise decisions made by RHASS Directors over the decades has resulted in an Estate next to Edinburgh airport that, through careful management and ongoing investment, continues to generate funds that enable RHASS to carry more ambitious projects to support the sector.

What’s important to RHASS members?

Having a voice

What was once a Society to protect the Highlands soon became one that would give all regions in Scotland a voice. Over fifty elected Directors span the length and breadth of the country, providing a vital link to RHASS members and the challenges they face. This ensures that all farming sectors throughout Scotland are represented on the board.

Having a place to call home

Over the last decade RHASS has made substantial investment at the Royal Highland Centre and we have bigger ambitions still. Work has just begun on the next phase of developments. Our new £5m members' area will connect and support rural Scotland to engage and empower the industry as a whole. Most importantly it will become a place to inspire the next generation to lead our industry, to rise to its challenges and grasp its opportunities.

Connecting with consumers

For almost 200 years, the Royal Highland Show has been the flagship of the RHASS mission - to promote the highest standards in agriculture, forestry and food, to steward the countryside and to protect its rural communities. Every June, over 190,000 people flock to the outskirts of Edinburgh to see the country’s best. The Royal Highland Show is a showcase for the industry to a 60% urban audience and celebrates producers, farmers and innovators through prestigious competitions.

Educating the next generation of consumers & producers

In 1856, RHASS obtained a supplementary Royal Charter authorising it to promote the education of young agriculturalists by directing them to a suitable course of study. RHASS continues to promote education in a broader sense, recognising the enthusiasm of the next generation by providing numerous grants and scholarships every year. RHASS support of the Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) has spanned its entire 20-year history and RHASS is an enthusiastic supporter of the work the organisation does to develop the next generation of farmers through Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.

The dynamic and progressive membership organisation established in 1764 is still very much alive today, with RHASS’ unwavering commitment to building on generations of investment, innovation and influence for the benefit of our rural industry.

Meet the RHASS Director: Lynda Graham

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