Saturday, August 13, 2011
Ever since agriculture stopped being the key employer in Western Europe and rural areas began to depopulate people have been coming up with clever ideas to maintain rural communities and lifestyles.
We were in Teruel province in Aragon the last couple of days to visit our pal Pepa who has opened a sort of country cottage for rent, a Casa Rural. Teruel has a problem of rural depopulation. Beautiful villages set amidst impressive scenery but with ageing populations, no jobs and very few services.
Pepa mentioned "Multiservicios" to us and described the one in her adopted village of Fuentes de Rubielos. It doesn't take much translation - Multiservices - and the idea is dead simple too. The key element is a shop to sell the staples but most offer a bar and some sort of community space as well. In Olba we had a meal in the Multiservicio restaurant and the sign outside said that they offered banking services, Internet, post office, lodging and tourist info.
I tried to find out from Pepa just how these worked. Who subsidised what, how did anyone ensure that the level of service offered was appropriate? How did the people who ran them avoid going bankrupt, how were they guaranteed a wage? Basically she didn't know. She just saw the positive results of them in the villages and she knew that it was the Town Halls and the equivalent of the English Chambers of Trade and the County Council that put the funding in.
Checking through the official website it seems that the main contribution of the Town Hall is usually the building. The building is done up, presumably with grants, and then offered at a peppercorn rent to the Multiservicio operator. There wasn't a lot of the nitty gritty detail about how they actually worked though. After all the reason that there aren't shops in villages is that there aren't enough customers to make them profitable.
Nonetheless we did go in a couple of the Multiservicios and there was no doubt that, in summer at least, with tourists and summer residents in the villages, they were doing their job. In Fuentes, as we leaned on the bar long enough to have a drink, a steady stream of kids came in to buy crisps and sweets, the bar had at least five customers for take-away drinks and, over in the corner, the game of snakes and ladders was pretty lively. The Multiservicio restaurant in Olba had about five tables occupied as we sat down to eat.
I was just talking to Maggie about writing this post and she asked if I fancied getting involved in one of them. It gets a bit parky in Teruel in winter but who knows? - romantic sort of idea - at least from a distance.