If you are an entrepreneur looking for a good opportunity to start a business in a rural area, you have until June 11th to enlist in the “Hola Pueblo” programme. You won’t be able to buy a house for one euro like in Italy, but there are plenty of benefits in store for candidates who meet the requirements. And if you want to stay in the province, now is the time to act: this year, six pueblos from La Comunidad Valenciana are participating.
Rural village depopulation is a worldwide trend that represents a peculiar anomaly of modern living. Cities are filling up, while villages are emptying and dying. However, recent events (the Covid crisis) and technological advancements are beginning to reverse this trend. More and more people are considering returning to rural areas to escape the hustle, bustle, and pollution of big cities.
This trend was first attempted to be reversed in Italy, where, nearly a decade ago, a new and innovative action took place: mayors of small Italian villages began offering houses to young families for one euro. Of course, there were numerous requirements attached to this proposal, which ranged from having children and enrolling them in the local school to starting a business and investing a certain amount of money. The action was a huge success; more than 50 villages in mostly desolate areas, particularly in the south of the Italian Peninsula, used this formula and began filling their villages with young couples looking for a different way of life.
Despite the fact that Spain has the same problem, no such action has ever been taken. Depopulation of small villages in Spain has long been a problem, affecting almost every province on the Iberian Peninsula, and Spain has learned to live with it. This trend began in the 1960s, when people began to leave villages in search of employment opportunities, and it continued for the next 50 years, turning many once bustling villages into ghost towns.
This is a particularly serious issue in La Comunidad Valenciana, and is typical of areas further inland and away from the coast. Small towns with no particular tourist attraction began to lose the battle as time passed. There were fewer and fewer opportunities, jobs were scarce, and schools, shops, and bars began to close. And there was no sign of the Internet.
Central and local governments have been vocal in their promises to address this issue, but little has been done. Last year, the first serious attempt to do something on a national scale was made, and it was funded by the private sector. The private foundation Alma Natura, which was founded in Leon more than two decades ago with the sole purpose of repopulating villages in the province, is at the heart of the “Hola Pueblo” project. According to Alma Natura, the project’s goal is to “create a more rural, sustainable, and empathetic world in which all people have access to the same opportunities and quality of life, regardless of where they live.”
Alma Natura began approaching large corporations, as it had done in previous much smaller projects. The foundation required assistance in order to make the entire process sustainable, rather than relying on government funding that may or may not arrive, or may run out in the middle of a large project.
Finally, “Hola Pueblo” evolved into a completely private endeavour and a one-of-a-kind concept. The project, funded by Red Eléctrica de España and Correos, is essentially a platform that connects people interested in settling in rural areas and implementing their entrepreneurship project with towns looking for new residents.
Interested applicants must meet certain criteria in order to participate in the project. This year, there are only 35 places available for entrepreneurs, and in order to participate in this programme, they must demonstrate the following: an entrepreneurship idea that suggests technical, commercial, and economic viability, the documentation required to live and work in Spain and a business plan and economic resources to be able to settle in the municipality until the business begins to generate profits.
Once the application is received, many other factors will be considered, including the applicant’s competency, demonstrable previous experience, innovation, participation in similar projects, family motivation, and finally, possession of a valid driver’s licence.
The participating towns are subject to fairly strict rules: in order to participate in the project, they must have a housing supply for sale and/or rent at reasonable prices and in good enough condition to move into, as well as a good internet connection. Furthermore, they must have documented population loss in the last five years, be located no more than one hour from a population centre with more than 3,000 inhabitants, have less than 2,000 inhabitants, and medical care, pharmacy service, and a primary education centre in the municipality itself or no more than 20 kilometres away.
To make the process easier, the organisers of “Hola Pueblo” will prepare a portfolio of detailed information on the municipalities where you can start your project, and offer six online sessions and individualised mentoring (90-minute duration) to help you start your business project in the municipality of your choice. Prospective entrepreneurs will be accompanied in the selection process and assisted with municipal contacts, as well as have access to workshops and specialised content sessions in rural areas.
So far, 70 municipalities have signed up for this programme. This year, six villages will participate in La Comunidad Valenciana for the first time: Alpuente in Valencia Province and Caudiel, Almedjar, Sot de Ferrer, Geldo, and Castellnovo in Castellón Province. The initiative has grown by 100 percent year after year, and it is gradually gaining traction.
If you are willing to take part, you can go to the “Hola Pueblo” website and not only get more information, but also read a lot of success stories shared by people who began this journey last year.
To enlist into the programme:
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