“Farmers need to live in the rural world, but also graphic designers”
The Twitter account Repoblem connects small town councils who are looking for new neighbours
BarcelonaTon Lloret has been living for 15 years in one of the small urban centres that create Argençola, in Anoia, a town of just over 200 inhabitants. In love with the rural world and aware of the difficult reality of depopulation that punishes many areas of the country, he decided, last August, to launch a Twitter account with a more than illustrative name: Repoblem (Let's repopulate). "My goal was to reproduce on Twitter the human network that exists in towns and that is activated when someone needs something", Lloret explains. He brings together job offers, accommodation and services of the towns that seek inhabitants and presents them on the web so that people who want to leave cities have a place where information is centralized. And the number of people who want to leave cities has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic.
It is a simple job, but before Repoblem nobody did it. The municipalities that are looking for inhabitants communicated it as best as they could, and the people who want to go live in a town pulled friends and acquaintances and spoke out in the area that interested them. Now both have a meeting point on this Twitter account that already has more than 22,000 followers and that has already managed to move 5 families go to live in small towns in Catalonia. "It seems like a small number but I think it is an important milestone", he says proudly, "because there are many elements at stake in making such a major change, and very often it is not easy”.
Lloret explains that it was last summer when he saw clearly that the pandemic and the lockdown had had a very large impact "especially on people who live in a city". "I noticed that there was a lot of desire to leave, that there were people and families who were considering changes in their lives, and since I have always been very interested in the rural world, I decided to start this project to try to help these people who want to leave, but also to help small towns”, he says.
Lloret receives all the information from the town halls that want residents -if there is accommodation at a good price, school, shops, connections, etc.- and present it on the net in the form of appeals. His tweets have hundreds of responses, as he explains, especially from families interested in going to live outside the city. "I believe that the pandemic has changed things a lot”, Lloret says. "There are people who lived a very hard lockdown, locked in small flats and with no way of going out, which made them revalue the concept of open space and nature, now they see it as a privilege”. However, he believes that there are more factors: "There has also been an awareness of our way of life; we know that we can do without many things that seemed essential to us, and that makes us freer. And there are many people who have realized that what they want is more time with their family, more free time, and more connection with nature”.
Rebalancing the territory
Lloret believes that for many years "cities had a very good reputation" and this made them "exert a great power of attraction over people because the message was that everything happened in cities, as if there were no future in towns, and this is a big mistake". He points out that it is necessary to take advantage of this moment of change to "rethink the country". He believes that "the territory must be rebalanced because it is not healthy for all these people to be concentrated in cities whilst towns are being emptied”, and a fundamental problem must be solved: the lack of services. "This is a scourge that the rural world suffers and that is the fruit and cause of depopulation. That is why it must be reversed and necessary services must be provided to towns, because farmers need to live in the rural world, but also graphic designers and engineers. Because with people living in towns, networks and synergies are created and that's when the economy grows”.
Lack of housing
One of the main problems he is encountering when he receives proposals from small towns that would like new neighbours is the lack of affordable housing. "Many towns have empty houses but the owners are reluctant to rent them, you can see that the rural world has been abandoned for decades, but it is a dynamic that we have to change if we want to repopulate the country", he says. For a family, for instance, that intends to make a change of life and go to a town it will be much easier if they find an affordable rent, rather than asking them for an astronomical figure to buy a house, he explains. And he complains that "it seems that the urban world has now discovered the lack of services in the rural world, when it has needed it, because towns are not just a place to go to spend the weekend, they are also a place to live. And now many people have seen that in order to live this need minimal services that have not been around for a long time”. However, Lloret is optimistic and positively values the change in mentality that the pandemic has brought about and believes that it may be a great opportunity to repopulate and re-fill many villages with life. And he gives as an example another milestone achieved thanks to the account he has created: that the owners of 6 houses in small towns that were half in ruins have agreed to fix them and put them up for rent. "They have understood that it is a preliminary step in order to revive the town, and that is very important", he assures.
Regarding the type of people who want to leave cities, he says: "There is everything. There are those who have more practical reasons and others more spiritual". He has met people who are tired of their work and want a job which is more in contact with nature, families who seek another rhythm of life or want to offer a different childhood to their kids, and people who have lived a year full of changes and is considering things that had not been raised until now. “We have a bit of everything”, he acknowledges. He believes that in general “we all need a return to nature, we are too disconnected, and we need to rediscover it because we depend much more on the natural environment than what we think”.