Offers to retreat to the country: four-bedroom house plus bakery for €250 per month
Many small town councils take over the management and promotion of businesses that are disappearing
LleidaIn Bovera, at the southern tip of Les Garrigues, there is a four-bedroom house with a bakery for rent for €250 per month. The offer was announced by the town council in 2020 to attract newcomers who wanted to bake bread for its 200 inhabitants. Last year, a family accepted the deal, but a few months later reconsidered and left for Barcelona. Now Bovera is again without a bakery, forcing people to travel to Granadella (seven kilometres away) to buy bread. The City Council's proposal still stands, but mayor Òscar Acero feels pessimistic. "Nobody wants to come and live in villages," he laments. Despite offering this business without local taxes, there are still no bidders.
Public initiatives to halt the disappearance of traditional businesses are multiplying while rural depopulation continues unchecked. The Institut Català de Estadística confirms that Lleida is the only province in Catalonia where population has fallen in the past ten years, by a total of 3,000 people. The most pessimistic forecasts indicate that it will continue to shrink, with 30,000 fewer inhabitants by 2035. Small municipalities want to stop this trend by maintaining basic services: bakeries, butchers', fishmongers', haberdashers' and greengrocers' are some of the shops needed to keep people in villages.
For example, Ciutadilla (Urgell) is studying the feasibility of converting an old flour mill into a bakery. "Residents are forced to buy bread in Tàrrega, ten kilometres away," mayor Òscar Martínez laments. In La Sentiu de Sió (Noguera), it has been two years since the council rented out a warehouse for the symbolic price €25 per month to have a local greengrocer's. A family from Sabadell moved to the village to reopen the shop and offer home delivery. "We started the initiative during the pandemic, to make it easier for neighbours to access basic necessities," mayor Pepe Torres argues. More examples: earlier this year the town council of Bellaguarda (Les Garrigues) inaugurated a co-workshop for agri-food companies. It reconverted a warehouse into a multipurpose room: it added a cold room, tiles, dishwasher, cooking room, packaging area and changing room and is now fully operational with half a dozen producers.
"Nobody seems interested"
The municipalities of Almatret, Llardecans, Maials, Sarroca and Torrebesses founded the Segrià Sec Community in 2013 to develop their economy and, among other things, stop the flight of businesses. Precisely in Almatret, which with 300 inhabitants has lost 70% of its population in the last sixty years, there are no more butchers. Shopkeepers retired two years ago and no replacements have been found. "We are willing to help anyone who wants to reopen, but no one seems interested," Araceli Miarnau confesses, one of the retired butchers. For this reason, the Community has launched the Recomença Rural project, a public catalogue of commercial establishments that have closed or are about to close. "We offer advice and facilitate procedures so that the takeover is agile," first deputy mayor of Llardecans Josep Mateu says.
Jaume Gilabert, mayor of Montgai (Noguera), asks that initiatives go further. He is the coordinator of the Rural Forestation Tools project integrated by more than 500 villages, and recalls that one of his demands is the tax rebate for new entrepreneurs in rural areas. The Town Council of Montgai reconverted the old medical office ten years ago to be able to rent it out for €200 per month to a group of soap artisans. But Gilabert says that more measures are needed: "We need serious roots, people who start up creative business projects that last".