Javier García-Alzorriz, one of the participants of the Rooral experience at Artieda, at his makeshift deskMontse Hidalgo

After noon, the soundscape of the Zaragoza town of Artieda mixes the buzzing of bees and bumblebees with that of a mower clearing the edge of the roads. The birds chorus and little else disturbs the calm in this enclave near the Pyrenees. Through the window of one of their houses spills the noise of the cutlery drawer being opened. Someone sets the table while whistling Black tears. The time that separates one second from the next begins to lengthen.

During the last couple of weeks, this municipality of 80 inhabitants – according to the 2020 census – has registered a 10% increase in its population. One of them, Ana Amrein (Málaga, 34 years old), is sitting on a wall talking to two neighbors. The social entrepreneur is half of the association Rooral. The other half, Juan Barbed (Bilbao, 34 years old), is preparing croutons in the kitchen of the rural house that welcomes the participants of this teleworking project in remote villages.

The project, which is about to conclude its third edition, offers for a price of between 500 and 1,000 euros stays of one or several weeks in towns that are at risk of depopulation and that can offer newcomers the necessary services to telework without incidents. To the locals, explains Amrein, they offer a long-term alliance to “bring the rural world closer to the urban world and grow with love and care”; and for outsiders, an experience so that they “connect with themselves, with nature and with the community.”

Before choosing a town, the promoters of Rooral ensure that the necessary requirements for their remote work experiences are met, assessing the speed of the internet, its work spaces, the number of available places, the welcoming and entrepreneurial spirit of its inhabitants. the neighborhood climate, the availability of long-term rental options, the air quality, the activities available … In accordance with all these criteria they have begun to develop a ready of locations that meet your requirements. It includes for now the two that have already passed, Artieda and Camprovín (La Rioja), and a couple more: Somiedo (Asturias) and Benarrabá (Málaga).

Flee the city

It all started in the last months of 2019, when Amrein and Barbed, who have worked on innovation and social entrepreneurship projects around the world, met again in a Barcelona on fire due to protests against the Supreme Court ruling that condemned nine pro-independence leaders for sedition. . “What the hell are we doing here?” They wondered. “We are increasingly stressed in the cities. We are increasingly looking for the natural environment. And we can really telecommute. On the one hand, people in cities are overwhelmed. And on the other, there are increasingly empty towns and we are losing all that cultural heritage ”, reasons Amrein.

In that meeting they promised to do “crazy things”, and began to look for towns that would give them back the life that the cities were taking from them. “The pandemic stopped us, but everything sped up virtually,” recalls the co-founder of Rooral. In October 2020, they made their first experience. They gathered ten people in Artieda ―PCR through― and another eight in March in Camprovín (La Rioja, 151 inhabitants).

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The choice of the Aragonese people as a landing strip was not accidental. The town started in 2015 a revitalization project baptized as Start Artieda (Impulsa Artieda, in Aragonese), whose fruits have been gathered over the years in the form of high-speed internet and initiatives such as Get old in your town, which tries to create support networks that avoid the excessive loneliness of the inhabitants older than these nuclei and allow them to remain in their homes. In recent years, new people have been arriving in town and two babies have even been born. “They rang the bells to announce it and people believed there was a fire,” says Barbed.

Urbanites

At lunchtime, the participants begin to go down to the terrace of the rural house, set the table, take out the food – each day one of them prepares it – and sit in the sun. Oscar Villanueva, co-founder and CEO of Nymiz, can boast of having closed a financing agreement for his emerging technology company during his stay at Artieda: “I don’t care being in Bilbao or being in China, having a laptop and a connection. I wanted to explore the feeling of being in another place, and the truth is that professionally everything is the same for me. I can do the same in terms of work, but the connection with nature is brutal ”.

Cristina Amrein, former director of operations in Spain of the technology company in the insurance sector Zego, is preparing to leave Madrid to undertake a circular economy project. He came to Artieda looking for confirmation that life outside the city was what he needed. And he has found it. Mar Cabra, an expert in digital well-being and a former journalist, appears in slippers and greets with a smile from ear to ear. “This is going to sound a little weird, but the energy of the place brings you down,” he says. This is his second experience in Rooral, after passing through Camprovín in March. As he counts on his plate of lentils, he explains that his main motivation for being there is company.

Participants of the Rooral experience planting beans in Artieda
Participants of the Rooral experience planting beans in ArtiedaJB

The urbanites are few, but well matched. Many saw each other in person for the first time less than two weeks ago, but they talk about each other as if they have known each other for years. “In a very short time, a depth can be generated that today’s society hardly allows us. At work we have our masks. With friends you don’t see yourself that often… This allows you to generate a new narrative of yourself, ”explains Barbed. When they are not working, the participants join in the “sacred” vermouth of the town or participate in concerted activities with its inhabitants. They have made routes through the mountains, meditation and yoga sessions, and even dedicated an afternoon to planting boliches, a variety of beans typical of the area that is being lost. “For many it was the first time we had planted something,” says Barbed.

All agree that their performance has not decreased while they have been at Artieda. Quite the contrary. “The fact of stopping, eating with people, with nature, makes you decompress. Then the screen weighs much less, ”says Cabra. After a while, diners begin to disperse to their workplaces in their rooms or in the coworking from town. Javier García-Alzorriz, head of sales operations at the London-based company Eporta, doesn’t go very far: he takes two folding chairs and a cardboard box, builds a portable office in the middle of the street and begins to chain video calls with the mountains in front of him. , like a colossal wallpaper.

The young Spaniard, who has lived in London for 12 years, began working remotely a little before the pandemic and has not stopped moving since then: he passed through Switzerland, returned to Spain and spent time in Madrid and Cantabria, he went to Mexico, Colombia, Greece … And he assures that he has managed to avoid the virus, for which he is already vaccinated. “I didn’t come here because I wanted to get out of my living room. But I have not made any new friends. Someone told me, ‘I haven’t added anyone new to Instagram for almost a year.’ I was the same ”.

Around his makeshift desk, the life of the town continues to flow at its own pace. Every so often a door opens, a neighbor comes out, says hello with a smile and continues with his chores. Around four in the afternoon, the mayor does the same and goes to the town hall with a handful of letters in his hand. “Here we have the experience of having the Camino de Santiago. That has made us a community a little more open to welcoming those who come from outside ”, reasons Luis Javier Solana, from Chunta Aragonesista. In the middle of the conversation, a motorbike for people with reduced mobility begins to descend slowly from the top of the town. The driver, who is the father of the alderman, honks his horn, hilarious, as he passes his son.

Solana explains that in Artieda it is no longer possible to contemplate a repopulation of the town with local resources. In that sense, projects like Rooral allow them to make themselves known to people who may be able to consider establishing themselves in the town permanently. However, the mayor is skeptical about the possibility that the pandemic will generate a notable change in the dominant pattern of concentration in cities. “But hey, we can’t do more. And I think we don’t need so many people either. We were in our seventies, now we are eighty. I would consider it a success that in a few years we are one hundred and that there are young people ”, he calculates. What if you could write a letter to the Magi detailing who you want to come? “That they are good people”, sentence.

Amrein and Barbed are satisfied with what they are achieving with Rooral and with how the project is reflected in their current lifestyles. But they know they still have a way to go to reach viability. Among their future plans is to increase the number of experiences and their duration, obtain subsidies, seek longer rentals or joint ownership models, so that they can lower the prices of the shares. “We are exploring ways to do it, but first we had to validate that this made sense,” explains Amrein. They do not rule out that in the medium term there may be several simultaneous experiences in different towns, with local ambassadors hired in each location. “We are the antithesis of startup. Little by little we will meet these milestones. The times and resources we have are different, but there is a vocation for permanence, ”says Barbed.

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