“I was a priest,” says José Vicente Granados, the mayor of Pescueza, a Spanish village in Cáceres province in the inland western region of Extremadura. The 43-year-old was born in Pescueza and lived there until he was 14, when he left to study theology in Badajoz. “I abandoned the priesthood out of a lack of religious vocation. I returned to the village in 2006, and later met my wife,” he says.
Today, Pescueza is home to 168 people – 65% of whom are over the age of 60. Speaking from his office, Vicente explains that when he was first elected mayor for the Socialist Party (PSOE) in 2007, the school had already been closed for 25 years because there were not enough children. Pescueza was languishing, depopulation was knocking loudly at its door.
But in 2008, the village launched El Festivalino, “the smallest festival in the world,” says Vicente. The event, which is held in April, combines “theater and workshops on traditional candies with the elderly of the village,” says the mayor, with 15 concerts and talks on the environment. The first year a thousand people came to the festival. In 2019, there were nearly 10,000 people. It was at this free event, during talks about the rural exodus in Spain, that the idea for “Quédate con nosotros” (or, Stay with us) came up.
The premise behind the project is to provide support for elderly people, without requiring them to give up their homes. The program has been running since 2011, and is funded by the Friends of Pescueza Association, the Democratic Pensions Union (UDP) and the regional government of Extremadura, according to the regional newspaper Hoy.
“There are seniors here. We have to take advantage of that,” explains Vicente. “When a grandparent closes the door to their home to go to a nursing home, all of their memories are left behind. We created a village care center, where their very own houses and streets are adapted for their needs.”
“This way the elderly do not have to be uprooted from their homes,” explains Constancio Rodríguez, 55, the president of UDP, whose mother lives in the residence.
The center has a capacity for 24 people during the day, from 9am to 9pm, and four people at night for those who want the complete service.
“Most pay €250 per stay – the average pension in the village is €600 – which includes four meals, a shower, laundry, hairdresser and workshops,” explains manager Raquel Julián, 38.
The center, which is managed privately, employs 10 local staff, some of whom have only recently registered as residents – such as Rosa María, the chef, who registered in Pescueza after meeting her husband.
The 30-year-old, who has a 16-month-old baby and a three-year-old child, explains that for today’s meal she is making “potatoes, codfish and rice.”
Félix Martín is the resident mute in the village. The 80-year-old has never had a cellphone. He doesn’t know sign language but through gestures he explains that if he falls while fishing he can press the red emergency button on the mobile device given to him by the center. All elderly people in the program now have this kind of phone. If they need help or have an emergency, they can push the red button and this automatically sends their location to the center.
Rosa, 86, has signed up to have her meals delivered to her home. “They bring it to my house because my husband is unwell,” she explains. She leads a normal life, pushing her walker along the blue walkways that have been put down as part of the project. These paths, which look like bicycle lanes, have been made with a non-slip surface to help residents navigate the village’s serpentine streets.
The village has also installed more than 100 meters of handrails to make it easier for seniors to climb up the hills. “This is the most thoughtful thing,” says Pedro, 89, as he grabs hold of a handrail on a wall. “I like eating things from my orchard like onions and chickpeas,” he adds. Thanks to the Quédate con nosotros program he does not need to leave his garden.
And if he gets tired or wants to go to Mass or the only bar in Pescueza for a cup of coffee, an electric buggy will give him a lift through the narrow, stone-cobbled streets. The buggy acts like a bus, taking the seniors in the program wherever they need to go.
Petra, 83, and Alicia, 85, are going for a morning walk outside of the village. “Everything is very good, but we want more,” they say. And they will have it. According to the mayor, four more rooms will be built in the next month.
English version by Melissa Kitson.