DEPOPULATION

The plan to combat depopulation and isolation in Spain’s dying villages

In an effort to revive communities, the Granada provincial authority is working on an initiative to make it easier to open spaces that combine bars and stores

José Manuel Aguilar sells fresh fish from his van in the village of Lecrín.
José Manuel Aguilar sells fresh fish from his van in the village of Lecrín.fermín rodríguez

In the village of Síllar Baja, in Spain’s southern Granada province, there hasn’t been a game of cards or Dominos in a bar for three years. Nor in the village of Limones. It’s not that the locals have lost their desire to play; it’s that neither of these villages in Granada have a bar. In both cases, the last establishment was closed three years ago, and none has reopened since then.

It was only a matter of time. It’s difficult for an owner to get by just serving a few coffees and beers a day. In villages such as Limones or Síllar Baja, where there are only a few dozen residents, a bar is not profitable, but it does serve a necessary social function. It’s an excuse for locals to come together, talk, and socialize. It gets elderly residents out of the house. When the last bar in the village closes its door, life changes dramatically.

There are days when I don’t talk to anybody
Francisco Ruiz, 80

Francisco Ruiz is 80 years old, and lives in Caparacena – another Granada village without a bar. “It’s been seven or eight months since [the bar] closed. There are days when I don’t talk to anybody,” he says while going for a walk, by himself of course. Like many other provinces in Spain, Granada has a serious depopulation problem. Villages are being deserted, or are only home to the elderly. As a result, basic services shut down or relocate.

Síllar Baja is home to just 67 people, according to the village mayor, Emilia Troncoso. The bar has been closed for three years, but it’s been “eight or 10” since the last store closed down. The shopping choices in Síllar Baja are limited to a van that delivers bread daily, another that sells fish on Wednesdays, and the pharmacy van that passes by each Saturday. Meat, fruit and vegetables have to be bought in a town called Darro, which is seven kilometers away or in Diezma, which is even further. According to Troncoso, “apart from one family that has two young children, everyone, everyone, is old or very old” in Síllar Baja.

In other villages in Granada, such as Lecrín, there are two supermarkets and a butcher’s shop – but no way to buy fresh fish. Fortunately, there is José Manuel Aguilar Lirola, who comes every day in his van with freshly bought goods from the port of Motril, which is half an hour away.

Apart from one family that has two young children, everyone, everyone, is old or very old
Emilia Troncosa

Around 20 villages and districts in Granada do not have either a store or a bar. And just more than a dozen have one or the other. These are the results of a census that Granada’s provincial government is completing in an effort to address the problem. The census came about after José Entrena, the head of Granada’s provincial government, began traveling from village to village. On more than one occasion, when he suggested having a beer or a coffee after the official visit, Entrena was told: “José, we don’t have a bar here.” This caught his attention and he decided to carry out the census.

A few days ago, Entrena announced a plan that, if successful, would allow many of these towns to have multi-use spaces that would serve as a bar and a store for basic goods. If local councils agree to provide the space and cover the cost of fitting it out, the provincial authority will take charge of the refurbishment project. With the support of both the local and provincial government, it should be easier for potential entrepreneurs to run the bar-stores, and breathe life back into Granada’s villages.

Limones is 45 minutes from the city of Granada. Surrounded by olive trees, it's one of the seven districts in the Moclín municipality. Lucía Lucena is the mayor of Limones and also its last shopkeeper. Lucena closed her food and pharmacist shop eight years ago. Years later, the last remaining bar in a village of retirees also shut down. Shopping is now done according to the calendar: bread arrives daily, the fruit and fish vendor comes on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and there are sporadic visits from the butane gas salespeople, the pharmacist van, and little more. A cheesemaker, who also brings sausages, comes to Limones every 15 days. Meat has to be ordered in.

The problem of how to buy medicine has been solved for a year. A pharmacist – who is “much needed because everyone here is between 60 and 80 years old,” says Lucena – comes to the village every Wednesday and Friday, to coincide with the doctor’s visit. The pharmacist works out of a space granted by the city council that villagers like to call “the first aid kit.”

English version by Nell Snow.

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