“Return to Town”. Project of exchange, rural areas and sustainability

The project “Return to Town” has involved 32 young people from four different countries: Spain, Italy, Serbia and Hungary. The project aimed to collect and share good practices and ideas for the creation of social and sustainable youth-led enterprises in rural areas at risk of depopulation.
Several rural areas across Europe have suffered significant depopulation in recent decades, with part of the population moving to big cities.

This has gradually led to a decline in employment opportunities for young people, arise in average age and a decline in services, which have not been addressed by effective policy

interventions. In addition, this has led to a gradual widening of the gap between rural areas and large cities. The long-term risk is that some areas will be completely depopulated, with irreparable loss of their heritage, including cultural heritage.
The pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems already known in rural areas and has once again highlighted the vulnerability of these areas.

The rural area of the province of Burgos is an example of these phenomena, and we decided to use it as a location for the project because, in addition to being an unpopulated area that meets many of the characteristics of the problem we are dealing with, it is home to several associations, cooperatives and young entrepreneurs who, on the contrary, try to keep the area alive, creating opportunities for growth, diversification, work and tourism.
The Erasmus plus youth exchange took place from 16 to 26 November in Belorado (Burgos). The participants learned to live together in the Albergue el Corro; they shared rooms, and common areas and were responsible for daily tasks such as cleaning the kitchen, rooms, and toilets.
Every day they would participate in various activities, team-building games and interesting sessions on entrepreneurship and sustainability.

The whole exchange was developed through non-formal education methods and allowed the participants to get in touch with and learn in depth about different realities in the area. Before the joint ideation of sustainable business ideas in rural areas, they met and talked with: Curcubeo, a family business from Pradoluengo that has been producing socks for more than 30 years; with “El Puchero de Villasur“, an association that works for food sovereignty and produces vegetables in the vegetable gardens of Villasur de Los Herreros, distributing them to its members in the province of Burgos; and finally with the Ábrego Association, an association that works in the province of Burgos for rural development and to reduce the distances between the rural environment and the city.
The participants analysed these realities in depth to learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and potential, in order to receive important input for the development of business ideas in the rural areas from which they came.
Subsequently, divided into small groups, they developed business ideas and a project toolkit, which can be downloaded here.

“Me vuelvo al pueblo” fue un intercambio juvenil intenso que impactó no sólo a las organizaciones involucradas y a los participantes; fue un intercambio con un fuerte impacto en las comunidades locales. Esperamos que este proyecto sea sólo un primer paso hacia el cambio y hacia un nuevo desarrollo.