The revitalisation of the rural environment as a key factor in the care model

The RuralCare project aims to support people to remain at home until the end of their lives, if that is their wish, and to do so while maintaining their lifestyle. One of the key elements of the project to contribute giving meaning to people’s lives is the dynamization of the territory so that it becomes an environment that offers alternatives for participation in meaningful activities, through collaborative work, the natural leadership of each territory, integration, social cohesion and social interaction.

On 7 April 2022, the RuralCare project organised, at the Matallana Nature Interpretation Centre in Villalba de los Alcores (Valladolid), a conference on good practices and experiences for the revitalisation of the rural environment carried out at local, regional, and international level.

The event provided an enriching space for sharing experiences and learning together to promote the transfer and replication of those methodologies and practices that have succeeded in transforming territories into opportunities for community participation, and progress towards an inclusive society in which everyone can find their own space.

Key elements in the dynamization process

Josefa Martín, an expert in community development dynamics in rural environments, began with a presentation that provided guidance on some of the aspects to be taken into account in order to enhance the opportunities that the territory can offer. Dynamization is about speed and velocity in a process that has no end; it has to be open, fluid, inclusive, comprehensible and participatory; its key elements are a territorial and bottom-up approach, integrative partnership, network and cooperation and proximity management.

Intergenerationality

To learn about specific examples of revitalisation practices adapted to different communities and contexts, the conference featured Juanjo Pulido, representing UNDERGROUND Arqueología, Patrimonio y Gente, who presented dynamization actions that have provided people with greater opportunities for social interaction and participation in cultural processes. He particularly emphasised the importance of intergenerationality for a more cohesive and connected rural environment, and therefore better prepared for future challenges.

Gema de la Fuente, Technician of the Federación de Jubilados y Pensionistas de Soria, also highlighted the importance of intergenerationality, explaining as an example of good practice and constant learning the dynamization model implemented in Langa de Duero (a municipality in the province of Soria with less than 1,000 inhabitants), which has used the methodology of focus groups to identify common interests and has managed to involve people of different ages in local projects that have worked on issues such as recycling, road safety or the recovery of traditions, promoting a cohesive and proactive community.

Social factors such as health determinants

“If most of the determinants of health are social, so must be their remedies”; Emiliano Rodríguez Sánchez, Family Doctor in Salamanca and collaborator in multiple national and international projects, focused on the importance of “prescribing health”, referring to the risks of normalising the medicalisation of processes often generated not so much by health factors, but by environmental and social factors, and should therefore be treated from this perspective, prioritising aspects such as lifestyle and social relations for people’s wellbeing.

International Perspective

The international perspective was provided by Francesco Casabianca representing “Quartiers Solidaires et Villages Solidaires” (Solidarity Villages and Neighbourhoods): an initiative carried out in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, which since 2002 has developed 37 projects in favour of the integration of older people in their neighbourhoods and communities. The project again stresses the importance of intergenerationality and understanding the diversity of people as key factors in achieving a more cohesive community in which its members play a more active role.

Giving voice to experience

Isabel Vega and Ángel de Prado contributed the vision and experience of the Solidarity Action Collectives of Castilla y León, an organisation that has been working for years in rural areas, based on proximity, listening and participation. “Contributing to give meaning to people’s quality of life by encouraging their participation is important; but if it is also done by listening to those who have been working in the territory for years, it builds on an important road that has already been travelled”.

The richness of interpersonal relationships

Another concrete example of good practice, this time from the Community of Madrid, is the La Konectiva initiative of the Aprocor Foundation. Nieves Casas and Ester Ortega explained how to work on community building from the neighbourhood, focusing on the relationships established between people, and the wealth that is generated when neighbours with different abilities contribute to the common good with concrete and free actions. La Konectiva develops a model based on the territory itself (neighbourhood or community), oriented towards the relationship and connection between people and based on people’s potential and assets – rather than their limitations – that is citizen-led and focused on social inclusion.

Care as a common good

The event was closed by Marisol Tundidor Gago, who, in addition to being a gerontological psychologist, defines herself as a lover and advocate of friendly environments and community dynamics.. Marisol explained “The need to understand care beyond dependency and to think about it from different areas of everyday life. To understand care as a social organisation, as a common good that guides the collective action of integrating and inclusive community initiatives, adapted to the rural environment, that offer and strengthen the feeling of belonging and usefulness to the community, of closeness, proximity, identity and community bonding”. With conferences such as this one, she insisted, “we are making progress in a firm, coherent, sustainable, committed and connected to the local level, taking advantage of existing resources and creating a network”.

Transversality and creativity in the practice of community revitalization

In addition to the presentations, the day included an exhibition of six posters representing more examples of good practices in community revitalisation carried out by different organisations.

Ricardo Velasco, Mayor of Ventosa (La Rioja), presented the project Un kilómetro de arte; a participatory space that generates a permanent artistic intervention every year in the physical kilometre between the beginning of the municipality of Ventosa and the church of San Saturnino. A meeting point between tourism and culture that connects with the values of the inhabitants of Ventosa and nearby towns through the Way of ”El Camino de Santiago”.

Alexandra Posac, representing La Candela Teatro y Comunidad, explained another example of how art can be a tool for community dynamisation through a collective artistic laboratory that promotes social participation and community development for the creation of neighbourhood networks, the improvement of social cohesion and the promotion of citizen participation in the city of Valladolid.

From art to culture by the hand of Fundación Intras, whose representative Adrián Pérez introduced us to the Centro Sociocultural Peromato; a social innovation project where social care services aimed at people in vulnerable situations and sociocultural services aimed at the whole population converge, with the aim of generating a space for participation, respect, and understanding of diversity.

Community revitalization can also play a fundamental role in caring for caregivers through the creation of support networks. An example of this is the project Por ti, Por ellos of the Diputación de Valladolid, whose objective was to share a framework for joint reflection between professionals, social agents and family carers, on whom the dependent persons were, what their needs were and the repercussions that the provision of this care entailed for the carers and their families.

The Diputación de Valladolid presented a second project, Nuevas Riendas, framed within the area of active ageing and through which an Interdisciplinary Working Committee has been set up, made up of representatives from numerous municipalities in the province, which serves for the continuous renewal of the Seniors Programme as well as to analyse the needs and demands of the group and to make its own proposals to the institutions.

Finally, we learned about an example of how community dynamisation can also be a way to facilitate the construction of new narratives. Naomi Hasson, representing the Fundación Doble Sonrisa, explained the Getxo Zurekin initiative, a space for experimentation in the field of compassionate communities for social awareness, training and research into the welfare and improvement of the quality of life of people in situations of dependency and end of life, taking advantage of existing community strengths and networks.

This conference has once again highlighted the need to focus care on a model centred on the person and the community, which respects the environment and the context of each territory and values the resources already available, innovating in the ways of promoting their potential and in favour of a more cohesive and inclusive society, which favours care in all its forms.

RuralCare continues to advance in the piloting of its model and in future stages of the project it will hold more best practice workshops and exchange of experiences and knowledge.