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Spanish reality TV show takes on problem of rural depopulation

Spanish reality TV show takes on problem of rural depopulation

It’s a TV genre that has yielded countless hours of escapism and fuelled the rise of billionaires, pop stars and even a US president. Now a new reality series has set its sights on one of Spain’s thorniest challenges: rural depopulation.

Set to air in October on Twitch and YouTube, the 20-episode show called Ruralmind will feature 40 contestants competing to launch and develop a business idea. The only catch is that they must be able to launch the idea from a village of fewer than 5,000 people.

The goal is to radically shift how people view rural life, said Patricia García Gómez, the show’s co-creator. “We see villages as places for rural tourism or agriculture, but we never see them for what they are in the 21st century, places where you can launch any kind of startup.”

Contestants will be dispatched to three dwindling villages in northern and central Spain, where they will develop their business plans with the help of mentors. The field will eventually be whittled down to three winners, who will each walk away with €3,000 (£2,550) in seed money and what organisers hope will be a new perspective on rural living.

Spaniards seeking work had little choice but to move to cities for decades, echoing the trend toward urbanisation across Europe. Even as the world of work transforms at a dizzying pace, the perception of greater promise in cities has persisted, said García Gómez.

“There are thousands of new businesses that didn’t exist 50 years ago that are viable to launch from small villages,” she said, pointing to companies that focus on social media marketing or those that develop technologies to monitor livestock. “That’s what we want to convey.”

The endeavour is the latest in a long list of schemes that have sought to confront the slow, steady hollowing out that threatens more than half of Spain’s surface area. As villages attempt to stave off their demise, they’ve plied urban dwellers with the promise of bargains on land and even bachelors.

For García Gómez, the battle is personal. Twelve years ago she moved to Villarrín de Campos, a village in north-west Spain whose population swelled in the middle ages. Lured by the quality of life in the town of 525 residents, she began converting the home that once belonged to her great-great grandparents into a house where residents rent a private room and share the common areas.

Today the population stands at 390 people. “Six years went by without one child being born in the village,” she said. “Year after year you see the village lose strength.”

Similar scenes have played out across Spain, leaving many villages littered with abandoned homes and shuttered shops. In an effort to counter this image, Ruralmind will offer the villages a co-starring role alongside the contestants, giving them a chance to showcase local gastronomy and the historical sights and nature that surround them.

“I was asked recently if this show will help put us on the map,” said José Antonio Casaucau Morlans, the mayor of Santa Eulalia de Gállego in north-east Spain. “I said we were already on the map but the dot is so small that nobody notices us. So we’re hoping that people will see us.”

Local reaction to the idea has been mixed. “Some of the people that live here don’t really believe that there are people who would want to live here,” he said. “I think that it’s a bit of the old way of thinking, this idea that says you have to leave a rural area to find success.”

The winners will not be under any obligation to stay in the villages post-production, but the hope is that they’ll be won over by their experience of rural living, said Alejandro Hernandéz, the show’s other co-creator.

It’s a view that stems from his own experience. Hernández, who runs a marketing agency, moved from Berlin to Santa Eulalia de Gállego three years ago, swapping the grind of city life for siestas and daily strolls through nature. “Everybody wins,” he said. “The village wins because it gains one more resident. And people like me win when it comes to balancing work and quality of life.”

Weeks after the plans for the show were made public, they’ve been fielding interest from across Spain. It’s a sign that they may be on to something, said Hernández. “We are always looking for the next Silicon Valley. But perhaps in the rural world, you can be just as innovative or even more.”

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