Anceu Coliving

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"We created the Rural Hackers Academy to bring free technology and English language education to locals."

A restored farmhouse in rural Spain dedicated to a life-changing way of coliving and coworking. Anceu Coliving is a place for people working remotely who want to live in nature and are willing to contribute to the revitalization of Anceu village. Anceu’s aim is to create a positive impact in the local community, foster sustainability, promote the exchange of knowledge and improve people’s lives.

What were the first steps towards the birth of Anceu?

Ag: Back in 2019, I had already been working remotely for six years. I was at the time in Colombia and I wanted to come back to this area, where I come from. I didn't want to just come back, I wanted to start something around it. I knew this concept of rural coliving spaces and at the time there was just one in the whole area. I think it's happening all around Europe, rural areas are getting depopulated because people are going to cities. So I thought it would have been nice to create a project that could eventually attract people back to this area. Here I’m no more than one hour away from my original hometown. I told my family to start looking for places and I would come back every once a month to check. The first filter was done by my family. What Anceu is today used to be a real hotel, so the infrastructure was mostly rebuilt and this was the first town in Galicia with fibre optics. The Internet was a really important part of the whole project and it was already there with a local company. That really moved the needle on the final decision. Here we had the Internet and the structure, we could open within two months.

Did you already have a team back then?

Ag: No, at the time it was just me. Then Africa joined and then we hired Rosa, who is a local. Hiring locals was really important for the whole project, because I'm not from the area, even though my hometown is just 50 minutes away. All the idiosyncrasies are different in every single place. So, she was the first person joining the team and now we have another two.

What have the different phases been for the start of Anceu?

Ag: I signed the contract in February 2020. In March Covid hit, so everything stopped. I moved right away here because I wanted to spend the lockdown here. There were just a few fixes that the house needed and then, on July 1st 2020, the coliving opened. Back then, digital nomads were a thing but that's something we are trying to run away from now, because we want people to stay at least one month here and eventually move to a rural area.

Our end goal is to create impact.

We want people who actually believe in the rural, this is not the playground where people come for a month. It's a whole project involving locals and the people who can afford to pay the coliving to grow together. The coliving is actually the economical engine to continue creating local impact. Because the end goal of this is to create impact. You create a space where people actually want to come back - nobody wants to go to a beautiful place where nothing happens. That's why people go to the cities, because everything is happening there. But if there is a village that is doing cool stuff and cultural events, with technology or whatever, you will attract people, it's like a snowball effect. Stay for a month or two and then maybe eventually you want to move here.

Did it happen already?

Ag: Yes. Andreea, from our team, is from Romania and lives here now. A French guy called Edward also moved to a nearby village. And then in Ponte Vedra, which is the the closest city, there are Michelle, from the Netherlands, and Jules, from Spain. Anna from Madrid is looking for a place to move here. It's happening, slowly but steady.

How would you describe the area and the context where you are?

Ag: I consider myself a lucky person because a lot of things in the area just happen to be there without me knowing it. The nature is gorgeous, it’s really remote but at the same time you are 30 or 40 minutes away from two different cities. So you kind of are in between two worlds. Location-wise, this was one of the main reasons for moving here. We discovered that there were a lot of nature-related initiatives here. There’s a biodiversity flea market; there is a big feminist movement in town; there's a lot of traditional music movements. We've got to know these people and we’ve been doing stuff with them. It's working really well. They also welcomed us really well because we are really active. Sometimes, there is the myth that you go to a small and traditional rural area and people are gonna run away from you, but that didn't happen here since day one. We were super welcome. The village has 120 inhabitants. Probably 80 or more of them are more than 70 years old. There are no young people here, so people were really happy to have new youngsters in town. People started to approach us, even the ones we didn't know, saying: “we heard that you're doing this, can you help us with that? Let's do this together”.

Af: We are very lucky in Galicia because all the villages, even if they are small, are really close to each other. All these things we are talking about are happening 10-15 minutes away from here. This is because of our culture on the landing property - history is kinda helping us. If you go to the center of Spain, there is a bigger distance between villages. We have a big town, Pontevedra, with 80,000 inhabitants, just 40 minutes away and with really good connecting roads. So I think it's also another important point to take into account. These facts also help, you can go to a city and go back on the same day so it also maintains your connection with other places. The airport is 40 minutes away and well connected.

Was the local municipality welcoming?

Ag: Yes, we are also really lucky with that. The mayor has been there for eight years. Pretty young, really open. Every time a new business opens in town, he visits it and he does a Facebook or Instagram post. They have a big reach of 10,000 people even though the town is small. Local newspapers and TV came here. When we need something from the municipality, he is very approachable. We like the fact that usually the default answer is “yes”. I understand that for the municipality it’s really good to have some new people.

What is your impact locally? What did Anceu Coliving manage to (re)build?

Ag: We have been taking small steps since the beginning, which is allowing us to get our goals little by little. The first thing that we have done to impact our local community is hiring local people. We hired the “influencer” of the local community - she knows everybody in the local area, she has a very good influence in the village. This created employment in the area and a trustful environment with the community.

It’s small things that create this trustful environment. More people began to understand that we are not crazy, we are normal people.

Then we did “rural makers”, a project that we did thanks to ECHN, one of the MakersXchange initiatives. It was a project with the local Water Association - the water is managed by the villagers. We began to have conversations with them to do a project using technology to tackle a problem they were having, which is the domestic consumption of water. This was just a one-week project but it allowed us to have our first conversations with villagers, we engaged with 10-12 people we didn’t know before.

Then we had the open doors. People could come and visit the place so that they could understand what this was all about. We had 20 to 30 people visiting. And this is why I say that this is a long-term process, because it’s small things that create this trustful environment. More people began to understand that we are not crazy, we are normal people.

Then we thought that we could do something a little bit bigger. We created the Rural Hackers Academy. The idea was to bring free technology and English language education to people, because they are two things that can help in the development of the area. We brought around 15 youngsters from another village to practise technology every week here and also we teach English to around 10 people here. It was done by our community of Colivers, they provide their time for free. It's a solidarity project to help others.

We also develop the Inside Out project. It was based on the project of a French photographer who created a portraits campaign around the world to give visibility to the people’s important issues. In our case, our issue was how to come back to rural areas. So, more than 80 people from the village came here to do their portraits, which were printed and stuck around the village. We needed to do these things to make people understand that we were trying to bring initiatives and activation.

In one of our events, more than 50 people came together, discovering that we have a lot of things in common even though we come from all over the world.

After this, we also did a Hackathon. This was an event where we created two websites for two NGO projects in the area, one on natural environment protection and one on animal shelters.

Then, last summer, we painted a wall in the water deposit of the area. More than 70 people came to paint together and it was related to bringing awareness about how important water is. We created this also with the support of the local government.

And then we also did the Interculturas event, an international experience where the community of the Coliving and the villagers come together to enjoy and discover the food of international places. Our village is a village of migration, a lot of people needed to move away in the 50s because they were poor. They went to Latin America, Switzerland, Germany and they come back now that they are retired. So, in a way, we are people from all over the world. During this event, every person had to cook something from the country they emigrated from. More than 50 people came together, discovering that we have a lot of things in common even though we come from all over the world.

There is a communal house called “Casa de Bobo” that can be used by everybody in the village. However, it was almost closed and nobody did anything. So, we decided to create a new hub there, it's an open space and we brought furniture from our coworking space. On one hand, the fact of building this place with the local people helped us meet more people and bring awareness to what we are doing. After bringing the furniture, we created an event where we created a platform to brainstorm on how we want to live in this communal house. It was amazing to see that we are creating something together and we are opening a new space for everybody to use. More than 70 people came. We were impressed. How can it be that this village has 120 inhabitants and 70 of them are here?

Then we created the Rural Hackers Association, after all the good experiences of last year. This is allowing us to develop European projects. Next week we're having “curiosity tech”, an event with more than 30 people from five different European countries who will work on developing four websites for NGOs of the area.

Do you have plans for the future?

Ag: For the near future, we will do the wall painting again, connected to a cultural dance that happens just in this village - it's called “celtic dance”. Also, we are about to do our ECHN Workshop about how to create impact locally. In this area, there are a lot of old hikes traced 70 years ago by people who would move only by foot or with carts. Most of them are lost because people don't use them and the forest took over. This is an invisible heritage. Some places used to be the football field for the villagers, or this used to be the old cemetery, where old animals would be buried. I found out about this a few weeks ago because I was having a walk with one old villager. We want to print some signals with QR codes so people can get a story of the village.

Our main focus is to mix locals with the Colivers.

Af: During the year, from April until October, we will launch a project called Rural Hackers Residences, where ideally one person per month will come for a month for free to the Coliving and develop a local impact project. We have this guy, for instance, who teaches English to the villagers.

In September, we will bring here a movie director who will do a documentary about the stories of immigration of local people and try to mix it with new emigration stories. Also, we have an upcycling residency and another one on biodiversity, where we are going to map all the species in the area. It's not just one person because one thing that we don’t want in the Coliving is that we don't want to be an island of rich people who come here, take advantage of the place and then run away. Our main focus is to mix locals with the Colivers.

We are also a host organisation for a European project called The Break, which mobilises one thousand women entrepreneurs for five years. During 2023, we are hosting 16 women entrepreneurs for mentoring sessions and project development. The Coliving will be closed for a while because of that, so we will reschedule some activities with the residents.

Spotlight Practice 1:

Rural Hackers Residencies

Rural Hackers Residencies are a replicable format where residents use the hub’s space for free and in turn they give back something to the community. Applicants fill in a preliminary form with basic data and then an online meeting is used to analyse the details of the proposal - whether it fits the hub’s values and the needs of the local community. Applicants need to have a clear project they are passionate about, something that can have an impact on the local territory. A constant dialogue with the residents allows for an ongoing and flexible adaptation of the project according to the local needs.

Spotlight Practice 2:

Creating trustful relationships through small steps

You can create a network of trust among the local community through a series of small interactive and inclusive events. These practices are effective in rural as well as urban areas. Creative hubs can facilitate innovative change only in co-creation with the local community, nurturing knowledge transfer and participation. For this, you will need a long-term vision and space/time dedicated to mutual listening and understanding. Such practices can be implemented in different ways, but the important thing is that they are explicitly included in the hub’s core values.

Agustìn Jamardo Chenlo and Africa Rodriguez are respectively the Co-Founder and the Manager of Anceu Coliving. They are well rooted in Galicia but they have managed to connect a remote rural village to the rest of the world, through a series of ambitious initiatives that range from local participatory works to European level projects.