If you have been reading us for some time, you know how much we love Galicia and especially our “home” in the Galician countryside: Anceu Coliving. Between 2020 and 2022 we stayed there for 7 months, we spent wonderful moments with people we consider as our “Galician family”, it’s also where we adopted Winchy, where we discovered the impact that a coliving can have in a rural area… In other words, it’s a place and people that mean a lot to us.
So when Afri and Agus asked us to participate in a workshop about rural hacking (I’ll explain below what it is) in Anceu from March 24th to 29th, we immediately thought that it could be very interesting to participate, especially since our coliving project is totally in line with this rural hacking approach.
But unfortunately, Galicia is not just around the corner and to go there for an event like this one implies almost inevitably to take the plane (no night train for Spain and bus/trains journeys lasting about 30-40h 🙁 ). And you know, we try to avoid flying as much as possible, especially for short stays like this one.
We really hesitated for a long time… but the topic of the workshop was really relevant for us, it also gave us the chance to meet 25 people all managing Coliving/Coworking/Creation spaces and trying to have a positive impact in rural areas… Besides, the timing was too much of a coincidence (I know, another sign of fate 😉 ) since the workshop was held just a few days after we signed for the place where we want to create our future coliving space.
So after weighing the pros and cons, we felt that this event could bring us a lot and we decided at the last minute to participate… And looking back, we are so glad we went!
What is Rural Hacking about?
I suppose it’s a term made up by Agus since he is a backend developer and has been immersed in the hacking culture for a long time 😉 . The “hacking culture”, even if it is usually associated with computer science, goes far beyond this field in my opinion. Hackers are people who deeply enjoy finding creative and quick solutions to a given problem (whether it is in computing, politics, environment or in any other fields). Actually, one of Agus’ favorite expressions when he talks about his working style describes very well what this hacking culture is all about:
I’m throwing shit on the wall and see what sticks!
The idea is to try many different and simple solutions to a given problem, to see which ones work best and to gradually improve them.
So when Agus talks about “Rural Hacking”, he is trying to find simple and creative solutions to challenges faced in rural areas. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that motivated him to open Anceu coliving: Given the decline of population in small villages of the galician countryside, the creation of a coliving space can contribute to revitalize, create new ecosystems and perpetuate the traditions of these remote areas.
For me, what the whole Anceu coliving team does on a daily basis is one of the best examples of how coliving can have a positive impact in rural areas… They are a great source of inspiration and motivation for our own project Alpiness coliving. By the way, I strongly suggest you to have a look at their association Rural Hackers website and their Manifesto which I fully subscribe to.
Anceu, a coliving that has a positive impact in the Galician countryside
One of the workshop’s objectives was to introduce us with everything that has been done in 3 years at Anceu Coliving (in terms of local impact) so that we can come up with a kind of framework that could be “replicated” in each participant’s space.
Even if we already knew some of the projects that Anceu coliving is involved in, we have to say that we were blown away by how far they have come since our last visit a year ago! So that you can get an idea of the actual impact that the coliving is having in the small village of Anceu, here are some examples of projects they have developed:
- One of the most important points is that they surrounded themselves with the right people from the area. For example, they hired Rosa from the start. She was already the housekeeper here before the coliving even existed and she knows everyone in the village. They also work with Se, a local artist who lives at Anceu and helps them a lot on a daily basis. The fact that they have surrounded themselves with the right people from the area has helped them to build all the other projects gradually.
- They have been involved in the rehabilitation of the village hall, which had not been used for many years by the villagers. Their goal is to open this place several times a week to offer a meeting point to the people of the village. From time to time, they also organize events and concerts open to everyone. We had the chance to participate at one of these concerts during the week… and it was just amazing to see all the villagers gather, bring food and dance to the sound of traditional galician music.
- They participate with other regional organizations in projects to restore the endemic oak forests of Galicia or to create hiking trails around the village and in the region. What is nice is that they also invite the colivers to participate to all these actions.
- They have created several projects where they for example welcome young people in difficult situations (once a week) to meet the colivers, participate in creative activities and help them find inspiration or future career ideas.
- They also helped several organizations in the region by giving them support, tools and knowledge to be more autonomous in the creation / management of their website. This was a project that we also participated in back in 2022.
- Finally, they get involved in more artistic/cultural projects to spread important messages, bring the local community together and simply build meaningful connections.
- and much more…
You could say that over the years, the coliving activity has almost become kind of a base that supports all these projects revolving around it… it’s really amazing and inspiring what they have managed to build in such a short time.
How did the Rural Hacking workshop go?
Let’s go back to the Rural Hacking Workshop! The idea was to gather in one place coliving, coworking or creative spaces managers from all over Europe to think about the best ways to have more impact in our respective communities. Here is the list of participants if you want to discover their spaces:
- The whole Anceu team (Afri, Agus, Se, Andrea, Rosa, Nacho and all the animals)
- Morgane from Selgars in the UK
- Hugo and Arthur from Vine21 in Romania
- Rita from the European creative hub network (the organisation that supported this workshop)
- Lotte from the Buinho creative space in Portugal
- Jon co-founder of Sun&co, one of the first colivings in Spain
- Katia from château coliving in Normandy
- Juan from Rooral.co (popups colivings in remote spanish villages)
- Katya and Tony from Burgas coliving in Bulgaria
- Ben from The Living room coworking space in Malaga
- Francesco from Tertulia farm coliving in Italiy
- Nikola from Sonta coliving in Serbia
- Joana from the Dinamo 10 creative hub in Portugal
- Ana from the Wellbeing economy alliance
- Bianca that is working on opening a coliving in the Pyrenees
- Tom from the making rooms creative space in the UK
- Marina co-founder of the Creative Hub in Croatia
- Patricia from Quinta da Quinhas hostel and coliving in Portugal
- and us 😉 (I hope I did not forget anyone)
You can see that there is a great diversity with a common element that we were all (or about to be) involved in running creative spaces like coliving / coworking / FabLab etc… We quickly got to know each other and we had 4 days of very intense workshops, filled with emotions, exchanges and discoveries.
I have to say that I have rarely experienced such an abundance of emotions, learning, encounters, wild parties, songs, dances, diversity… During these few days, something really special happened, very strong connections were made! It is difficult to describe in words… We didn’t know each other 5 days earlier, yet, before saying goodbye and going back to our respective spaces, it was hard to hold back our tears…
How was the workshop?
The workshop went as follows:
1) : Every day we had several working sessions and thoughts on how to create impact in rural areas. The idea was also to co-create a “framework” that could be used by each of us in our respective spaces. These sessions were for the most part delicately facilitated by Afri who has a real gift for connecting and encouraging people to work together in very creative ways (without ever forcing them 😉 ).
2) : We also had a team challenge to complete before the end of the workshop. The idea was to create videos for an educational trail around the village of Anceu to preserve some memories of the elders. We went for a walk in small groups with some of the villagers who told us stories such as the flooded village of Eiras or the the old mills along the river. These stories were documented in videos that will be available via QR codes along the future hiking trail.
Here is an example of a video that was created in a few hours of work:
3) : Every day we also had several sessions of inspirational talks by each of the participants. The idea was that each of us would talk about an experience, a fact, a tool, an encounter that had impacted their lives in 7 minutes. The result simply blew me away! Each of these talks was inspiring, moving, interesting, sometimes funny… I really learned something from each of these little sessions! So thank you everyone for opening up to us and for sharing your beautiful stories. It was a real gift for me!
4) : Finally dinners and evenings that were every time a pretext to discover a local personality, artist or project. The whole Anceu team outdid themselves to show us in a few days the incredible Galician diversity, its music, its traditions… Whether it was the wild evening “Entre Culturas” with all the villagers, the Indian meal with Nandini (an Indian physicist who has been living in Galicia for many years), the “comer y canter” (eating and singing) evening with the incredible Marcelo Dobode… It was magical. It had been a long time since I had sung and danced as much as I did during those few days in Anceu 😉
In short, these few days of workshop were intense but so rich in encounters and inspirations. I can only thank once again Afri, Agus, Andrea, Se, Rosa, Nacho and all the people who welcomed us so warmly during these few days. What you create day after day in Anceu is incredible! Thank you for generously sharing all your experience as rural hackers with us!
By the way, if you’re interested, all the little 7 minute talks were recorded and the working sessions were documented. I’ll share the links here as soon as I have them.
What I learned from this workshop (Ben)
As we are only at the beginning of our coliving adventure, this workshop was invaluable. We were so lucky to spend several days surrounded by likeminded people that have been running this kind of space for years! I learned so much, and here are a few things I’ll be remembering from these crazy days:
- To take time to meet other people who have similar projects and vision in the future. Just spending time interacting with all these beautiful people gave me new perspectives and a huge energy boost to work on our project. I probably don’t realize yet the value of the connections that were made during this workshop. But I already know that if I have a problem in the coming months, I can always ask them for help… and they also know they can ask us for help if needed. This is something so precious that I would like to keep building in the future.
- The importance of surrounding ourselves with the right local people (local influencers 😉 ) from the beginning of the adventure. One thing that struck me in Anceu is the key role people like Rosa or Se are playing in the projects they undertake. Whether during the preparation phase, for the connections with the locals, for the animation, the word of mouth… you can be sure that Rosa and/or Se are always involved somewhere.
- I need to try to adopt a bit more of a “hacker attitude”. I am rather a perfectionist by nature… But I now have the feeling that it’s better to try a lot of little things and improve the ones that work rather than trying to do one thing perfectly at a time. It will definitely cost me a bit but I will try to make an effort on that side 😉 .
- Lots of ideas for building a community in our coliving. Personalized welcome, space planning, attracting the right people, creating a giving atmosphere, caring about each coliver… Special thanks to Jon for sharing with us his many years of experience in community facilitation at Sun&Co. And also I gotta say that I always get a lot of inspiration from Afri who is able to motivate a group of people just with her smile and her positivity.
- Lots of ideas for building impactful projects in rural areas. I hope to be able to share with you the results of our sessions, given that we discussed many interesting topics: How to identify local challenges, finding and building relationships with the right people, finding the right means of communication, how to involve as many locals as possible, starting with small projects to build trust and earn legitimacy, questions about governance and funding etc…. I feel like I am now much more prepared to tackle these kinds of projects.
What Fabienne learned from this workshop
As Benoit said, it’s hard to express this week in words… but if I had to remember something it would probably be my many tears (of joy). I’m not a particularly “sensitive” person or let’s say I’m not used to cry easily. And yet…
- At the “comer y cantar” evening: sitting on a chair, petting Lagun (Ana’s little dog), I was watching the group dancing and singing from a distance. I had a big smile on my face when all of a sudden, the tears started to flow… unexplainable, just a moment of real happiness and the feeling of being in the right place at the right time. When I turned my head I saw Lotte sitting nearby with a big smile on her face and wet eyes.
- On the last day, during the last workshop I looked in Afri’s direction and I can’t explain it… in my head I remembered that we would have to leave the next day and bam… I was crying again!
By the time we left I was in “keep it together” mode. Big hugs with everyone and not a tear (a little mental high five to myself for managing to control my emotions). We sat down in the cab, and as soon as it started rolling tears (of joy) once again started to run down my cheeks.
But in retrospect, I think those tears were just my own way of expressing my appreciation for what we had just experienced.
On a more down-to-earth note, this workshop made me realize how “easy” it is to do something great by doing a lot of small things that might seem insignificant. The videos of the hiking trails are a perfect example.
No, our little films will never compete in a short film festival, it won’t change tourism in the region. There will probably never be thousands of views… But on the other hand, this project succeeded in building a nice connection between people coming from all over Europe and the locals. It has also allowed to keep a trace of some stories that only the elders know and that might have died out one day with them.
The project was also a pretext to organize a gathering with the villagers (for the broadcast) and show them how to use and read QR codes, but most of all it created bonds. These connections represent as many oportunities for a future event, a future project…
Honestly, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to start our adventure with Alpiness. By meeting all these people involved in their own way in the process of creating dynamism and synergies in rural areas, we came back to Switzerland with a lot of new projects, more motivation and above all a deep feeling of having made the right move by deciding to create our coliving in a place we like as much as the Val d’Hérens!
Other posts about the workshop
If you want to read what other participants thought about this workshop, here are some other blog posts they wrote about it:
- What it takes… by Morgane
- Reflections on a 5-days rural coliving gathering in Spain by Juan
- The first ECHN Workshop was an intense and fulfilling 5 day success! by Rita
- A review of the rural hacking workshop by the Anceu team
Finally we came back from the workshop exhausted (I even got sick for 4 days after that)… but motivated, inspired and with lots of new ideas for us to try in our coliving project. Thanks again to our Galician family for bringing us all together and to Rita from ECHN for supporting this event… No doubt that what was started in Anceu during these 5 days will grow and multiply in the future.
I also come back with the pleasant feeling that we chose the right place with Fabienne to create our coliving. I can’t help but find similarities between the Galician countryside and the Val d’Hérens: A preserved nature and architectural heritage, locals with a strong attachment to their traditions… and I can’t wait to move there and try creating beautiful things in the future.
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