Spain is one of the countries participating in the SHERPA project with its Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) of Galicia and Aragón. In 2021-2022, both Spanish MAPs have actively engaged in the topic of social dimension in rural areas in these regions and beyond. Based on the experience accumulated in supporting the SHERPA MAPs, Laura Barros Matrán, student at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, conducted a study in El Barco de Ávila-Piedrahíta region, in Castilla-León (Spain) to analyse the quality of life in this rural region and propose policy recommendations. This region has been selected because of its high rate of depopulation, resulted from negative vegetative growth (high deaths compared to low births) and the effects of the strong rural exodus in the 1960s and 1970s. This has caused a progressive loss of services that affects the population’s wellbeing. In this blog post, Laura Barroso Matrán presents the main outcomes of this study.
Though perceived quality of life is high, access to services in rural areas become critical
This study relied on surveys targeting rural population and in-depth interviews with main local and policy actors of El Barco de Ávila-Piedrahíta. In general, respondents to surveys rated their quality of life high, largely due to the environment where they live (a quiet and relax place, in contact with nature), indicating that those who live in the area do so by choice. However, after a more in-depth analysis using the testimonies of both the respondents and the political agents interviewed, they have highlighted the deficiencies of the services. Access to healthcare, transport, employment, Internet, and care services for the elderly are the top areas requiring urgent development to improve the quality of life in the region. The decline in services reflects the lack of investment and administration commitments, leading rural population to foresee the future of rural areas with despair, frustration and anger.
Therefore, the factors that contribute positively to living in a rural environment are opposed by the deficiencies of services in the region. This creates a lack of coherence between the high scores given in the surveys and the weariness expressed through testimonies. This dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative results showed the difficulty of measuring quality of life by relying only on quantitative data (i.e. surveys), hence the need to combine both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. In this study, the quality of life rating score has been qualified with testimonies, which have provided broader and more detailed information to better understand the quality of live in rural areas.
Initiatives to improve quality of life need to be strengthened
The research also reveals that initiatives to improve the current situation are mostly in the hands of the ASIDER, the Local Action Group of the area, which advices and facilitates access to finance for those people who want to start up a project. Another example of altruistic associations and organisations is Almanzor Development Centre that works to improve care services for the elderly, social and labour insertion, reconciling family and work life, aid for families at risk of social exclusion, etc.
However the study reveals that these initiatives are not enough as local administrations have weak structures with untrained representatives and manage insufficient budgets. In addition, the decreasing participation of rural citizens in collective actions and their lack of confidence in the future are hindering growth and development of rural areas.
The recommendations provided by the professionals involved in rural development are in line with those developed by the SHERPA MAPs in Aragón and Galicia. There is a need to increase the investments in basic services such as Internet access, education, health and transportation. But it is also essential to reinforce the engagement of rural population into collective actions and public consultations for the planning of services, activities and policies.
Although the future in the region is viewed pessimistically, hope for change remains.