How is an ageing population affecting rural areas? 

In the province of Teruel, Spain, ageing and depopulation are major issues. Local authorities need to deal with a growing population of retired people with specific needs in terms of care, mobility, services of general interest, etc. This issue touches upon all at once: the local offer for services in particular healthcare, the cost of assistance and retirement homes, and the well-being of elderly people. Indeed, in 2017, the Bioinformation Group of the Aragon Institute of Health Sciences published a study on the state of social relations in which a "loneliness epidemic" was evident. According to the study, 63% of the Aragones living alone would like to be accompanied by a friend, and a civil servant or medical staff does not count as such company.  

The San Hermenegildo solution  

In the city of Teruel, a group of veterans has decided to take the matter in their own hands. The group was created informally several decades ago already. In 2006, they got the idea of building a co-housing space adapted to their needs to be able to enjoy their retirement together and stay in their city. These retired developers realised that many of them had the same problem: they did not qualify for a public residence, but their pensions were not so generous as to afford a private residence. 

Among all the forms of association offered by the regulatory framework, the non-profit Cooperative was chosen, as it was considered to be the most supportive and best suited to the philosophy of the project, enabling important decisions to be taken collectively by the General Assembly. Senior couples paid a membership to the cooperative, which then secured the loans, oversaw the 3-year construction process, and now acts as a landlord to the people wanting to live in the home.  

The project evolved into a major apartments complex of 50 000m² which can welcome 240 people. The complex is divided into 3 wings which are adapted to 3 types of tenants: active (80 apartments), fragile (48 rooms) or dependant. The rooms for active people are fully-furnished flats equipped with a kitchen, a bathroom and a balcony. In the other wings, the rooms are more or less medicalised, but there is always the choice between a single and a double room. The complex also includes a cantina, laundry rooms, a medical centre, a hairdresser, a gymnasium and a conference room. When all the rooms are occupied, San Hermenegildo employs around 80-90 people.  

How is San Hermenegildo a social innovation? 

Close attention to detail has been paid during the construction of this complex to accommodate the cooperative’s members’ needs. For instance, there is no A/C to avoid drafts in the rooms but instead, floor heating. Another example is the material used for the handrails in the corridors: steel was prohibited as it can incur the need to pee, which is problematic especially for people with low mobility. 

The veterans’ cooperative followed the model of a social company model while developing this project. 85% of all materials used come from the region with the exception having been made for geriatric instruments. The food is cooked in-house to avoid transport cost and a vegetable garden will be tended to by residents. Employees will be recruited locally, in cooperation with local associations to employ disabled and marginalised people. The cooperative has even engaged in a regional protocol, 113 SOS Teruel, to promote local employment. In addition, the veterans’ cooperative wishes for San Hermenegildo to become a cultural place in Teruel with conferences, concerts, etc. 

How was San Hermenegildo funded? 

Financially, the economic model rests upon the personal contributions of cooperative members (each couple gave 100,000€ to the cooperative, with 50 member-couples) and a grant from the Spanish Government. The provincial government of Teruel will support the cooperative by contracting an employee through 113 SOS Teruel, whose task will be to look for more members for the cooperative and assist them in daily management of San Hermenegildo. 

The building cost in total 12,5 million € so the remaining investment needed was secured with a loan from the bank. To be profitable, San Hermenegildo needs to have at least 40 residents with needs and 80 active residents. The rent for a room in San Hermenegildo varies a lot depending on the care needed, the type of room, and the membership to the cooperative but starting price is around 940€/month to cover the costs of food, cleaning, laundry, assisted care and other services. All the benefits are reinvested into the improvement of services for the residents.  

San Hermenegildo has only opened its doors in September 2018. The model can be widely transferable seeing as the problem addressed is widespread and can interest many local authorities in rural areas. Indeed, other regions in Spain such as Zaragoza are already developing similar projects.