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Group calls for “1,000 village cafés” to revive France

A social and environmental enterprise is calling on 32,000 communes across France to create or re-open 1,000 rural “village cafés”, in a bid to revive the sense of community in small towns.

Groupe SOS has started the project to highlight that many points of contact or community in small towns - such as cafés, bistros, local shops and even village post offices - no longer exist.

This can cause loneliness and isolation among inhabitants, especially older people, the group said.

It is also calling on villages to open not only cafés and bistros, but also post offices, parcel centres, co-working points, cultural and artist sites, debate centres, delicatessens, and bakeries.

It has set up a new website for the scheme (pictured below), named 1000 Cafés.

Mayors of local communes with fewer than 3,500 inhabitants are invited to submit an application. To be considered, communes must currently have “no café, or any café currently threatened with closure”, and must have at least one vacant space locally that could be converted into a suitable site.

The scheme is supported by the State, and will form part of the government’s “rural agenda” plan. This is set to be presented by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on September 20, during a conference of rural mayors in the Nord department.

Groupe SOS president Jean-Marc Borello - a former Sciences Po professor who once taught President Emmanuel Macron - also has support from the President.

Mr Borello said: “The village café was once a central meeting place for inhabitants, but [nowadays] it has commonly disappeared.

“[These places] will also be a meeting place for local associations, cultural events, and a community space for elderly people. This is not an original idea, people have been talking about it for a long time. The difference is that we have decided to give it a go.”

Groupe SOS has dubbed the scheme a “social and entrepreneurial initiative”, and said that it will help to recruit local duos to help run the centres. It will offer them specific information, which will help organisers to become independent entrepreneurs, it said.

Each site will receive administrative, financial, and supplier support from “the national team on the project”, Groupe SOS said.

Mr Borello explained: “[They will] be everything except solopreneurs. Their status will depend on who they are - whether previously unemployed, retired, young, urban professionals who want a change in lifestyle...they will become workers, managers, or co-managers.”

Groupe SOS said that it would “guarantee a minimum salary, and “a third of the profits”, with at least half of the remaining profits being reinvested into the association.

Groupe SOS was set up in 1984 to fight against forms of social exclusion, including among young or unemployed people, as well as in the healthcare, culture, and ecology sectors.

Today, it has 495 sites and 17,000 regular workers nationwide - plus a yearly turnover of €910 million, making it one of Europe’s largest social enterprises.

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