Open 1,000 cafés and kick-start rural life in France

Mayors of France’s 32,221 small communes are being challenged to join a €200million bid to open 1,000 rural cafés and revive village life.

25 September 2019
By Connexion journalist

The ‘1,000 café project’ by Groupe SOS, part of the government’s ‘rural agenda’, calls on communes with fewer than 3,500 residents to apply if they have ‘no café, or a café threatened with closure’, and if they have a vacant space that could be converted.

The aim is to rebuild social links and restore a sense of community. It is backed by a budget of €50,000 to €200,000 per café.

Nearly one in three people live in a small commune and more than half (53%) have no shop, bakery, bar or café. There are 26,000 communes with no café, so no real centre of village life.

Sixty years ago, France had 600,000 bistrots in its 36,000 communes but only 34,000 in 2017. These were in 10,000 communes but some had more than their share, with rue Saint-Michel, Rennes, having 13 bars, or one every 7 metres.

Groupe SOS is Europe’s leading campaign group against social exclusion and its president, Jean-Marc Borello said: “The village café was once a central meeting place for inhabitants, but it has commonly disappeared.”

Project development manager Helène Labrunie said: “We aim to bring back a sense of community life, where people can meet, chat, find friends.

“Although the appeal was launched only a few days ago we have already had more than 200 inquiries from mairies and a huge number of inquiries from people interested in taking part; more than 400 people wanting to take over cafés.

“We have a lot of work to do now to choose projects.”

Mr Borello said cafés were ideal for village life and could also offer extra services such as a post relais or an internet access point.

The aim is to recruit couples, preferably local or who want to return to their roots, to run the cafés with help from both the mairie and Groupe SOS, which will offer administrative, financial and supplier support.

One of the mayors interested in the project is Colette Bréhin, of Laubrières in Mayenne, Pays-de-la-Loire. She said: “We have a bar that is also a tabac, sells bread, papers, is a post office and has a kitchen to prepare meals.

“The last person said he didn’t do enough business but we are on a crossroads and there is plenty of passing trade.

“It is vital for the village. We are keeping it open with help from volunteers and councillors but we have applied to the ‘1,000 Cafés’ to give it a boost.

“All the equipment is here – even a place to stay – we just need two people to run it, but they need to have done training for their hygiene certificates, a Licence IV for the bar and the training needed to run the tabac.”

Ms Bréhin said  the commune was not failing, despite having only 350 residents. “We are building new houses, we have a private school, we have everything, bar someone to run the café.”

Groupe SOS will announce the first successful communes later this month, but others will continue to be revealed throughout 2020 and 2021.

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