Village and homestead caretaker: community based services in tiny villages and remote rural areas, Hungary
Rural topic(s): Services in rural areas
Type: Success story
Date of writing: March 12, 2018
The village caretaker goal is to assist those living in tiny villages with a population of fewer than 1000 people and in satellite settlements far removed from densely populated locations Since small settlements lack even basic services such as post offices, schools, shops, pharmacies or medical centres, the village caretaker’s most frequent service is to transport people to these facilities.
Description of activities
The village or homestead caretaker, who is usually elected by the village assembly and has to undergo spe-cial training organized by the Hungarian Association of Village and Homestead Caretakers, is the settlement’s ‘factotum’ and plays a central role in its life, knows the community and its problems, has information about potential solutions and services and about how to access them.
The village caretaker is usually a local person who is provided with a minimum eight-seat minibus and whose task is to meet the needs of the settlement’s inhabitants.
Since small settlements lack even basic services such as post offices, schools, shops, pharmacies or medical centres, the village caretaker’s most frequent service is to transport people to these facilities. However, the potential service capability is broader than that: it can link up with the existing social services, such as meals on wheels for elderly people, school transport, transport to medical centers and pharmacies and transport to railway stations for those who work outside the village or to further education centers.
This complex and broad task list enables him or her to react to a wide range of situations and needs right where and when they arise. This is a considerable advantage compared with the conventional social services, which tend to be less all-encompassing and may be too bureaucratic.
The village caretakers are also organizing cultural and community events thus they are the central figure of the community life.
These services are strengthening the development of local democracy, and the caretaker plays a special mediator role between the leaders of the local authority and the population. He or she signals the needs arising among the population and is able to give information about the opportunities and possible services offered by the authorities.
The idea was developed by the Hungarian Village Development Association in the mid 80s, and the first caretaker services were established in 1989 in Cserehát, one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country, on the North-East border with Slovakia.
This approach brought together the needs and priorities of the village communities and the interest of central and local government in finding an effective, low-cost way of providing basic services to village communities. In 1991 the Social Affairs Ministry began inviting applications and gradually included new counties so that now all qualifying village communities can recruit caretakers. Since the beginning 828 village and homestead caretaker services were established. This is a good example for cooperation between government and civil society.
The key challenge is to retain the bottom up initiative character of village caretaker as a local institution and strengthen its rural movement nature. Additional chal-lenge is to provide regular and systematic trainings for village caretakers taking into consideration the complexity of their task.
Sandor Koles was one of the initiators of village caretaker in the late 80s in Hungary and helped to nurture this network until it had become an official program of the Ministry of Social Affairs, in the 2000s. He is no more working with the network but follows its development. Sandor told us »I am proud of what our bottom-up social initiative achieved and, I think, that the village caretaker model can be used in other European countries ».
Information gathered at: the European Rural Parliament 2017 Market of initiatives (20 Oct. 2017)
Contact: Sándor Köles
Organisation: Rural Workshop Foundation
E-mail: sandor.koeles (a) gmail.com
Scale of intervention : National
Keywords: social inclusion, rural services, social link, empowerment of rural communities, remote rural area, alleviating rural isolation, development of basic democracy, public-private partnership, ERP 2017