This text is translated from the original article, published in Päivän Lehti on 13th Jun 2017, written by Anne Anttila.
Creative madness saved the village of Alpua from depopulation – ”No one is left alone”
Even the village of Alpua is nowadays a part of City of Raahe, Saara Rankinen, Esko Kotila and Timo Rankinen say that the villagers are still living their own kind of life. (Picture by Anne Anttila)
Rare are the villages with their own power plant, village shop and an electric car for representation purposes
A small, 450 inhabitants Alpua is an example of a village that is marching to the beat of a different drum. The countryside village, which is part of the City of Raahe, has turned difficulties into victory and at the same time gave a new meaning to the words “Suomalainen sisu”, (Finnish perseverance).
Successful efforts of this Northern Ostrobothnian village have also been noted on a national level. With population growth in a sea of disappearing villages, Alpua was granted The Village of The Year award in 2015.
“Recognition felt nice and gave us the fuel we needed for the future. Work for the village, and the villagers continue. We still have many good aces left,” the former leader of the village and a current village activist, Timo Rankinen, describes with delight.
In the middle of the most beautiful summer day, the village road of Alpua is quiet. Only a sound of a lawnmower and humming of the cars on the highway can be heard somewhere from a distance. I sit down on the stairs of a charming village bank for lemonade and enjoy the concert provided by the birds.
It takes only a moment until a biking villager breaks the silence.
“Hello! Is it money that you need? There’s no point for knocking at this bank’s door. They are closed, and that’s the way it will be. Bank services are completely transferred to Vihanti. Getting money from there means almost 30 kilometre trip, so there’s no point to go there for nothing,” says the man and sits down next to me.
Even the electric car of the village is fueled by the energy produced by woodchip. (Picture by Anne Anttila)
A counter-attack by working together
The villager introduces himself as Hessu, lights up a cigarette and opens conversation in a fairly unique way by telling that he is a bachelor already in the third generation.
“We lack women, I mean single ones, also in this village. You have to go further away if you want to find a woman for yourself. I have decided to stick with the bachelor’s life. I base my decision simply on saving reasons. Without a woman, that is to say, you’ll save your money and nerves,” Hessu laughs, winks and hops back on his ride.
I’m moving from the bank’s stairs to a village shop on the other side of the road, where a good number of people are already gathered. Timo Rankinen, the former chairman of the Alpua Village Association, gazes around with satisfaction and smiles.
“This is how it is meant to be. The counter-attack was done by working together, and it brought us the result we desired. Fighting for our village wasn’t easy, from time to time it was necessary to climb up on a pedestal to be heard. Honestly speaking, achieving the goals took a lot of speeches, but even more actions,” Rankinen describes.
The Alpua native says that a tough team spirit is still the lifesaver of the village.
“Our team spirit is so strong, that it has helped us to survive both small and big misfortunes. A good example is our village shop that has been under threat of closing down several times. Even recently it looked like it will close its doors for good, but the shop continues with vigour.
The heart of the village is beating with volunteer spirit
Alpua’s resistance started in 2011 when the village school was shut down. It was a huge setback, and it mixed things completely in the village.
“For a moment, we just breathed and hoped for a miracle. That however never happened, and none of the decision makers offered support for us. At this point, our fighting spirit started to raise its head, we combined our forces and started to work. First of all, we founded the Alpua Development Association and bought the school buildings,” says Rankinen.
Buying the school buildings was a starting point for the recovery of the whole village. The former school premises are now reused, there are now among other things operating parish clubs, flea market and gym. In addition, there are accommodation facilities for temporary workers and various events are organised there. In the future, the school premises are planned to be changed into a service centre for different activities.
“We got down to business. The co-operative society we established is running a village canteen and daycare. It is also offering service that is especially supporting elderly persons living in their own homes,” Rankinen rejoices.
But the heart of the village isn’t beating without money and volunteer spirit. Even the price for the school was only 100 euros, the annual operating costs for the property are 20 000 euros.
Counter-attack for the village becoming deserted produced desired result. There aren’t that many available estates in Alpua, and also remigration has been increasing. (Picture by Anne Anttila)
Energy from own power plant
But the Alpua villagers came up with a solution. They invested in their own power plant.
“The fire is maintained with village’s own wood since the energy is produced from woodchips with a gasification technique. With this, we are self-sufficient regarding the heating and electricity for the school buildings,” says Rankinen.
The villagers are selling the excess electricity to the national grid. In addition to having its own power plant, the village team spirit has reflected the fact that they have succeeded to stop migration loss of the village.
“We have more to offer for the comers than just a handshake and green environment. Not that many villages have a full-service village shop and various opportunities for leisure activities. The village also has a nice ice hockey rink, baseball field, agility track for dogs and playground for children. Also, a piano and skilled piano teacher are available. With all this, the exercise and cultural needs of the villagers are surely fulfilled,” Timo Rankinen lists with satisfaction.
According to Merja Junnila, who is also a village activist, a change to the better has happened, since, in addition to new residents, the village has also experienced remigration.
“A diverse event calendar has been complemented even with baby showers, and this tells a lot about the present situation of the village,” Junnila reveals with a smile.
Neighbourhood help going strong
In addition to comfort, the villagers are also taking care of each other’s well-being. No one is left alone. Not even for a broken water pump.
“We want to take care of everyone, so we are currently developing a separate village janitor service. This would enable elderly people to live in their own homes as long as possible,” says Rankinen.
Also, village activists Merja Junnila, Saara Rankinen and Esko Kotila think that the idea of a village janitor service is good. Even though the neighbourhood help is going as strong as ever, a rounded and multi-skilled village janitor would also bring security to everyday living.
“Many elderly people living in the outermost villages are not the first ones to ask for help. Not from a neighbour or from a mailman passing by,” village activists tell.
Village activists Timo Rankinen and Esko Kotila are telling that Alpua’s villagers are working hard to keep the village vibrant. (Picture by Anne Anttila)
“We are proud to be countrymen”
The Alpua villagers have also excelled in maintaining their social well-being. One of the most popular events is the monthly Alpua Lounge.
In this drug-free event, people can meet each other, chat over a coffee and get acquainted with new people at the same time.
“This is the best possible way to maintain functional ability,” says Merja Junnila.
At volunteer events, Alpua probably is the only village that has more volunteers at hand than work to do. They have always worked together for a common goal.
“We are proud of our roots and extremely happy for being countrymen. Although we have been part of the city of Raahe for the last four years, the fact that the decision-making is taken 50 km away from us doesn’t make us city people. Our only wish is that we too are heard,” say the village activists.
Read the Alpua Village School reference story to see how Volter has supported the community in achieving energy independence.