The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But sometimes it takes young people to raise up a village, and this is exactly what’s happening in the Laconian village of Vamvakou.
Located in the Peloponnese a few hours’ drive from Athens, Vamvakou went from having hundreds of residents a few decades ago to just few permanent residents today. Yet the area remains fertile ground for the cultivation of the chestnuts, nuts, potatoes, and herbs for which it was once famous. It remains nestled in an idyllic mountain setting, surrounded by opportunities for outdoor recreation and an optimum destination for the weekends. Its cozy homes remain ready for residents or guests.
Seeing the opportunity to write a new chapter in the storied history of the village, a group of five friends with roots in Vamvakou began to shape a plan for bringing new life to the village.
Two years ago, they met with Andreas Dracopoulos, Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), who suggested that the first stage of the revival focus on bringing new visitors to the village. With support from SNF, a business plan for the project was developed by Deloitte, and a search began for land and buildings in the village that could host vacation rental homes, a restaurant, a café, and a guesthouse.
In August 2018, the five friends founded a Social Cooperative Enterprise called Vamvakou Revival. The first phase of the project is one of thoughtful but energetic planning and preparation, yet on the ground in Vamvakou, there is already sense of renewed liveliness. Permanent residents have already relocated to the village.
In April 2019, Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos and colleagues from the SNF traveled to the prefecture of Laconia to explore creating new, and extend existing, partnerships wherever possible. In this context, they also visited the village of Vamvakou to further discuss ideas with the team of five young people who have established the “Vamvakou Revival” Social Cooperative Enterprise.
“The revival of Vamvakou is a very ambitious project which, we believe, expresses a collective need, today perhaps more than ever, to return to our roots with respect and hope,” said Dracopoulos. “Our own roots happen to be in Vamvakou, as it is the village where my great uncle and our founder, Stavros Niarchos, came from. Respecting its tradition and its history, we look forward to seeing Vamvakou gradually fill with life and evolve into a model village, paving the way for other such villages to follow, both in Greece and internationally.”
In July 2019, SNF’s monthly DIALOGUES event took place in Vamvakou, under the title “Back to the Roots”, focusing on this collective effort of revitalizing the village. Sports, educational and artistic activities for the entire family were also organized during this one-day event, as well as the 1st Vamvakou Mountain Run. In 2020 the run will be organized on Saturday, July 4th.
Since October 2019, a pioneering new technology hub, the V.Lab (Vamvakou Technology Lab fully powered by SNF), opened its doors to the public at the school village. This fully equipped center with 3D printers, interactive whiteboards, modern teleconference systems, laptops, and a Lego EV3, provides the opportunity for young people in the area—and beyond—to explore new technologies.
*Vamvakou Revival is part of the SNF Laconia Initiative.