08 / 1993
Ambelakia is a village on Mount Kissavos. It is built at 450 meters above sea level. It is 30 kilometres from the city of Larissa and 120 from Salonica. Its name comes from the vast quantity of vineyards to be found in the surrounding area. At the end of last century Ambelakia saw a great development in the fields of crafts, trade, cultural and social life due to the "Company of Ambelakia" the first cooperative structure in the world (cf.IRED sheet "Some Historical Notes on the Greek Cooperative Movement").
Ambelakia Agriturism cooperative was founded in January 1985. It is an initiative of the Secretariat for Equal Gender Opportunities in cooperation with the Region of Larissa and the Regional Commission for Equal Gender Opportunities.
The aims of the cooperative are:
-to create job opportunities for women;
-to stop young people from moving away from the village;
-to revitalize the socio-cultural tradition of the village.
This has been put into pactice via 4 main activities:
1. Agritourism: every member of the cooperative puts a room aside for tourists; together they have also created an open air bar-restaurant;
2. Dye-works: it uses mainly natural colours, especially the "rizari" plant that made the village famousbecause of its chromatic qualities at the end of the last century and beginning of the XX century.
3. Weaving production which takes its inspiration from the traditional way of making and decorating carpets;
4. A permanent exhibition of their products.
There were 28 women at the beginning of the activities. They all kept one room in their house aside for tourists and received a small financial contribution from local authorities. They had to face many problems due to the local culture and the (negative)way it views working women. It was the first time that women could escape marginalisatiion and assume social responsibilities. Starting a small enterprise also meant escaping the social isolation they had faced until then. It was the first time that they had the chance to be elected as administrators to a collective body; previously a male privilege.
Various institutions contributed to the initiative: the Secretariat for Equal Gender Opportunities; ELKEPA (Greek Centre for Productivity); OAED (Organization for Employment, it organized seminars on various relevant issues and on economic activities). Support came also from Larissa Region, the Greek national tourism body, NELE (Popular training course)of Larissa, the Greek confederation of Rural Cooperatives Union, EOMMEX (Greek organization for small and medium size enterprises), the Agricultural body, the Forestry body of Larissa and the Ambelakia Town Council.
After the first year the dyework and weaving were abandoned. Most of the women are too old for this kind of work and costs were too high for this activity to be economically viable. Carpets coming from Eastern countries and particularly from Turkey are far cheaper than those made in Ambelakia and this meant there was not a sizeable demand for the carpets of the cooperative.
Administration and financial management:
The cooperative gets 15 per cent of the money payed by tourists for the rooms, in order to cover taxes and overheads. The rest of the money from the rooms is re-distributed every three months. The money coming from the bar-restaurant is re-distributed after the tourist season. 5 per cent goes to the cooperative. The Board of Directors is made of 5 members and 3 control members. They are elected every three years by the General Assembly.
Setting up the cooperative brought significant change for the women and for the whole village. Women can now have a salary and act as a group though they can work close to their families. Meeting new people has also meant an improvement in relations within the village and a more open-minded approach since the families that are still living in the village are the poorest ones. The Ministry for Public Labour has included Ambelakia among those towns to be protected for their cultural and architectural wealth. Many tourists (from Greece and fron abroad)have been able to visit the village. This was impossible before due to lack of infrastructure.
The Present situation:
After 8 years, the tourist sector is doing very well: 22 women are still active in this field. They mainly host cultural tourism for example for Historians, Architects, Literature professors etc. The cooperative also includes members who cannot offer a room. They contribute by running the bar, producing traditional clothes and sweets. The bar is open from May until September. During the winter, women provide meals in their houses. The total budget for renting rooms is 1.500.000 D while the bar provides 2.500.000 D.
The main obstacle is the fall in the number of tourists and the lack of marketing activities. The future of the cooperative is closely linked to that of Ambelakia itself and to a better management of its structures and services.
Translated by Alessio Surian. As IRED consultant Christina Petropoulou has visited Ambelakia Agriturism Cooperative in June 1993.
PETROPOULOU, Christina, IRED NORD, 1993
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