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Village pays family's rent in exchange for social media presence

Luumäki in South Karelia is covering one family's €660 rent for depicting small-town life on social media.

Luumäki gave Sami Sivonen and Laura Kiretti free housing for a year in exchange for posting about their life in the rural community. Image: Sirkka Haverinen / Yle
Yle News

Many small municipalities in Finland face a bleak future owing to declining populations and migration to bigger cities. However, one small municipality is attempting to harness the power of social media to buck this trend.

At the beginning of this year, Luumäki said it was looking for a family to sing the praises of the municipality on social media. The town selected Sami Sivonen and Laura Kiretti's family for the 12-month project, which entailed making weekly posts.

"We felt like this wasn't nearly enough to keep followers interested," Sivonen told Yle.

The family said it quickly realised that making live posts took a long time. For that reason, they decided to collect material during the day and do their posting later.

"If we’re at an amusement park, you lose that moment when you have to start thinking about images and GIFs for videos," Sivonen said of their decision.

At the beginning of this year the family was still living in Pirkkala in the Pirkanmaa region, contemplating a change. After seeing an article about Luumäki's social media project, the couple applied by making a video about themselves.

Neither had a job lined up in the area, but they decided to take the plunge anyway.

In Luumäki, they moved in to a freshly renovated 75m2 three-room row house with a sauna in Jurvala.

Covid restrictions had, however, closed many places during their first few months in the area.

"We've now been happy to notice that we get invites to different events, but even if we don't we just show up with a reporting mindset," Kiretti said.

Rural living means driving

Both parents eventually found work, though that has meant long commutes for Sivonen, who works within a 100-kilometre radius of Luumäki.

"When you drive a lot, you end up spending a surprisingly large amount of money on gas and diesel. I'm surprised this did not really occur to me before," he explained.

Now, about six months into the project, Koti Luumäellä has more than 1,400 followers on Instagram and 700 on Facebook, with the family becoming small-time local celebrities.

The municipality told Yle it has been pleased with the visibility it has gained so far, saying it has also drawn positive feedback for trying something new.

Erik Forstén, Luumäki's technical director, told Yle that the family's posts have all stemmed from their own experiences and observations.

More people have moved to the area this year, but this phenomenon is most likely due to people swapping city life for the countryside during Covid, according to Veera Heikkilä, who works for a housing management company in Luumäki.

Kiretti said it was unlikely that the family's posts would have already drummed up demand for housing in the area.

"This is just a good place to live," she said.

The family said it has come to appreciate the close proximity to nature.

"It's the fact that you can step out of your house and see trees and a lake. This feels like a much nicer living environment than the city suburb in which we were living before," Sivonen said.

The family said it plans to put down roots in Luumäki after the year of free housing ends. Their six-year-old preschooler, Hugo, is set to start first grade in Luumäki next autumn.

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