For the last 7 years, Torrent’s (ES) commitment to produce the city’s Diversity Plan has made changes that many other local European authorities thought impossible. The city of Torrent used a step-by-step approach, accepting that there are no quick-fixes or short term solutions, to face problems related to Roma segregation. The city has improved inclusiveness and security on all its territories through the physical regeneration of Xenillet, a previously segregated and almost derelict neighbourhood, by the sustained delivery of social and economic programmes focused on its excluded population. Xenillet is now a district of average standing in the city where the quality of life of many inhabitants, as well as housing, training and working, has improved. Most children attend school regularly and permanently, and a local Roma association has been created.
We realised that change takes time, and that a local step-by step approach can bring long-term and sustainable change. This ongoing process in our city will continue for many more years, but a number of important achievements have already been made:
• Remodelling one of Torrent’s main thoroughfares to link the district to the city;
• Social and educational programmes, to connect and support local families;
• Educational workshops for children and adolescents, to foster teamwork and respect for others and for their district;
• Grants for the renovation of local houses and buildings;
• New technologies in the schools: interactive whiteboards in all classrooms, computer access and training for pupils;
• Training and employment workshops in plumbing, bricklaying, electricity, hairdressing, social care, painting, and youth and child development;
• Installation of a pedestrian footbridge to allow 200 local children to walk to school;
• Rehabilitation of the district’s Social Centre and the creation of new programmes of activities and education;
• Construction of a kindergarten for 102 small children aged 0 to 3 from local poor families;
• Grants to grow local commercial activity and for development of new and existing businesses;
• Landscaping of a local ravine by students of the Training and Employment Workshops;
• Workshops on environmental sensitivity and local awareness raising actions.
The good practice in Torrent was founded on URBACT principles. From 2009–2013, Torrent was part of Roma-Net which ran in parallel to an URBAN programme implementing physical regeneration in the Xenillet district of the city. The city approved a Diversity Management Plan which ensured commitment to Roma integration and improvement of local services for Xenillet, delivering an integrated and participative approach. Poverty and exclusion of a segregated community were tackled, alongside the physical regeneration of the area to connect it with the city and improve local infrastructure and living conditions. The process was inclusive, involving key stakeholders such as the local community in the decision-making and the delivery of new and improved local services. With the support of the municipality, local organisations continue to deliver these services. The Xenillet district has since improved its capacity to employ locally and to provide services tailored to meet community needs such as the kindergarten. These organisations were, and still are, a key part in the ongoing process of change.
Between 2009 and 2015, the Roma community and other local residents of the Xenillet district have been actively involved in its regeneration and improvement process. Some took an active part in the local decision-making process, others were part of the community consultation process between the URBAN management team and the community, and many were recipients of new local services and training programmes. Many local families received grants to make physical improvements to their properties. Recent political changes in Torrent have reignited the city’s commitment to Roma inclusion, and its will to continue the social and economic improvements that are still needed for families living in the Xenillet district. A new local stakeholder group has been commissioned to update the city’s Diversity Management Plan, and to review and deliver any improvements necessary to local services. A local association has been formed, linking local families to the city on political and administrative levels, that will be a key member of the stakeholder group, and an essential part in the continued improvement of the Xenillet district.
Today, the Xenillet district is better connected to the rest of the city of Torrent, and its image is improving. Its inhabitants feel more secure, and residents from other parts of the city are less afraid to enter the area. There are more connections between Roma and non-Roma residents. Many local residents have increased their work related skills, and many more are in employment, or self-employed.
The district is now linked to the local school by a footbridge. The vast majority of children attend primary school, and pupils increasingly stay for a longer period of years. A complete urban renovation has totally changed Xenillet's physical appearance, and improved the local infrastructure. Its integration into the city is improving not only the quality of life for Xenillet residents, where many inhabitants are Roma, but for all of Torrents' inhabitants.
Our good practice could be interesting for other European cites in several ways. The concept of a step-by-step approach is transferable, as well as the EC “stop and think” approach. We are combining physical, social and economic actions, and using the overarching Diversity Management Plan with a multi-party agreement. However, this set of comprehensive and inclusive local actions needs to be adapted to fit different local situations.