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Improving Altena’s Good Practice of Citizen Engagement

Edited on

17 September 2019

Altena’s NGO platform ‘Stellwerk’ has evolved since its founding in 2008. Volunteers joined and left quickly or after several years of service to the Stellwerk. Over time a hard core of volunteers emerged which co-ordinates the project work of the Stellwerk and works in close co-operation with the Office for Public Engagement in the municipality. While many of the original volunteers that joined Stellwerk in its early days were already at retirement age, these reliable and essential workers are now reaching the point where fresh blood is needed to keep the Stellwerk going. This is the reason why Altena is adopting a ‘good practice improvement plan’ that has the aim of enhancing the Stellwerk model.

As lead partner of the ReGrow City network sponsored by URBACT the municipality is supporting the transfer of the Stellwerk model to three towns: Manresa (Spain); Igoumenitsa (Greece) and Idrija (Slovenia). A core aspect of the good practice transfer is financial and personnel support from the municipality to establish an NGO platform that, like Stellwerk, is independent from the municipality but works in close co-operation with it. The different projects that Stellwerk is pursuing provide an inspiration for our partners, showing what can be achieved when the energies of civil society are released in collaboration with the municipality.

However, even our good practice has the potential for improvement and become a ‘best practice’, hence Altena decided to join the URBACT sponsored ‘Volunteering City’ network which aims to transfer practices concerned with civil society engagement based on the success of the work of the small town Athienou in Cyprus. One result of our work with Volunteering City is a new focus on young people as a trade mark for our Stellwerk and which we called ‘Local Me’. Local Me is aimed at engaging young people in voluntary work, draw attention to work of Stellwerk among a younger demographic and generate projects that respond to the interests and needs of younger members of our population. [This is added by me now: Not only is the age profile of activists support the Stellwerk a cause of concern but given the demographic of Altena as a whole, retaining young people is absolutely essential for Altena as a sustainable urban settlement in the very near future.] Staff from the municipality work alongside Stellwerk volunteers to promote the work of Stellwerk in locations that are frequented by our new target group. The first promotional activity involved Stellwerk’s participation in a job fair in our region which is attended by school leavers. Visitors were attracted by a fun game (? Gewinnspiel?) and information about opportunities to create local initiatives that might respond to oung people’s interests. Towards the end of September a late ‘breakfast’ at 15.00 is planned to reflect on the success of past initiatives and draw in new volunteers from a younger age group for one-off or longer term projects.

In addition Stellwerk developed a new project which animates our town centre and creates a new focal point for civil society engagement. In October 2019 Stellwerk will open a shop where people can swap goods they no longer need for things they do want, where people can meet over a cup of coffee and organise cultural activities such as music or exhibitions. This shop will be run by volunteers and provides a good connection to Altena’s second good practice that is being adopted by four different cities in the ReGrow Coty network, the Pop-up Shop.