Pregrada is a small town in north-western Croatia, densely populated but aging. There are many volunteers but not a city wide strategy on volunteering. The URBACT Volunteering Cities Network through the good practice of Athienou-Municipal Council of Volunteers (MCV) gives Pregrada the opportunity to institutionalize and give a frame for actions to volunteering in the city. The result is the adoption of the MCV model through a participatory strategy for addressing social problems.
Rich in architectural heritage, and with an important industrial coal plant. In more recent years, the town has seen a declining and ageing population. Even though the number of inhabitants is declining, the area of the Pregrada municipality is still the most densely populated area in the Republic of Croatia. Pregrada has many active volunteers, and close links between relevant boards and the council, but there were no local overarching groups, strategies or action plans for a formalised approach to volunteering. Meanwhile, the town did a lot of different activities with young people, but was looking for ways to encourage them — and local and regional businesses — to do more to help others in the community.
By creating a Municipal Council of Volunteering, Pregrada is in a better position to create a safer, more inclusive local environment, starting with “the little volunteers in our kindergarten, volunteering clubs in elementary and high school, the Children City Council, the Youth Council, non-institutional support of public services, town’s associations, and the local government.”
The practice transferred focuses on creating a governance structure to provide a common frame for action at city level. Hence the main aspect of integrated approach is of vertical and horizontal integration among departments in the municipalities, while creating a participatory process including local inhabitants. Building on the Volunteering Cities ULG, an advisory body on questions of social inclusion and solidarity will continue to support Pregrada City Council. Still aiming to involve main stakeholders in the community and local government, the board started nominating members in December 2020.
A new URBACT Local Group (ULG) brought together all stakeholders relevant to volunteering and social support — from the city, civil society, schools and companies — as well as citizens of all ages. This provided strong foundations for building Pregrada’s own ‘Municipal Council of Volunteering’.
The group helped to formalise existing partnerships, involve more citizens as volunteers and to spark new ideas for common projects and cooperation. Barriers between people and sectors were replaced by a comprehension of common goals to tackle social problems in the community and a better understanding of the contributions that different stakeholders and groups can make.
“By taking part in Volunteering Cities, the Town of Pregrada heads in the direction of strengthening the participation of its citizens in decision-making processes... strengthening the inter-generational solidarity, involving the youth in creating and executing of local policies, volunteering, and involving local entrepreneurs in finding solutions for social problems in the community,” highlights Marija Marjanović, Project Coordinator.
The biggest contribution of this project is founding the URBACT Local Group (ULG) in the town of Pregrada involving all the important stakeholders in the area. The ULG has contributed to strengthening cultural, social, sports, and educational aspects of life in the local community.
The experience of Volunteering Cities was not about creating a new concept of volunteering that did not exist at all within the town. Rather, it was a process of awakening, developing and harnessing the energy and disparate activities already within the community to do more and to have more impact. The ULG members grew closer through regular meetings, coordination of local activities and participation in the European-level transnational exchanges. In addition to formal meetings, members kept engaged and motivated thanks to informal coffees and dinners, carrying out project tasks between meetings.