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  • Volunteering Cities

    LEAD PARTNER : Athienou - Cyprus
    • Altea - Spain
    • Altena - Germany
    • Arcos de Valdevez - Portugal
    • Athy - Ireland
    • Capizzi - Italy
    • Pregrada - Croatia
    • Radlin - Poland



    Municipality of Athienou - 2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave - 7600 Athienou Cyprus


    Watch all the Volunteering Cities videos here.


    Kick-off meeting (May), Transnational Meeting (August), End of Phase 1, Beginning of Phase 2

    Transnational Meetings (February, March, June, October, December)

    Capacity Building, Workshops

    Transnational Meetings (February, March), Final Conference, URBACT City Festival

    Learning Logs

    This Transfer network makes use of Volunteerism to approach social exclusion and poverty at the community level. Focus is given to an inter-generational collaboration where different age groups of both volunteers and individuals facing social problems work towards a sustainable evolution of the quality of life within local society. The network aims at structuring the volunteering activity giving validity to a bottom up approach, where volunteers can decide and implement actions.

    Volunteers connect cities, from compassion to action
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  • Volunteering Cities +

    LEAD PARTNER : Athienou - Cyprus
    • Agia - Greece
    • Aljustrel - Portugal
    • Banská Štiavnica - Slovakia
    • Viļāni - Latvia


    Municipality of Athienou - 2, Archbishop Makarios III Ave - 7600 Athienou Cyprus



    Kick-off meeting (September), Transnational Meeting (November)

    Transnational Meetings (April, June, September), Final Event (December)

    The transfer network makes use of Volunteerism to approach social exclusion and poverty at the community level. Focus is given to an inter-generational collaboration where different age groups of both volunteers and individuals facing social problems work towards a sustainable evolution of the quality of life within local society. The network aims at structuring the volunteering activity giving validity to a bottom up approach, where volunteers can decide and implement actions.

    Volunteers connect cities, from compassion to action
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  • Nine ways cities can become more just and inclusive

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    These local actions for a fairer society are inspiring cities across the EU. Could they work in your city too?

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    The New Leipzig Charter highlights three forms of the transformative city which can be harnessed in Europe to enhance people’s quality of life: the Just City, the Green City and the Productive City.

    URBACT’s latest publication is packed with sustainable solutions to address these three dimensions – all tried, tested and transferred between EU cities, with adaptations for each local context.

    To give a taste of the full stories in ‘Good practice transfer: Why not in my City?’, here are nine examples of local actions for Just Cities. We hope towns and cities of all sizes will be inspired to ‘Understand, Adapt and Re-use’ these ideas for working with communities to fight exclusion and help drive a just transition to a green economy.


    1. Boost social inclusion through music

    One way Brno (CZ) is tackling social exclusion in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and encouraging children to stay in school, is a music programme inspired by the innovative Municipal Music School and Arts Centre in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat (ES). Brno is one of six EU cities in the ONSTAGE network, which have adopted l’Hospitalet’s inclusive approach – with groups including a symphonic orchestra, big bands, pop-rock, and jazz groups. Working with teachers and parents, Brno launched its own group music activities in deprived areas, bringing people together, facilitating cultural exchanges, and even improving school results in maths and other subjects.



    2. Encourage volunteering


    Pregrada (HR) has found a way to awaken its volunteering potential and encourage more young people to get involved in helping others. Forming a diverse local group to connect relevant associations, council staff, and citizens of all ages, they introduced a new governance structure around volunteering, part of a participatory model for solving local social problems. The town, which already had many active volunteers, and close links between relevant boards and the council, based its new framework on the well-established Municipal Council of Volunteering in Athienou (CY) while also exchanging with six other EU cities in the Volunteering Cities network.



    3. Commit to inclusion and tolerance


    Hamburg’s Altona district (DE) has launched an anti-discrimination strategy, with a set of principles known as the ‘Altona Declaration’, co-developed by political leaders and residents: “We in Altona,… stand for a free and democratic society; like to encounter new people; represent diversity and engage against discrimination; encounter every person with respect and tolerance; believe in the equality of all people; recognise the chances that come with diversity and encounter every person openly and without prejudices.”

    Inspired by Amadora’s (PT) ‘Don’t feed the rumour’ initiative, through the RUMOURLESS CITIES network, Altona appointed local campaign ambassadors, and asked residents about community, democracy and equality – confirming a common desire to live in a society where people take care of each other.



    4. Celebrate local heritage through storytelling


    A movement to celebrate the built environment, promote active citizenship and fight urban isolation is growing up around a former radio station in a 1950s suburb of Pori (FI). Working with the city’s cultural department, an arts collective based on the site formed a local group and asked neighbours and radio enthusiasts to share their stories, in person and online, sparking new events, interest in local heritage, and the re-use of abandoned space in the old radio station. Pori based the initiative on good practice from Budapest’s annual ‘Weekend of Open Houses’, thanks to the Come in! network.



    5. Co-manage city assets


    The Belgian city of Ghent has a long history of policy participation, with council-appointed ‘neighbourhood managers’ supporting a variety of citizens’ initiatives. The Civic eState network helped Ghent learn from urban commons legislation in cities like Naples, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Gdansk, further boosting cooperation with residents – and bringing the city’s policy participation, real estate, and legal services to work together. Ghent applied these learnings in the re-use of the decommissioned Saint Jozef Church. Commoners, citizens, and nearby organisations formed a local group to jointly assign a local coordinator to ensure the building’s management and activities take into account the needs of its diverse neighbourhood.



    6. Empower neighbourhood partnerships


    A new initiative in the French metropole of Lille identifies local associations and their potential synergies in deprived neighbourhoods, in order to empower communities to propose and build their own joint social projects – such as linking up a retirement home with a neighbouring school. The idea is to support these projects on the road to self-sufficiency. Lille based their initiative on learnings from Lisbon’s (PT) Local Development Strategy for Priority Intervention areas, thanks to the Com.Unity.Lab network. Lisbon’s scheme tackles urban poverty and empowers communities by providing micro-grants to thousands of local projects, many of which become autonomous and create permanent jobs.



    7. Engage with citizens through play and games


    Cork (IE), is taking a ‘playful’ approach to improving the city for all, steered by a local group ‘Let’s Play Cork’ which includes the City Council, public bodies and associations across health, education, culture and sports. Applying good practice from Udine (IT) and other cities in the Playful Paradigm network, Cork’s actions so far include: pop-up play areas in the city centre, parks and libraries; play-based resources for festivals; toy-lending in libraries; and providing ‘street-play packs’ for neighbourhood events. This approach has been a catalyst for local groups and residents to start tackling societal challenges together, such as co-developing playful ideas for public spaces, including the permanent pedestrianisation of certain roads.



    8. Build municipality-NGO cooperation


    The ‘NGO House’ in Riga (LV) is a place for civil society organisations to hold events, develop sustainable cooperation with the municipality; and receive educational, technical and administrative support. The model inspired cities across the EU to boost their own synergies between NGOs, citizens and institutions – with support from the ACTive NGOs network. The Sicilian town of Siracusa, for example, has developed three new public spaces with local associations: Citizen's House on an abandoned floor of a school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood; Officine Giovani in a historic centre; and the Urban Centre, a recovered space, bringing the administration and community together in planning local policies.



    9. Welcome international talent


    Home to several multinational companies and a university, Debrecen (HU) is expanding support for professionals and students arriving from other countries to feel welcome and stay on as valuable members of the community. Debrecen is one of six cities in the Welcoming International Talent network, inspired by Groningen (NL) where a multidisciplinary team provides international residents with active support in housing, work, city living and communication. With improved stakeholder relations convincing local leaders to see social aspects of economic development, next steps include support for affordable accommodation, and encouraging local companies to recruit international talent.




    Find out more about these, and many more, sustainable city solutions – in the new URBACT publication ‘Good practice transfer: Why not in my City?’.

    Visit the Good Practice database for more inspiration.

  • Reinforcing local food ecosystems: a recipe for success?

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    Discover how URBACT cities are using sustainable food and urban agriculture to address an array of local challenges.


    In this article, URBACT Programme Expert Marcelline Bonneau shines a light on several URBACT partner cities making the transition towards more sustainable local food ecosystems – and some of the practices they have developed in the process. She concludes with a reminder of the importance of integrated food policies at city level.


    A multitude of local food solutions in URBACT cities


    Since 2013, the URBACT programme has supported seven networks working on topics linked to sustainable food and urban agriculture engaging around 50 European cities in transnational learning and exchange. These are:  Food Corridors, BioCanteens, RU:rban, BeePathNet, Sustainable Food in Urban Communities, Agri-Urban and Diet for a Green Planet.


    The diverse topics covered by these URBACT cities reflect the complexity of our food systems and the interlinkages between sectors and policy priorities, as presented in the overview below.


    Themes covered by URBACT networks © Marcelline Bonneau


    From food to health, supporting social justice and fairness


    The Covid-19 pandemic has made increasingly obvious the need to ensure that nobody is left behind when considering one of our core primary needs, food. Amongst others, Atheniou (CY) Mollet del Vallès (ES), Milan (IT) and Mouans-Sartoux (FR) have been particularly active in readjusting their food systems during the pandemic, embedding solidarity in the further integration of their local food systems.


    In Mollet del Vallès, food justice has been on the agenda for quite a few years, as shown in the city’s involvement in the URBACT networks Diet for a Green Planet and Agri-Urban. The “Eat Well in Mollet” strategy promotes healthy dietary habits by giving citizens access to nutritious, local, organic and sustainable food, while educating them to make healthy food choices. Support under the strategy for vulnerable populations includes social allotments in an agro-ecological park.


    Workshop with families © City of Mollet dèl Vallès


    Food sovereignty as a cement for local production ecosystem


    Food sovereignty, as defined by Via Campesina, asserts that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution.


    To achieve food sovereignty and ensure local access to food, many cities have realised the importance of more locally based production, while supporting organic cultivation (including in urban gardens), as well as more sustainable distribution chains (supermarkets, markets, cooperatives…) and processing and preparation of food  (catering, canteens).


    The LAG Pays de Condruses (BE), part of the URBACT Agri-Urban and BioCanteens networks, has implemented an agricultural incubator model, combining food production, training and sale – the first such project in Wallonia (Belgium). Called ‘Point Vert’ (Green Point), the project offers access to organic land and streamlining of infrastructure and tools over six ha (including six greenhouses of 700 m2). Trainees can experiment with different crops and cultivation techniques and receive technical, entrepreneurial and selling support. It also provides a meeting and networking space for farmers.


    Point Vert © Strategic Design Scenarios (SDS)


    In addition, ensuring adequate urban planning and land use have also become key concerns. While still in its infancy, the URBACT Food Corridors network is seeking to reinforce rural-urban linkages, at the level of cities and (micro) regions.


    Food tourism as a key driver for cities


    Other cities focus on the attractiveness of their territory by increasing and improving local production, the processing and preparation of food, and the branding and promotion of their local products. This is the focus of Amarante (ES), part of the BeePathNet network, which focuses on urban beekeeping in relation to local environment, biodiversity and food self-sufficiency challenges. The city is developing a ‘Bee Path’ platform to promote its bee and honey-related products and attract tourists. The city works with beekeepers as well as schools, and, obviously, everybody takes part in World Bee Day!


    Bee products in Amarente © City of Amarante


    What about us people?


    Many cities have a focus on the need to change consumer behaviour: inviting their citizens to consume more organic, seasonal, local and plant-based diets, while strengthening local community engagement.


    In Krakow (PL), member of the URBACT RU:RBAN network, this is done via the ‘Gardens with Class’ programme for Community-building and schools. This programme supports the set-up of gardens in primary schools, a method that is educational both in terms of form and content, with a direct experience of nature. The ultimate goal is to open these gardens to the community and to reward school teachers with prizes for their engagement and achievements. Around 50 teachers are involved in 18 schools (one per district), with benefits expected for local communities, health, teachers’ careers, and new ways of learning.


    ‘Gardens with Class’ in Krakow © City of Krakow


    Public procurement as a leverage for supporting local organic consumption


    Cities can also work to turn legislative and market frameworks from obstacles to enablers in encouraging a shift towards more sustainability. Public procurement is one such tool which has proven to be extremely useful for European cities.


    For example, Mouans-Sartoux (FR) – lead partner of the URBACT BioCanteens network – has opened the debate for elected representatives and civil servants to adapt legislation so that public procurement can effectively improve food provisioning for school canteens. The key principles applied by Mouans-Sartoux are:


    • Separating out previously large food ‘lots’ to enable local mono producers to submit proposals;
    • Systematic and organised inclusion of organic produce;
    • An increase of organic food lots;
    • Introducing questionnaires to increase understanding of local suppliers and their produce; and,
    • Defining selection criteria to better take into account quality and environmental issues.


    As such, collaboration with local suppliers has become more realistic and efficient than ever.


    A sustainable school canteen in Mouans-Sartoux © Strategic Design Scenarios (SDS)


    The importance of local urban food policies


    These are just some of the many stories we could share from URBACT cities across Europe. Overarching all these specific and individual examples is the importance of cities developing  an adequate policy framework to ensure a coherent and structured, but also transversal and integrated way of supporting food and urban agriculture-related projects. This is especially challenging as food policy is still addressed by multiple ministries and departments across local, regional and national levels. We don’t have Food Ministries in Europe yet!

    A great example of such a policy approach and one of the flagship outcomes of the URBACT Sustainable Food in Urban Communities network is the Brussels Good Food Strategy. Working within the network, the region developed a local participatory process, gathered knowledge, co-created a vision, and planned measurable actions.


    The co-creation of the Good Food strategy in Brussels © Bruxelles environnement


    The resulting strategy was launched in 2016 along the principles of inclusion, local authorities leading by example, partnerships, behavioural change and increasing stakeholder ability to initiate their own projects. The strategy includes 15 actions structured under seven thematic headings:


    1. Increase local sustainable food production;
    2. Support the transition to a re-localised and sustainable supply for all;
    3. Support the transition of  demand [towards more sustainable food products] for all;
    4. Develop a sustainable and desirable "good food" culture;
    5. Reduce food waste;
    6. Design and promote the food systems of the future; and
    7. Ensure strategic implementation.


    After the success of this strategy, a new, more ambitious strategy is on its way for 2022, co-created once again by all the stakeholders of the Brussels’ food ecosystem.


    We look forward to the outcomes of the ongoing URBACT networks related to food and to seeing their partner cities’ journeys towards better access to local high quality products for their citizens.


    Interested in more sustainable urban food policies and approaches? We invite you to dig into the information already shared by our cities and networks and check out future URBACT articles on the theme of food.


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  • Covid-19: a springboard for more food solidarity?

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    How cities can sustain and transfer good practice in improving access to (healthy) food.


    Cities have shown how agile they can be in addressing increased needs of their local population in terms of access to (healthy) food. As the economic crisis unfolds and hits the most vulnerable first, it is important to think about what cities can do to sustain and transfer such good practices and what support they need at national and European levels.


    “The idea behind all initiatives is not to leave anybody behind during the Covid-19 crisis.”
    Josep Monras i Galindo, Mayor, Mollet de Vallès (Spain)


    Assessing the Covid impact


    For many of the most vulnerable people, Covid-19 has not only meant immediate health risks and threats to their income, but a significant worsening of their access to good-quality food. This has put them at increased risk of hunger and malnutrition.


    At the same time, we have heard some positive impacts of the crisis on other aspects of the mainstream food system, for example with the development of healthier eating habits, more cooking at home and shorter food supply chains. Citizen solidarity has also been visible in many local areas to meet food needs of the most vulnerable.


    In this article, I therefore ask: how have cities supported emerging citizen-led initiatives for food provision to those in need during the lockdown? How have they re-organised food aid systems, such as subsidised meals in canteens or charity-run food distribution schemes?


    And as the lockdown measures are lifted across Europe, what lessons can be learnt from the responses to the crisis for building resilient food systems and local food policies for everyone? How can such learning continue to ‘feed us’ and provide us with a roadmap for action post Covid?


    New types of food aid distribution


    Associations and charities have faced a number of challenges during the lockdown. On the one hand, they lost the critical support of their senior volunteer workforce at risk of catching the virus. On the other hand, they faced increased demand with more people than ever in need of assistance, beyond their usual list of ‘beneficiaries’.


    This required significant outreach efforts. Some structures re-adjusted their model by recruiting new volunteers, adapting to new health and safety measures, or even changing their food provision and distribution patterns, whilst others simply had to temporarily close down.


    In some cases, the government assumed more responsibilities for distributing food aid, often leading to positive effects – for example, more cross-departmental cooperation and social innovation within city administration, more promotion of short food supply chains and organic food.


    The Italian large city of Milan (1.3 million), which is an URBACT Good Practice for its Food Policy, set up a new food distribution system (“Dispositivo aiuto alimentare”) to offset the impact of the closures of several associations and charities and therefore centralised the entire supply chain until the end of the crisis. Food hubs were created at 10 locations across the city to prepare food aid packages for vulnerable families and fragile persons identified as being in need by Milan’s Social Services and non-profit operators.


    Milan’s Dispositivo aiuto alimentare (@Milan Food Policy)


    Around 180 people and many stakeholders have been involved, including retailers, volunteers, municipality employees, drivers and others active in the food donation system. In the first two weeks, since 16 March, the Dispositivo Aiuto alimentare reached almost 1 900 families and after 15 weeks, the food aid system reached more than 6 000 families, a total of 20 744 people. The municipality opened within the municipal grocery market – ‘Foody’ – a specific food hub where fresh fruits and vegetables were collected and distributed to the food hubs and ultimately added to the food aid packages. Therefore, this action has not only improved access, but also quality of the food aid.









    Milan’s Municipal grocery market (@Milan Food Policy)


    Municipalities supporting citizen-led initiatives


    Whilst the senior volunteer workforce has been impacted, many other groups have found themselves with more time on their hands and more reasons to engage in mutual aid. The result has been that many URBACT cities have seen a surge of volunteerism during Covid-19.


    The small town of Athienou in Cyprus (6 500 inhabitants) has a long history of supporting volunteering. Recognised as an URBACT good practice, Athienou is now leading the URBACT network Volunteering Cities. As Kyriacos Kareklas, Mayor of Athienou, likes saying, “The spirit of help and volunteerism is something that gives extra power to people in charge, who want to help people in need.”


    The municipality reacted quickly to the crisis by calling upon volunteers to help the elderly and people with disabilities with their grocery shopping. They also supported the engagement of various actors in the food supply chain through the Social Welfare Program and Volunteering Council.


    The urgency and logistical challenges of providing access to food led in many cases to federated efforts at the neighbourdhood level. For some cities, this represented a unique opportunity to strengthen territorial cooperation. Authorities played a crucial role as facilitators, for example, by making connections, setting up platforms, making spaces and resources available, or helping with communication.


    This was the case, for instance, in the bigger and more densely populated city of Naples, the Lead Partner of the CivicEstate Network, which is exploring new forms of collective governance of shared urban spaces (unused building, parks, squares etc.) through an ‘urban common’ approach. This approach helped a wide network of associations, cooperatives, soup kitchens, community centres and other urban commons in Naples to rapidly organise food solidarity.


    As Gregorio Turolla wrote in this article, “The extraordinary situation faced by cities like Naples during the pandemic has highlighted the essential role of self-managed or co-managed spaces of aggregation and mutualism. This confirms the important role of urban commons as social infrastructures, producing public services of social impact through solidarity, creative, collaborative, digital and circular economy initiatives.”


    Meeting the needs of vulnerable children


    Lola Gallego, manager of health and social services at Mollet de Vallès, stressed that “the health issue is a priority, but now the social crisis is beginning, and the basic social services provided by the municipalities must be the cornerstone of the forthcoming policies, plans and actions. To provide money is not enough. What is crucial is to accompany people in need.”


    As one important example of this potential social crisis, a major risk factor for many vulnerable children, up to 320 million children worldwide, has been the disappearance of their only daily meal from school.


    As part of a wider regional programme between the Catalan Government and La Caixa Bank, the Spanish medium-size city of Mollet de Vallès (52 000), partner of the URBACT Agri-Urban network, has contributed to a scheme providing credit cards for each child eligible for publicly funded school lunches (1 087 cards in Mollet). This scheme is supported jointly by the government and the city. Families were asked only to use the cards to buy food in the city where they live.


    Mollet de Vallès’s Benefit card (©Mollet de Vallès)


    Food policies and food sovereignty for all


    Andrea Magarini, Milan Food Policy Coordinator, is adamant that having “an effective local food policy has helped overcoming situations of crisis like the one we all are facing since the end of February.” In the case of Milan, their existing work “on issues such as food waste and school canteens has helped in the identification of successful actions to ensure access to food for many vulnerable groups during the lockdown,” points out Andrea Magarini.


    In the small French city of Mouans-Sartoux (10 000), partner of Agri-Urban and Lead Partner of the BioCanteens network, their URBACT-awarded ‘good practice’ is rooted into a territorial eco-system with strong food sovereignty. In that context, the crisis has only further entrenched their long-lasting efforts to guarantee food sovereignty on their territory.



    Mollet de Vallès’s Food sovereignty project by 2045 (©BioCanteens)


    Mouans-Sartoux plans to continue the activities initiated during the lockdown, such as the a newly set-up NGO helping homeless people. They will also launch new initiatives to support self-production and redistribution to those most in need, education on sustainable food for everyone, improvement of the quality of the food being delivered at home, and strengthening citizen participation in the food policy.


    Mouans-Sartoux’s municipal farm (©Mouans-Sartoux)


    The ‘food lever’ – how to scale up action from the bottom up?


    So, what cities can do to sustain such good practices and what support do they need at national and European levels?


    As Gilles Pérole, Vice Mayor for education in Mouans-Sartoux said, “it is at local level that we need to act now. State centralism does not provide us with the quick and efficient answers we need. Within these first two months of crisis, the administrative burden has disappeared as we had to quickly react and adjust ourselves. The Covid-19 crisis has showed us what could happen as a result of the climate crisis and there won’t be any vaccines to save us from it…”


    As part of the Farm to fork strategy which was published in the midst of the crisis, the European Commission is focusing, amongst others, on “Mak[ing] sure Europeans get healthy, affordable and sustainable food”. Yet, it puts little emphasis on the role of cities except in the conclusion stating that “the transition to sustainable food systems (also) requires a collective approach involving public authorities at all levels of governance (including cities, rural and coastal communities), private-sector actors across the food value chain, non-governmental organisations, social partners, academics and citizens.”  


    As such, URBACT (and its partners) have a strong role to play in providing grounded evidence and cases from cities, offering additional and counterbalanced views to those of mainstream lobbies, further continuing to facilitate exchange of learning and accelerating change towards more food solidarity at local, national and European levels.


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  • How are URBACT cities reacting to Covid-19?

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    At a time when the impact of the pandemic has changed our way of life, cities are showing their resilience.



    Cities are intervening in novel ways to support frontline health services, food supplies, the local economy and people’s mental well-being. Several are building directly on capacity built during their experiences in URBACT networks, showing that the programme’s principles of local stakeholder engagement and transnational exchange can support cities to achieve their objectives, even in times of crisis.

    Volunteers in action in Altea (ES)

    We asked some of our URBACT experts what examples of city responses had caught their attention. Read their thoughts, then check out the interactive map of other great city examples that the URBACT Programme is collecting from across Europe. More in-depth analysis will follow in the next few weeks so stay tuned!


    Cities supporting front-line health workers


    Cities are finding novel ways to support hospitals and health workers. “Right now, cities are throwing everything at the short-term problem,” stresses Eddy Adams. “That means supporting the medics, like in Pireaus (EL), whose Blue Lab has repurposed 3D printers to make protective faceshields for health staff.” This initiative builds on the experience of the city in supporting local innovation through the ‘BlueGrowth’ competition, recognised by URBACT as a good practice in 2017 and currently the focus of the URBACT Transfer Network BluAct.

    Meanwhile, in Hungary, Ivan Tosics highlights that “despite the increasing centralisation of government in recent years and severely restricted local budgets, the city of Budapest (HU) has reacted by ordering medical instruments from abroad and is distributing these to health institutions, homeless shelters and elderly homes. The city also signed agreements with private health institutions to test employees in key professions for the functioning of the capital.”


    Citizen-led solutions have also been an important aspect of the human response to the crisis affecting health services and city authorities can still learn more about how to support and encourage such initiatives. Laura Colini has been impressed that the URBACT Transfer Network Volunteering Cities - based on the experience of the Athienou (CY) Municipal Council of Volunteering (MCV) – “is now sharing how volunteers are engaged in different cities to provide first necessity products, producing masks or any other needed materials.”
                                                                                                    Also from the Volunteering Cities network, a volunteer in Capizzi (IT)


    Cities supporting the local economy


    Given the impact of lockdown policies on people’s economic activities, many urban authorities have swiftly introduced measures to freeze rents and business taxes, and are helping local companies to access support. Ivan Tosics flags that Budapest has “increased the wages of employees of municipality-owned enterprises and introduced a moratorium on rent payments for small and micro enterprises which rent space from the municipality. The local authority has also offered free signs to shops in the city to call attention to the right distance to maintain between customers.”

    Many cities are looking at opportunities to extend their digital service provision, including to local companies who cannot access traditional support in the current circumstances. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT network TechTown was stressing the importance of the digital economy and its Lead Partner Barnsley’s (UK) Digital Media Centre was identified as an URBACT Good Practice - going on to form the basis of the current URBACT Transfer Network TechRevolution.

    Sally Kneeshaw has seen how the city has built on these experiences to step up its response to the current crisis: “Barnsley’s Digital Media Centre last week pivoted to virtual delivery to support businesses with chat and call centres, and made a commitment to bankroll the Government's grant scheme for those in the most impacted sectors of retail, leisure and hospitality.” The platform is also providing tips and guidance for more secure remote working.

    Supporting the local economy also means supporting families most affected by job losses and loss of income. Whilst many national unemployment schemes are being adapted in response to the specific current challenges, Laura Colini highlights that exchanges within URBACT’s Volunteering Cities network have also included “brewing ideas and exchanging practices on the involvement of local companies or individuals in offering products or financial aid to families in need”.


    Cities ensuring local food supplies


    Many European citizens are concerned about ongoing supplies of food as production and distribution systems come under strain from threats to workers’ health and restrictions on movement. The URBACT network AGRI-URBAN was addressing ways of improving local food supply in urban areas back in 2016. The AGRI-URBAN partner city, Mouans-Sartoux (FR) saw its collective school catering recognised as an URBACT good practice in 2017 and became the Lead Partner of the Transfer Network BioCanteens in 2018.

    Marcelline Bonneau has kept in touch with their response to the current crisis: “The municipal farm - initially producing organic fruit and vegetables for three school canteens providing a thousand lunches per day - has diversified its distribution channels to meet broader needs and protect jobs. A part still goes to the canteens providing food for the few dozen children of health workers and municipal agents who can still access school, a part is processed and frozen, and another part goes to the social grocery of the city.”

    The municipal authorities are already thinking about how to respond to the ongoing food supply challenges. “Soon-to-come lettuces, which cannot be frozen, will probably be given to the neighbouring hospital in Grasse,” continues Ms Bonneau. Meanwhile; the city is exploring ways “to increase production in the next plantation schemes in order to anticipate potential issues in conventional food supply chains” in the near future.

    Eddy Adams observes that ‘cities are throwing everything at their short-term problems’. In Vic (ES), this “means supporting communities.Lead Partner of the new URBACT network Healthy Cities is mobilising closed food-market vendors to feed isolated vulnerable individuals”. Such targeted approaches can be crucial for bridging the gap between supply and demand in the context of a lockdown.


    Mouans-Sartoux’s municipal farm (FR)


    Cities supporting education and mental well-being


    National education systems are struggling to rapidly adapt to the situation of students' confinement. Mirella Sanabria, Lead Expert the URBACT Transfer Network On Board tells us: “This is keeping some of our partners - in particular in big cities - busy and stressed. On the positive side, however, some local initiatives are putting into practice innovation related to the use of digital tools in education projects, which is a central aspect of the Educational Innovation Network that On Board is working to transfer.”

    For example, the On Board Lead Partner Viladecans (ES) has developed a dedicated School at Home! webpage which provides new creative and educational activities for children and families every day. Meanwhile, in the partner city of Halmstad (SE), a vocational school is now teaching cooking classes online. The municipality delivers grocery baskets to the students who prepare the meals, which are then supplied to people in particular need.

    Beyond education, Sally Kneeshaw is keen to highlight that “We are all learning, if we didn’t already know, how much we need culture to sustain us. I love that the librarians of the Tallinn Central Library are reading books on request via Skype or phone for children at home. Meanwhile, Zaragoza (ES) has launched a photography competition #DesdeMiVentana (From my window) open to people aged between 12 and 30, targeting young people who find it the hardest to stay indoors.”

    Marcelline Bonneau flags a different example from the city of Mollet del Vallès (ES) which “has created a Leisure at home programme proposing leisure activities to its citizens who are totally prevented from leaving their home without good reason. Launched on Friday 27 March, anyone interested can enjoy a selection of proposed activities alone or in the family. These range from physical classes to memory exercises and from cooking to robotics. The platform is updated and expanded regularly.”

    Laura Colini also highlights the work that the URBACT Transfer Network ON STAGE - working on introducing new curricula in schools based on music and arts - is doing in “keeping people together through music. They recently shared a video performance of young students from the school #ZsOsmec from the partner city of Brno (CZ)”. Such initiatives are a reminder of the importance of keeping our spirits high in these challenging times.




    Don’t forget to check out the interactive map of other great city examples that the URBACT Programme is collecting from across Europe.

    Have you seen another city response that has inspired you? Help us to share it by tagging @URBACT in a tweet or sending it directly to

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  • 'Volunteering Cities' a Powerful Model for European Cities

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    To develop the innovative policies necessary to face the currently emerging multidimensional social needs in cities such as elderly and children care, social isolation and depression, poverty, addiction, just to name some, it is necessary to create collective learning processes based on exchange and peer to peer learning.


    European social policies have been in a central position in the last Cohesion Policy frameworks. However, the last mid-term report has shown that in spite of a general improvement of the economic indicators, poverty and social inclusion have not registered the same positive evolution. In this framework, the community involvement and participation is getting an increasing importance either to identify the problems with more accuracy, but also to create the solutions that are closer to people in need and more adequate to the problems.

    In order to facilitate the peer learning among cities, URBACT has promoted the Transfer Networks. “Volunteering cities” is one of the 25 transfer networks approved by the URBACT Secretariat in April 2018. This network is led by the city of Athienou (CY) that was awarded URBACT Good Practice in 2017.

    Transfer of the volunteering governance model

    The transfer network “Volunteering Cities” aims to promote the transfer and adaptation of this Good Practice, consisting of volunteering structured and intergenerational processes, to the partner cities as leverage to improve social inclusion, to fight poverty and raise better levels of citizens’ quality of life in a more cohesive society. In this structured participative Governance Model to design and implement the municipal social policy, the volunteers play a key role.

    Municipal Council of Volunteerism (MCV)

    Framed within a national Programme, Athienou city has established a Municipal Council of Volunteerism (MCV), chaired by the Mayor, with 48 members elected by the community (local organizations, political parties, parents associations, church and sponsors). The MCV is an umbrella Council for four programs, each one with its own Council of volunteers, supporting the programs ‘staff in their tasks and responsibilities. The four programs are: an Elderly Home, a Center for Adults with initiatives related with occupational activities for isolated people and day care activities, the Municipal Nursery Center and the Social Welfare Committee. This latter Committee, chaired by the Mayor and with a close collaboration with the Social Welfare Office and the Ministry of Education, is a kind of a social department of the municipality but working with a participative structure. 


    Kyriacos Kareklas, Mayor of Athienou and Lead Partner of the present Transfer Network states that “Although, volunteers take the decisions, the committee operates under strict standards, it reports for its actions and it is audited by the legal authorities. Since its establishment in 2012, an average of 40 individuals is supported at any given time. The support is also in full collaboration with the rest of the programs of the MCV”.

    The MCV as a whole uses a bottom up approach, with the institutions achieving a vertical and horizontal integration that allows the volunteers to take decisions with the necessary validation.

    Intergenerational work: a sustainability factor

    A key sustainability factor of these initiatives is the intergenerational element, joint initiatives of different age groups of the community. The children begin very early to participate in volunteering activities as well as are also beneficiaries of volunteering activities fostering a continuity culture from generation to generation. As an example can be mentioned the weekly regular visits of the children to the elderly home in order to have some joint entertainment activities with the old people. Another example is the frequent visits that volunteers make to schools with storytelling initiatives to encourage the volunteering engagement of children and young people.

    A strong corporate social responsibility of local companies

    Furthermore, there is an additional element based on a strong Corporate Social Responsibility component from the main Employers’ Associations of the Region. This rather extraordinary support given by the private sector to the social welfare of the region has some reasons. In the first place it is necessary to mention that the economic tissue of the area is essentially based on agriculture, cattle breeding and other related industries. For instance, this Association is providing the Elderly Home with 30 liters milk a day and 20 Kg meat a week free of charge. These sectors are essentially family rooted with a strong intergenerational succession in the businesses. This succession feeds the continuation of the existing cohesive culture and the solidarity principle in the society; another relevant factor is the isolation of the city due to the special geographical location in the middle of the United Nations buffer zone between Cyprus and the Turkish occupied territories, around 80% of the agricultural area of Athienou.

    Kyriacos Kareklas also says, “Athienou Good Practice was generated in the city for many years. Its key-strength is the inter-generational collaboration, in which different age groups of both volunteers and individuals facing social problems, work together towards a sustainable evolution of the quality of life within local society”.

    The Transfer Network


    The network involves seven partner cities that are geographically distributed across Europe in order to enable a wider testing of the necessary approaches in different contexts and Governance Models: Capizzi (IT)) and Athy (IE) are already full partners in the first 6 months phase of the project and Ratlin (PL), Altena (DE), Altea (ES), Arcos de Valdevez (PT) and Pregrada (HR) as network enlargement partner cities.

    The biggest challenge for the transfer network is the identification of the elements and methodologies for the transfer that suits better each one of the partner cities having in consideration the wide variety of socio-economic characteristics. The population varies from around 3,000 inhabitants to 23,000, the volunteering structures are differently organised and the social hot spots are also diversified (high unemployment rates, brain drain, ageing population…).


    To be able to face the above mentioned challenges it is fundamental to create the conditions for a wide involvement of stakeholders and to promote their empowerment and capacity to participate in the identification of the good practice elements that can support adding value to the already existing volunteering structures. To do this, each city is setting-up an URBACT Local Group (ULG), a group of the stakeholders that can play a key role in the transfer process. The ULG’s will be the necessary vehicle to foster integrated and participative approaches to the urban policies thematic areas Social inclusion and Governance, and for the elaboration of an implementation action plan. The main elements emerging from this very early stage of the work seem to be: improving participative decision mechanisms using volunteers, if possible by reinforcing the respective institutionalization, reinforcement of intergenerational actions in the volunteer activities, intensification of the private sector citizenship and the reinforcement of the volunteer work in the implementation of the municipal social policies.

    At a further stage, in the second phase of the Network, the ULGs will be the key success factor for the implementation of the Action Plan of the Transfer Network during the respective 24 months duration.

    More on Transfer Networks methodology.

    The spirit of volunteerism


    Through the practice of volunteerism the Transfer Network is based on a participatory approach that uses the main resource of a community, the citizens themselves, and focuses on their social needs and priorities. The spirit of volunteerism promotes a strong sense of solidarity and cohesion to a group and as a consequence a sense of belonging to a well-functioning community context. The Transfer Network offers a well-defined horizontal integration at the level of the cities and their inhabitants, as well as a vertical integration of volunteerism within the governance structure.

    To finish we would like to highlight that Mr. Kareklas stated: “The URBACT Transfer Networks are a great challenge to promote the transfer of the Good Practice in the other cities. We understand that transferring is not an easy process, but with the help of the Lead Expert and our willingness to accomplish it, we are confident for the good job we will finally have. URBACT gave us a great opportunity and we are all planning to go on to succeed”.

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  • The Municipal Council of Volunteering


    Volunteering approach to community care

    Stavroula Georgiu
    Network Manager
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    The Municipal Council of Volunteers (MCV) is a stable participatory governance structure that helps coordinate the activities of volunteers, creating synergies among them and enhancing the capacities to reach out groups of the population which need additional support beyond the existing public welfare and social system. The MCV is intergenerational, it is open to everyone in the city and it is a powerful approach to maximise social support especially in small and medium size cities.


    The Municipal Council of Volunteers (MCV) is a stable participatory governance structure that helps coordinate the activities of volunteers, creating synergies among them and enhancing the capacities to reach out groups of the population which need additional support beyond the existing public welfare and social system. The MCV is intergenerational, it is open to everyone in the city and it is a powerful approach to maximise social support especially in small and medium size cities.

    The solutions offered by the good practice

    Since 1974, with the Turkish occupation of the northern part of Cyprus, Athienou has a special status with its urban area being within the buffer zone ( 80% of its rural area occupied by the Turkish army,) and thus being isolated from other urban center in the Cyprus Island. At that time, many people were in need to restart their lives after the occupation and volunteerism was one of the main tools to rebuild social ties. Athienou today still suffers from isolation and constantly see a resource in the volunteering collaboration between its citizens. Today, voluntarism is well rooted in the social life of the city, institutionalised in 2012 with the creation of a Municipal Council of Volunteers (MCV). Chaired by the Mayor, the MCV counts 48 members elected by the community (local organizations, political parties, parents associations, church and sponsors) . The duty of the MCV is to understand, and offer support, to social problems affecting the inhabitants of the Athienou, especially those most vulnerable. Its work covers different thematic areas such as elderly support, care, life long learning, nursery, energy efficiency, climate change et al. The MCV is currently organised around 4 main projects: 1 the Kleanthios Elderly Home, 2. The Konstanileneion Center for Adults with initiatives related with occupational activities for isolated people and day care activities. In close collaboration with the welfare committee, services are offered with little or no cost to individuals in need, such as food preparing, home-care, and healthcare.3. the Municipal Nursery Center which has a capacity to offer high quality nursery services to 100 babies and infants. Approximately 20 percent of the families that benefit from these services are monitored and receive help by the Municipal Welfare Committee and 4, the Social Welfare Committee. This latter, chaired by the Mayor and with a close collaboration with the Social Welfare Office and the Ministry of Education. Funding comes from individuals, private companies, organised groups and local and/or national authorities.

    Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

    A key sustainability factor of the MCV initiatives is the intergenerational approach. Children participate in volunteering activities, and this investment at a early age makes them familiarise with a culture of volunteering which will be carried out from generation to generation. For instance, Children in Athnienou pay regular visits to the elderly home in order to attend joint entertainment activities. At the same time, volunteers visit regularly schools engaging kids in storytelling initiatives while encouraging the volunteering engagement.


    Vertical integration begins with the volunteers working for MCV, in close collaboration with the municipal authorities. The MCV is under the District Coordinating Council of Volunteerism, which is under the National Coordinating Council of Volunteerism, the National Welfare Office and the Ministry of Labour. With regards to territorial integration, the MCV of Athienou covers the Athienou Municipality and is part of a national network of Volunteering Councils. These efforts also include activities towards environmental sustainability. The MCV members are highly aware of environmental issues and have set a strategy that includes renewable energy sources.

    Based on a participatory approach

    The MCV architecture is based on the active participation of organised groups within the community. Any citizen can be a member and/or volunteer and the MCV offers a frame for people to assume an active role in support of others depending on the volunteer attitude, skills, professional expertise and time availability. Although, volunteers take the decisions, the committee operates under strict standards, it reports for its actions and it is audited by the legal authorities. The MCV also employs certified staff, dedicated to providing professional support and training of the volunteers. The total number of volunteers exceeds 200 at any given time. The Municipal Council of Volunteerism is composed of 48 members from local organisations and approved by the volunteers. There is a close collaboration with the Welfare Office of the Ministry of Labour, where a budget and sustainability report is submitted annually for additional governmental funding. The president of the Council is the mayor of Athienou. Every programme has an 11-member Coordinating Committee. The president of the Committee is also a member of the Council. Many of the volunteers provide their expertise for the programmes.


    What difference has it made?

    Despite its long standing tradition of volunteerism in the city, the main barrier today is the low engagement of volunteers in the age group between 25 - 45 years old, and to further address the challenge to reach out the whole population especially people most in needs. The main concern of the improvement plan of the city of Atheniou was therefore to update the work of the MCV with actions involving the youths and specific target groups such as people with disabilities, youth and young professional, and parents of toddlers and school age children. As result from the improvement plan adopted in the Volunteering cities network, the municipality adopted the MunicipalYouth Board, which promotes the ownership of actions by the younger population. Social media have been an important tool for improving this action, as much as the collaboration with school teachers, family of students providing manuals and resources on how to engage in volunteering activities. Another important step was to create stronger linkages with the private sector trough social corporate responsibility achieved by branding the good practice of volunteering.

    Transferring the practice

    Athienou has greatly invested in transferring its methodology of organising volunteering activities at municipal level. The transferability study highlighted 5 elements of transfer in the governance model,intergenerationality, involvement of young volunteers and corporate citizenship. The overall strategy of the transfer plan is to enhance the volunteerism sustainability cycle as described in the Transfer Network proposal and the Transferability Study:

    1. Volunteerism greatly contributes to the increase of the quality of life and the progress of the community.
    2. The intergenerational interaction within the volunteering activities guarantees the sustainability of this volunteerism tradition in the communities
    3. Bigger engagement and participation of stakeholders increases the effectiveness of the actions and programs that sustain the quality of life and the social evolution.

    The methodology has been shared through a guide for transfer resulting from the networks partner cities activities. All cities in the network adopted the Athnieou approach and have been able to launch small scale practices in the lifetime of the network.

    Main Theme
    Is a transfer practice
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