Transfer Story Idrija
Edited on26 April 2021
Through few chapters we are explaining how we transferred good practice and established our Towns’ living room. And also explaining what were the important steps and learnings from the whole transfer.
It is a story, so it has to start somewhere. So, we firstly explained how it all started. And it starts like every good story – with a dream and an idea. Good practice offered us a guidance and understanding good practice was important start. But to make the idea come true, you also have to do the work. In the next paragraph we are explaining some of the steps we had to take – our ULG, important stakeholders, securing premises, etc. When you got the information, you needed to understand what our transfer was about, we are giving you an insight in the third paragraph, about how we adapted the practice to local needs.
Since getting to the point of ‘’full transfer’’ is not an end of the story, we are trying to explain what we think is waiting for us in future and what dangers of sustaining it are.
How it all started?
For us, and also me, as ULG coordinator, it all started few years ago with URBACT City Centre Doctor project. The project was full of learnings for everyone involved, and using URBACT tools was a new and efficient way to do things. We had written the Integrated Action Plan, where we were planning many different activities that we would like to do or see in our city with the aim to make city centre alive again. One of them was an idea of a central place, where we would tackle also issues like lack of social cohesion, exclusion from social groups and feeling of not being part of society. We aimed to find a way of creating a network or a place or some kind of community centre. We called it a community centre back than – it sounded as the best description for what we had in mind, but not exactly the right one, but we had to call it something. Since it was just a long term idea of having something like that, I would say more of a dream, we were not sure how to realise it, we just roughly planned it. We knew what problems we had to address, but we were not sure how.
Since we didn’t have something like that close to us, it was difficult to describe what would address our needs. We knew different community centres, family centres and many other variations. We already had youth centre, multi-generational centre in retirement home and many NGOs that do their own thing. None of that sounded just right since youth centre is for young people, multi-generational centre has kind of concept of renting a place and is closely related to retirement home. And also, NGOs – they each have their own interest.
When we saw issues Altena was tackling and how they addressed them – there was something right about it. And when we learned about their good practice of NGO platform - ‘’Stellwerk’’ that was just it! Our dreams from the previous project finally got a form, and someone did the good practice case out of it – AND we were able to transfer that practice to our city. We still were not sure how but we knew that we will learn and we will have partners along the way that will try to do the same thing. I can still remember kick-off meeting. I am glad that I had the opportunity to go there and see it for myself from right the start. Probably, if someone would see me and could read my mind, they would KNOW that this is going to work out just as it should! I was so enthusiastic and sure about it that I can still remember the feeling when I first came to their Stellwerk.
Idea became a goal with Altenas’ good practice
And so, it started. It was really helpful to go to Altena and to see things and having a possibility to ask questions on the spot. Also meeting project partners did a whole difference. It was clearer from meeting to meeting what we need and how we will be able to transfer.
They practice I saw in Altena was what we wanted, but I had a feeling that Altena is different in some ways, so we will have to find a way to adapt it to local environment and our people. Transferring practice in a network of small towns makes it easier to get the result since you’ve got the guidance from Lead Partner and encouragement from other Project Partners who are sharing the same goals. But it is also important to know that there is still work needed to make it ‘’the right fit’’. To just transfer it like it is, there would be no point, unless it really fits to your local people and local needs.
What I had in mind through the whole process was – our Living room is alive, it is a thing that is changing and will change over the time, because it’s most important asset are people. AND people are not just different than in Altena, they are also changing – themselves and also who is participating. What I wanted to say is - to make it exactly the same - you would need exactly the same people.
It was important that I took a ‘’step back’’ and asked everyone who came along about what they want, what they need, what they could do. Not trying to explain too much about the good practice and what we are doing and what we had in mind. We were offering just a ‘’grid’’, a good practice, and we were (and are) adapting it to local interests.
For us, establishing NGO platform didn’t mean just establishing connection between NGOs and opening the centre, but it also meant giving people opportunity to be part of community and even more important – giving them opportunity to decide and to design what will be happening in local environment. In Altena they were having few volunteers that wanted to create the Stellwerk and who were prepared to work for it. Our starting point was zero if we don’t count our ULG. They are also focusing more on immigrants since Altena accepted more immigrants than it was necessary and our focus is more elsewhere. Of course, we also include immigrant communities, but they are not the main focus.
The NGO platform in Altena is self-governed by the involved organisations, initiatives and groups and enables coordination between them. In Idrija it is partly self-governed and involved organisations/volunteers still need some help, guidance or encouragement.
Our ‘living room’ to us is a way to connect people and to improve social cohesion. Giving them the possibility to make decisions together creates a feeling of connection and opening possibilities.
Knowledge is important part of transferring good practice
The whole transfer was a brilliant experience where we were able to learn not just from lead partner but also from other partners in the network. It makes it easier to work on things when you have a friend (yes, that is how we call our project partners) who is working on the same things and you can discuss problems, good practices and everything that comes on your way.
With the deep dive workshops, we gained knowledge we needed to successfully transfer the practice and to overcome obstacles that came our way while transferring. The topics were always useful and much needed, for example how to work with volunteers, how to connect all important stakeholders, etc. If I would have to point out the most useful workshop that would be the one we had with Anette and Esther who are working closely on Stellwerk in Altena. It was really helpful to get an insight directly from those who are doing the practice and also having opportunity to ask questions afterwards. I also remember workshop led by Emma Clarence where we got examples, techniques and case studies on how to engage citizens and make them take the lead in improving local conditions. But all of workshops were really useful and I had to think hard which one to point out. I chose those, because they were helping us to solve one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome during the transfer. It is not just important what workshops we take, but also who can attend. One of most helpful things was inviting our mayor to the meeting in Manresa and to workshops when he started his mandate. Having Mayor working with us made a whole difference since it is important to have political support. Giving our Mayor the possibility of actually being part of the project and seeing the process first-hand was really helpful to put the project in the right perspective.
Alongside with Mayors support we also have to mention project manager Maja Majnik, who is also the key person for funding NGOs at the Municipality. Having a project manager that has a deep insight in local needs is an important asset. Understanding of local needs and good practice to its core is important if you want to fully transfer it. With her understandings of the problematics, deep knowledge and different approach we succeeded.
There is also an important role of Development Agency of Idrija and Cerkno which was external support that helped on all aspects of project and connected all important stakeholders together. Their deep knowledge about towns characteristics, having expert level knowledge related to sustainable and integrated development and ability to connect important stakeholders was one of main benefits of hiring external support. That made it possible to actually start working bottom-up instead of just delegating things and doing something that it is not necessarily mirroring the needs of civil society, NGOs and volunteers.
We find it really helpful to also have lead expert who worked with us closely and helped us with his knowledge when we tackled problems like not having enough volunteers and many other things. Having a full support on all different issues is also one of key elements to successful transfer.
Explaining the practice locally
The most important part of explaining the practice locally were one-to-one meetings with important local stakeholders. That gave them the opportunity to tell real opinions without having to worry to say something wrong and asking questions openly.
The practice is based on people, NGOs, volunteers that are encouraged by ULG. The coordination between all the elements was done by ULG coordinator. As ULG coordinator I tried to be a connection between all elements and trying to make them to work together directly. I was more of an ‘’encouragement’’ and ‘’connecting’’ part while establishing the living room. But the main focus was always on including ULG, other important stakeholders and everyone interested. The aim was to make everyone feel that this is their place. Municipality of course had a big role in everything, since they are the project partner and are actually making it possible. They also helped to secure key elements. And with taking different approach they were always there if we needed help. Some city officials were also helping together with volunteers while some activities were organized or work had to be done.
At first, ULG group was more laid back since they wanted action and actually do things and they didn’t trust themselves that they actually can. Misunderstandings came from their previous experiences with various goals, projects, initiatives. I think they were afraid that will be just another initiative that will stay just as an idea. And also thinking that something new like that will never really start to succeed in our town. It was more fear of being unsuccessful than misunderstanding. And fear of not choosing a safe option when planning to make something that never existed in our town before that, or even around us. Everything changed when we succeeded to secure a building. Not that it was absolutely necessary to transfer the practice, but it gave people better feeling and it felt more realistic when it was successfully tied to a place. It became more tangible and it was easier to understand what the good practice actually is.
And there it is important to mention important role of the municipality in the whole process which found a way to turn a vacant building into a community asset with minimal cost. That was absolutely important step for ULG group – they saw that their role is important and they are actually heard and a place for activities made NGO platform more real. It is also important step in eyes of public since they saw that municipality is approaching their needs and that they are willing to support ideas like that.
Adapting the practice
While adapting the practice we had to adapt it to our local needs. So, there are minor differences between our practices that had to be changed since local environment is different. We think that the main difference between Altena’s practice and our transfer is in the kind of events that were and will be happening in our Town’s living room – the place for our NGO platform. But some of them are pretty the same. What will be happening in our NGO platform doesn’t entirely depend on us, but also on volunteers that are organizing things. That is the model Altena has in their practice so we adapted their model and it looks different in our town. Right now, we had to stop with activities due to bad situation connected to Covid-19 and all activities based on socializing are currently banned. We think that in our practice, we will have to strengthen the online part of it since the world completely changed in 2020. But after all – we want to keep it as it was planned to be – for ‘’in-person’’ activities when that will be possible. And our thought is that it will be needed even more after life will go back to normal.
Second difference is that we are not having the same people. We are currently not having such a dedicated core group of volunteers to run the platform as Altena had – one who will keep an eye over everything. So, we are planning in future to have a paid coordinator for our NGO platform who will animate and coordinate events organized by volunteers – those who are part of NGOs and those who are not. For now, it goes without a coordinator and volunteers are approaching me with ideas and wishes. But in future we will need a co-ordinator since it is important to maintain balance between different groups that are part of NGO platform or we would join the project in future. Our NGO platform aims to be a place for everyone and we want that people have feeling they actually belong and that everyone can be part of it, that’s why we called it the Town’s Living Room.
The building of the Town’s Living Room is also the place for ‘’Sopotniki’’ which is an initiative supported by the municipality that provides free transport for elderly people. It is completely volunteer based with one employee that coordinates the transfers as a full-time job and is a contact point to ‘order’ a transfer. It was really well accepted and many volunteer drivers are willing to be a part of NGO platform and are seeing possibilities to use the place in different ways. And putting the office for the transport project in the same premises helped the building to be open every day and was becoming a place where you can just go and chat a bit.
We also have a corner with books and magazines, a chess table where in future will be like a ‘’quick’’ chess school since one resident volunteered to teach children and others how to play chess. And I have to mention there – that when we started with the project, we actually had no idea whether we will even be able to get a chair to sit down on. And improvising became our friend. At the start we actually had to borrow everything to just be able to have an ULG meeting there. Then the Mayor found some chairs that were still used but only once a year – so we borrowed them more permanently. And so it went on. The local librarian popped in with some books and magazines for example.
So, in a way our practice is different, but that is normal since good practice like that is based on people and their activity. What happens in the NGO platform depends entirely on what local people and volunteers want to do. And also, on who wants to be part of it and how they want to contribute.
Sustaining the practice locally
We think that we fully transferred the good practice. If everything would be normal i.e. without rgw Covid19 pandemic, we believe that the NGO Platform would be more alive and we would actually have a lot of activities organized by volunteers. But the situation with Covid-19 changed things and right now we are waiting for rules to relax a bit so we will be able to use the building in the way it was intended. Meanwhile we were of course working on it and the place is now waiting for times when it will be possible to sit down and chat normally again.
So, the greatest danger to our fully transferred practice is Covid-19 - since it is based on people doing activities together which is forbidden right now in any form since we have a state of ‘epidemy’ in Slovenia for quite a long time and it was accepted this month that it will last at least 2 more months.
The second danger is that volunteers will not be interested anymore but since we connected that with free transfers for elderly it is almost impossible that there would be no initiatives in the future. Right now – there is many. Since we have an optimistic group that overcomes all sort of problems, we think we will be able to make it work.
We are optimist when looking in our future. Even if things are right now not going as planned. But we were not able to plan Covid-19 and what danger it could bring to our project. But we are decided to make most of it and we are using the time in between well – planning, communicating, securing resources, etc.
And – the story usually ends with ‘’and so they lived happily ever after’’. This one is not ending yet at this point but I hope that we will ‘’end’’ it with ‘’And so our Towns Living room was full of people and activities and everyone felt included.’’
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