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Transfer Story Isernia

Edited on

26 April 2021
Read time: 7 minutes

Please find here the Transfer Story and Experiences of our partner city Isernia!

On 7 December 2017, the Molise Region involved the Municipality of Isernia into the “Regrow City Project” - URBACT III Programme, indicating the deadline for sending the expression of interest on 11 December 2017.
URBACT means “integrated urban development and participative action planning”. These two activities are based on a holistic approach that takes into consideration the physical, economic and social dimensions of urban development, from a sustainable perspective. In particular, the Re-GrowCity Network supports Partners to “revitalize public services and the economy, regenerate the urban fabric and develop civil society in a context of long term decline”.
For this purpose, we prepared the documentation needed, working really hard, convinced of the goodness of the initiative. We believe that every opportunity of discussion is source of professional enrichment. Moreover, it was the first time that the Municipality of Isernia joined a transnational partnership (and this could represent a very useful experience for the future), and it was also necessary to identify actions to contrast the economic, demographic and social decline of the city. These are the main reasons why the Municipality of Isernia, and in particular way, the Public Policy Office of the Municipality, wanted to seize this great opportunity, working with the Municipalities of Altena (DE), the Lead Partner, Alūksne (LV), Melgaço (PT), Nyírbátor (HU), Manresa (ES), Idrjia (SI), Igoumenitsa (GR).
During the first network meeting in Altena, in which we participated thanks to the support of the Molise Region and to Dr. Celestino Manselli (expert in European programs), we learned about the intervention strategies that the Lead Partner (led by the Mayor Dr. Andreas Hollstein) had experienced and intended to transfer to the Partners. In particular, there were two lines of action to choose: the NGOs (Non-Governmental  Organizations) practice and Pop-up shops practice.
We chose the Pop-shop practice because it was (and still is) very pertinent to the fight against the decline and because it requires a collective awareness of the various social components: Municipal Administration, owners of premises, potential beneficiaries, associations, productive categories and educational institutions.

But what is a Pop-up shop?
A Pop-up shop utilises under-used or vacant premises for short term commercial or social initiatives. Short term and low cost leases reduce the risks for entrepreneurs to experiment with new service concepts or test the market for unusual goods. At the same time the event character of a pop up shop catches the interest of the public and generates good PR. If successful the short term nature of the pop-up shop can evolve into more permanent arrangements.
Pop-up shops provide an effective way to populate the town with new enterprises for a short period of time. The goal is to support entrepreneurs in testing the viability of their business in that particular location and then facilitate their transition into permanent rental agreement with the owners. The Municipality carries some costs and also risks during this period and needs to be prepared to overcome resistance from existing shops and also the owners of empty premises. A pilot project is advisable to test the concept on a small scale before trying to make it available more widely. The “test and try” and provisional character of a pop-up encourages people to become an entrepreneur and start their own business for the first time. The supportive community of a group of entrepreneurs starting at the same time can be important as well. The short-term promotion of Pop Ups minimizes the perceived risk of failing when one has to close the shop down again. The credo is to minimize risks and maximise support. The key element of practice? Municipalities need to be
prepared to try different approaches before finding a formula that works in local circumstances. And that’s what we did during the entire journey.
The kick-off meeting in Altena was also important because it was an opportunity to get to know other European realities, distant and close to us, and to acquire new design ideas, whose facilitation was carried out ad hoc by the Lead Expert, Dr. Hans Schlappa (who supports the work of all Partners with constancy and dedication from the very beginning).
Unfortunately, on a local level, the very first phase of the project suffered from shortages in the field of human resources and instrumental resources (e.i. interpreting and translations into English).
Two further difficulties were the global understanding of the URBACT III Programme and the full involvement of the administrators themselves, that in the first instance, did not properly supported the Re-Grow City Project. For these reasons, grudgingly, we did not attend the second meeting in Altena (also due to serious personal problems of the project manager) and the kick off meeting of Alūksne. In this regarding, the Molise Region and the National ANCI (National Association of Italian Municipalities, which is a non-profit association that promotes and coordinates international relations of its associates and their activities in the field of decentralized international cooperation) intervened to support our local administrators, inviting them to actively participate in the project and, for this purpose, we were again accompanied (for a short time) by Dr. Celestino Manselli and Dr. Simone D’Antonio (URBACT expert and mediator).
Therefore, on 19 March 2019, Dr. Stefania Bendato (graduated in Political Science and European Institutions) was responsible by the Municipality to fill the gaps in the Public Policy Office and she became the ULG Co-ordinator.
Since then, we attended the first “Deep-dive" meeting in Melgaço and, on 27-29 November 2019, Isernia hosted the “Establishing a Pop-up Shop Initiative” - Second Thematic Workshop. This meeting has been an opportunity for all participant to share achievements and experiences, regarding the beginning of the trial of the Pop-up shops action. This has been also an opportunity to take inspiration, support material from other partners and significant guidelines from the Lead Partner and from the Lead Expert. Last but not least, in January 2020, we attended the “Second full partnership meeting” in Nyírbátor.

Locally, there was the need to transfer the good practice to the stakeholders interested in the project. During the journey, the ULG (Urbact Local Group) of Isernia has undergone several changes. Since the beginning, there have been a lot of ups and downs that mainly concerned the composition of our local group. The very first ULG was too “formal” and for this reason, it was not very present, not engaged and out of focus.
The Deep-dive meeting in Melgaço was remarkable for the understanding of the Urban Local Group and we promptly followed the activities carried out by José Antonio Lopes and Isabel Martins, respectively ULG Co-ordinator and head of communication of Melgaço, that definitively clarified our doubts. So, the Project Manager and ULG CO-ordinator of Isernia, thanks also to the suggestions by the Lead Expert, started to provide a more coherent framework to involve the “right” stakeholders and today we have a suitable, different mix of local stakeholders who have a real interest in the policy challenges and into the project: representatives of the administration, associations, private owners and beneficiaries. After several adjustments, the main structure of our ULG, fits to our urban, economic and social environment. Step by step, the right conditions for the maximum participation and collaboration possible has been achieved. That‘s also why we created a ”whatsapp group” to keep an open communication channel, inviting the ULG to provide inputs also in an informal way (looking also at the restrictions due to Covid-19).
Together with the members of the ULG, we worked on the diary of the activities, on the Transfer Plan and all the communication and dissemination processes were completed, from the Lead Partner to our local reality.
In developing the project, the Mayor of Altena described his experience both on a theoretical and on a practical level, letting us soak in the history of Altena and, especially, in the understanding of the actions implemented by the German administration, leading us to visit the city center and Pop-up shops they opened.
For our part, having considerable experience in the urban planning field (Dr. Sergio Fraraccio, urban planning expert, Project Manager and head of the Public Policy Office of the Municipality of Isernia), we immediately realized some notable context differences that would have made the challenge of Isernia more difficult and complex than that of Altena. In Altena, in fact, in addition to the empty shops both in the center and in the suburbs, we have verified that the city center has remained unchanged as the center of the community's interests: public offices, post offices, banks, libraries, clubs, strolling entertainment, tourist access to  the castle, etc.
In Isernia, instead, the Old Town - to which we have addressed our project - is marginal compared to the rest of the city and, apart from some municipal offices, all points of interest have moved elsewhere (in the upper part of the town), so there is an evident abandonment of this part of the city. Therefore, the opening of the Pop-up shops must necessarily be accompanied by a package of measures that bring people to live again the historic center. In this sense, the Public Policy Office of the Municipality of Isernia has generated the project ”BOUNCE FORWARD” which is framed in the general and over-municipal development strategy
(which includes the revitalization of the Old Town) focused on the main resource of the territory (The National Museum of the Paleolithic of Isernia), adopted with the resolution no. 49 of 14 March 2019 by the City Council. Considering these thematic areas, the project BOUNCE FORWARD incorporates three actions, which are:
• Widespread Ethnographic Museum;
• Pop-up shops (from Re-grow City);
• Social resilience (which includes ten specific measures linked to the pop-up shops such as: reading centers, libraries, workshops for artisans, private clubs, after-school programs, social street, events, social food, markets, etc). BOUNCE FORWARD (that includes the good practice of the pop-up shop) is combined with three other initiatives by the Municipality:
• the ”Consulta del territorio” or Co.Ter. (lit. board of the territory) which is a parternship between local private subjects and local public authorities. Isernia is the Lead partner of this local partnership. The goal is the development of local policies. Today, six municipalities near Isernia are involved and have signed a ”Joint Convention”;
• De.C.O., a territorial brand, that protects and valorises typical local productions (territorial marketing) such as gastronomic and handicraft products;
• with the meta-design concept ”Il filo di lana”, approved in August, the Municipality of Isernia has obtained a Government founding of € 1.200.000 for the realization of a Fashion Museum in the Old Town and a Government founding of € 300.000 to contribute to companies that want to localize arts and crafts labs (pop-up labs) related to the Fashion production chain. These pop-up labs in the Old Town could largely coincide with the pop-up shops of Re- Grow City.
One of the most important things that the workshops brought up, is the need to have an articulate and coordinated Communication Plan which ensures coverage of important objectives of the Programme. That‘s why this working process started with the production of brochures, of a promotional video of the city, of a mascot, etc. with the aim to reinforce and cover every aspect of the communication, such as information, publicity, graphic design, slogan, promotion events, web sites (our web pages are: Re-grow City ( ULG  ( on the web site and so on. This tool is for sure essential to the success of this program as well as the ULG.
We have realized a Communication Plan that provides also targeted social animation events in the Old Town to support the Pop-up shops. In this sense, we have made sure that our Pop-ups are immediately recognizable through a uniform external layout; for this, we have prepared identification banners that are visible and recognizable from afar.

We have also thought about different forms of advertising through information tables (billboards) located in various points of the historic center. All forms of communication and advertising use a unique logo chosen by the ULG that represent the chain of pop-up shops with the colors of the city: white and blue. 
Unfortunately, the pandemic due to Covid-19 that has hit all the Countries of the world so hard since February of last year, made necessary to postpone all the entertainment events accompanying the Pop-up shops.
Therefore, we did not think from the point of view of “one precise measure”, but we knew that there was the need to implement a strategy made up of multiple measures converging towards the specific objective of revitalizing the Old Town and bringing it back to the center of attention.
On a pragmatic level, citizens have been involved by an extended Public Call spread by the Municipality addressed both to the owners of the vacant spaces in the Old Town and to the beneficiaries of the pop-up shops, divided in:
1. hobbyists and local artisans;
2. local businesses (food business and non-food businesses), NGOs and associations.
The Public Announcement has been spread on 13 May 2019 and with it, the Municipality acquired the availability of 2 empty premises owned by two citizens and the interest of artisans, NGOs and hobbists.
The ULG cooordinated the assignments and the Public Policy Office wrote the contracts: beneficiaries have not to pay the rent while the owners have some tax relief. At the same time, the Municipality committed to adopt measures to eliminate injurious situations the locals (for example, health and hygiene standards).
Looking at the future, we first had to safeguard the implementation of the Re-grow City Project, given the delays accumulated due to the lockdowns. We have obtained from the private owners the extension of the contracts for the free availability of the premises until 30 June 2021, remembering in this regard that a pop-up is already open and that two more are being set up, ready for the inauguration (consequent to the  restrictions for the pandemic). Within our ULG, we have already considered the adoption of measures agreed between the Municipality, the owners of the premises and the beneficiaries, in order to create favorable
conditions to keep open the Pop-up shops beyond the June deadline.
We have prepared new Public call with the aim to find additional premises to be assigned, (but for the publication and spread of them on the Institutional channels, we are waiting for the Covid restrictions to be relaxed). We are sure that if citizens - first and foremost the owners and potential beneficiaries of the premises - feel supported by the local public policies with concrete and effective actions, they will be happy to join the Project (which is now Re-grow City but after June 30 will continue as BOUNCE FORWARD).
We should not have any particular funding problems, as the practices can be supported with quite limited financial contributions; the real challenge will be the constancy in demonstrating to the citizens that the administration strongly supports the project. 

On the other hand, several owners and potential beneficiaries have clearly told us that with those conditions, they are willing to invest their own funds. Not a few of them openly make it a question of attachment to the city, to the historic center, to their roots; therefore their availability goes far beyond economic calculations. In this case the challenge concerns citizens' behaviour. The aim is to lead citizens to rethink at the Old Town as a resource for the city.
The involvement of the community of Isernia and of the civil society (with the help of local opinion leaders and animators) is essential and the way Altena has faced this challenges is ispiring. Another challenge would be changing the attitude of the passive residents (from passive to active) showing them a new activism from the Municipality, by mobilising institutional networks. We must raise awareness of the citizens of the Old Town but also overcome the negativity of the current economic situation, allowing residents and visitors (including tourists) to benefit from a lively and vibrant area of the city, combining a diversified and dynamic trade thanks to other projects and actions carried on by the municipality.
In a more general sense, the challenge is to guarantee the flexibility of the project so that it can be adapted to specific local contexts. That’s here that the local Administration should take further steps, in terms of emotional closeness and concrete support, to align and tune in with the citizens interested in the project. Therefore, the local context is prepared to accommodate the project, also in the neighboring Municipalities, some of which have signed agreements with the Municipality of Isernia to carry out local development actions together.
In these Municipalities we want to implement the second level transfer of the good practice transmitted to us by the Municipality of Altena. We plan to start these activities once the pandemic emergency has passed. In fact, in these smaller Municipalities there are greater social cohesion, the local administrations are much more involved in the social fabric and there is a marked spirit of resilience: all fundamental elements for the success of the practice in the long term and permanently.

Municipality of Isernia - Staff
Sergio Fraraccio - Stefania Bendato