Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Community centers


Country: Slovakia

Context

Community center Sásová is a public place that serves all residents of Banska Bystrica’s largest settlement, Sásová, and in particular all those interested in civic groups, educational and leisure activities, consulting and information. KC Sásová was officially approved by the deputies of the city council at a public meeting on 20th September 2011. Community centers, as stated in their name, have to connect people in a particular community, whether it is religious, ethnic, political or community for the place.

Measure

Community centers can be defined as places where staff implement community development approaches in a specific area. Community development seeks to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the skills they need to make a change in their own communities. These skills are often created through the formation of large social groups working on a common agenda. Community developers must understand both how to work with individuals and how to affect communities' stances within the context of larger social institutions.

Objectives:
• Methodically create suitable conditions for the support of active citizenship and for the provision of vocational, educational, recreational and cultural activities, which can contribute to improving the quality of life of residents.
• Prevention of deepening of social exclusion through intergenerational activities in which seniors cooperate with young people.
• Creation of a safe, open space for everyone in the community center.
• Freedom of thought and expression within the KC guaranteed. It places particular emphasis on transparency.
• Make sure that its visitors and users are not subject to prejudice and do not start a debate that could promote hatred among others. People at KC Sásová are treated equally regardless of: ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, political views, disabilities, etc.
• Another activity is that of preventing of the creation of an attitude for which people focus on a problem in the community without really trying to address it (e.g., 1:1 meetings and consultations with young people, providing space and professional supervision in the framework of regular local meetings, etc.).
• Develop new programs aimed at strengthening communities, especially since KC supports activities and initiatives coming from the people from the local community.
KC Sásová cooperates with the Center for community organizing - CCA

Target Group

Residents of the neighborhood – 25,000 people with middle or low incomes living in high rises. There are also two small Roma communities living on the margin of the neighborhood.
Local NGOs – about 10 of them. Organizations in this neighborhood focus mainly on social issues, activities for various groups as children, disabled people, as well as on culture and sports.
Non-formal initiatives and volunteering – Groups of people who try to be part of processes that influence their living space. Often they do not have organizations with legal status or regular and appropriate spaces, but they create events and actions to change status quos or try to make pressure on political representatives to do so.

Methodology

People are organized around the community center mainly because it represents their own political and social welfare and expression and aims to discover their social needs and then to meet them, whether they concern the field of politics, health, recreation, education, business… Such community organization is necessary if a lasting democratic society is to be successfully created. Before the idea of the community centre, it is always necessary to do a profile community research, which can last from two to more than six months (including information processing). This community profile not only supposes, but directly identifies the needs of the community, which is a prerequisite for the establishment of successfully operating community centers. Otherwise the centre would just impose its own views on certain groups of people and not avoid criticism of maneuvering and handling, which can have a negative effect on that group, causing of dissatisfaction, distrust, or, conversely, apathy or unwillingness to communicate, thus reducing the quality of the relation, which should be mutual in today’s society. The community center tries to contribute to the development of a specific community and is therefore necessary to take all necessary steps to open up a cooperation in the form of dialogue, although opinions of individuals or certain groups may differ. Without this phase the community center will not serve the people in the community according to their own wishes. Empowerment, intervention and prevention are in this case certainly important, but again it is necessary to point out that dialogue (Paolo Freire) is the first step to any movement forward and two, or sometimes more stakeholders can benefit from it. This is the basis of any cooperation on the creation of the project, which aims to serve the people. In the first weeks, through the questionnaire, moods, complaints and seemingly unrelated facts that do not necessarily correspond with the final goal were collected. Nevertheless it is a very important step as it gathers information on feelings and observations, which allows becoming familiar with the dynamics of the environment, what people's concerns are, what changes they would like to achieve, even if they have no specific proposals to start such a change (qualitative, or “soft” data). Such information is extremely important to proof the spirit of the project, even at a time when one has quantitative (“hard”) data be actually measured and evaluated. Qualitative data can be much more than just words or text. Photos, videos, recordings, and so on. Thanks to which it is possible to make the statistics, tables and annual evaluations. People generally believe that hard data are more credible because they are measurable, scientific, and that qualitative data cannot compare with them. On the contrary, supporters of qualitative data say that the latter are sensitive, detailed, human and therefore contextual. Anyway, the presence of information, whether qualitative or quantitative is essential in setting up new projects. Collecting both types of information is therefore the most important part of any project and personal experience with similar projects (in Scotland) tells us that without such a base, the establishment of a community center would not probably be viable.

Stakeholders

Community / citizens: they were part of consultation which city of Banská Bystrica run during the preparatory phase. They had the opportunity to propose a location and content of work for community developers there as well as highlight what are their interests in this sense.
The local government was also consulted, in cooperation with the city council.
The centre is a public local government facility, though it is mostly used for non-government community activities and may even have some kind of local leadership elected from its community.
NGOs: The community centre in Banská Bystrica was idea that came from the non-governmental organization Centre for community organizing (CKO). CKO organized a visit to a community centre in Oslo accompanied by the person in charge of social affairs in Banska Bystrica. After this visit inspiration became reality and the city of Banska Bystrica founded the first community centre in their area. CKO was an important partner in the process of implementation and provided consultations based on the inclusion of community planning and considering the needs of all citizens, the needs and resources of service providers and of sources providers (material, financial), with the final aim to fulfil all community needs.

Assessment

20% overall increase in engagement with young people and adults to improve the quality of life in their community, for example through the following projects:

Regular weekly recreational and cultural activities for 65 young people, involving youth from WS, high school, and college students, breaking them down by age and needs.
Recreational and cultural programs for other 50 people.
Health education and services for an additional 300 people from the local community (mixed groups).
Increased expertise of 30 people engaged in various projects to help increase their chances of employment (e.g. training on how to prepare for a job interview, to use a computer, increase self-esteem, as well as on social coexistence)
Selling food at affordable prices to people in social need, optionally employ people from the community in the KC.
Program for 12 mothers (e.g., professional massage babies under supervision)
Joint activities for mothers from the neighborhood, to help teach children, enhancing professional skills, help mothers who are going through a difficult period, selling second-hand goods with charitable objectives and others.
Consultations with young people from disadvantaged communities.
Approximately 15 adult visitors participated in a program to learn how to manage money, plan family budget, and buy affordable yet healthy and nutritious food.
Courses or programs for young parents to tackle complex situations in life, but also easier projects like cooking healthy food, or efficiently use of time for work, family and relax.
Once a month arrange a 'bazaar' where local families can offer different things of daily use such as clothes, books, etc.
10 youth clubs where people met through volunteering. KC assisted in organizing programs for young children (aged 8 to 13 years), under the supervision of an adult and a qualified person.

Impact

It promotes the active participation of citizens in public decision-making.
It helps citizens to formulate and defend their natural interests and creates space for effective collaboration between citizens, government and the business sector to develop communities.

Swot

1. Strengths (characteristics of the measure that give it an advantage over others):

Linking the physical space
Offering spaces and services for free
Interface with personnel capacity
Community-based measure

2. Weaknesses (characteristics that place the measure at a disadvantage relative to others)

Financial dependence on the city hall of Banská Bystrica
Central location on the edge of the complex Interconnection with one space

3. Opportunities (elements that the measure could exploit to its advantage):

Achieve multi-source financing to operate in the largest housing estate in city (25,000 residents) – potential support to different target groups

4. Threats (elements in the environment that could cause trouble to the measure):

Disinterest of new target groups
City decides to stop financial support center

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