City: Herstal (BELGIUM)
The Social Cohesion houses in Wallonia are multidimensional physical entry points for citizens empowerment may it be information/orientation desks, proposed activities and workshops (from prevention/awareness up to leisure and craft) as well as local coordination spaces for local social services providers in the frame of the PCS.
Image from one Intergenerational house in Herstal (Préalle)
The social cohesion houses (“Maison de la cohésion sociale” MCS), citizenship houses (“maisons de la citoyenneté) or multiservices houses (“maisons multiservices”) in Wallonia are physical places devoted to citizens’ initiatives and cohesion-related issues that grew in the frame of the Walloon PCS (local social cohesion plans). They are usually open multidimensional centres for citizens’ empowerment hosting information/ orientation desks, local administrative tailored support, workshops, leisure activities around the 4 main areas of the local cohesion plans (socio-professional insertion/ decent housing/health access/ intergenerational, cultiural links). Theses spaces usually bloomed in semi-rural settings and in small towns where few citizens’ spots existed or where a need for more coordination and citizenship visibility was expressed. They are complementary/synthesis points to other existing spaces such as:
- the neighbourhood houses (“maisons de quartier”)
- the village houses (“maisons de village”)
- the prevention centres (« centres de prévention »)/ health centres (« centres de santé »)
- the employment houses (« maisons de l’emploi »)
- the cultural (and sports) centres (« centre culturel (et sportif) »
- the creativity and expression centres (“Centre d’expression et de créativité-CEC »)
- the youth centres (« maisons de jeunes »)
- the senior houses (« maisons des aînés »)
- the information housing desk (« accueils info logements »)
CASE STUDY: Herstal Social cohesion house.
The local context
Herstal is a middle size town (38,000 inhabitants) located in the Liege Province. The specificity of the social cohesion house relies on its networking and coordination added-values with both existing structures and new emerging projects. Indeed, the PCS team took the opportunity of not having been involved in the latest territorial plan (PPP-Prevention and Proximity plan) to rethink the networking and services providers’ structure in town by meeting each partner and better work on the articulation of their needs.
The starting point
Following the social service mapping of the city and discussions with street workers, the priority was: 1/ to reach all neighbourhoods and be closed to social housing blocks 2/ to be part of the social ground and develop contacts with all the existing actors 3/ to use weekly workshops as social glue 4/ to provide clear decentralized accesses to quality services The central social cohesion house would work as a general information and support centre (prevention/administrative help/ housing information) where any street worker could send a citizen for in-depth follow up while the 6 intergenerational houses in the neighbourhood would work as leisure/citizens actions open spaces. As the city already owned different buildings within the city it was easier to distribute the intergenerational centres.
How it works
The social cohesion house is the central information point for citizens regarding health, housing or socio-professional insertion (= the 3 first pillars of the PCS). Administrative support, local social information diffusion and reorientation are the general offered services. 2 social workers also provide specific follow-up:
- social individual permanencies
- coordination with all the actors within the territory
Finally a dedicated space “OpenAdo” (initiative in coordination with the Liege Province) is open to young people (0-25) and their families. The social cohesion house is also the physical setting for the social cohesion plan implementation: 3 dedicated sub-commissions (Housing/Health/ socio-professional insertion) are organizing their coordination meetings in the house. At the same time the hundreds PCS partners have access to the intranet of the house. It enables a clearer and up-to-date mapping of every local actor’s activities.
6 Intergenerational houses distributed in the different neighbourhoods of the city offer recurrent socio-cultural activities (The 4th pillar of the PCS). The idea is to mix ages and cultures within one space. One animator-educator is in charge of the house and helps the inhabitants in their projects. Neighbourhood projects are developed all year long (i.e. 6months project on a Francophone Songs Festival involving many local associations). These houses were developed on the ground of existing “seniors clubs”. It took some time for mutual local adhesion between teenagers and seniors and concrete intergenerational projects. 4 out of 6 intergenerational houses work well with this organization.
Participation and effective results
- Public partners: urbanism/housing city services; CPAS and Relais social; Social Housing Organizations; Employment House (Maison de l’emploi), Neighbourhood Councils
- Private partners: 100+ local associations
- Working thematic groups resulting from the sub-commissions within the house (job-search modules/ interview simulation/ housing pedagogy-prevention pack/ housing tailored support/ Health Newsletter/Healthy Food/ Teenagers problems...)
- Festivals, citizen fresco in a remote area of the city and many other projects in the intergenerational houses.
- accept the long time process: need for mutual respect between the educator and the local inhabitants (especially the teenagers who didn’t want an intergenerational house rather a house on their own).
- go over local touchiness: some local associations didn’t want to cooperate with the project for its communal identity and passive complex relations with the town administration. The team had to convince them on the apolitical dimension of the project.
- ensure local participation and conflicts mediation: as some people fully involve in different activities and specific projects, it is essential to be able to mediate relationships and tensions to avoid frustration and abandonment.
- allow for flexibility and responsibility: as the intergenerational houses are communal buildings statutory rules should apply to rooms renting, however the PCS team managed to get a more flexible system: free renting for local partners/ citizens. The local educators guarantee the running of the system (avoiding the abuses in Youth Centres in previous planning).
Contact and resources
- Cindy CAPS/ PCS coordinator pcs.cindy.caps at gmail.com
- Social Cohesion House Website: http://www.pcs-herstal.be/cohesion-sociale
Other valuable projects
- PCS Social Cohesion houses; database of all projects available online
- Food surplus regulation in town: The Mayor of the municipality of Herstal has forced 12 local supermarkets to give their unsold food to local charities in the region; any that refuse will lose their environmental permit. Read more HERE
- Chez nous (Auvergne): Cooperative for the creation, development and distribution of neighborhood services especially around concierge service.
- La veilleuse (Lille/ Saint-Etienne): Concept of an autonomous information and mediating center opened to the inhabitants to think about the future of their area and launch new projecs.