Seraing - A Place to Be-Come project
This article is based on an interview with Aurélie Portois, currently project coordinator at the Maison du Peuple, and on some preliminary drafts containing the principles and objectives underlying the proposal for the works of the steering committee for the future of the Maison du Peuple.

Ensuring the transition

The APTBC project aimed, inter alia, to promote the participation of citizens from the central neighbourhoods (the most socio-economically disadvantaged) in the social and civic life of Seraing. It intended to achieve this goal by providing premises, human resources, and a mobilisation process through the involvement of local actors and citizens willing to engage personally and collectively.

As described in this article, the process implemented at La Ruche allowed for the experimentation of the call for projects model, the collective management model of spaces, and the outcomes of synergies produced by collaborations. The transition to the Maison du Peuple was not without challenges, but it benefited from a generous expansion of available spaces for various activities, including collective ones, the proximity of a prevention service team, an outdoor space, and an enriched programming with new calls for projects.

Just before the inauguration of the Maison du Peuple, the transfer of activities to the new premises in June 2023, and the closure of the project in August 2023, a new coordinator was hired to oversee the transition.

Her role, to ensure the smoothest transition possible, was to:

  • Transport the community of project leaders who were still active (about two-thirds of those who had started at La Ruche) despite the relocation of the premises to another, albeit bordering, neighbourhood;
  • Organise a new jury and new calls for projects;
  • Organise events for the inauguration of Maison du Peuple;
  • Define the new programming of the creative station, ensuring a permanent reception every week, alongside the Prevention Service.

 

Following the inauguration, the effort focused on supporting the new project leaders, refining the schedule, and strengthening relationships and connections with the neighbourhood, including through concrete actions such as co-designing and improving the outdoor space with groups of young volunteers and the nearby cultural centre. Or alternatively, efforts were made to promote cohesion among citizens and active project participants through co-designing and organizing the first Maison du Peuple festival (September 2023), which saw the participation of project leaders, prevention services, and a diverse audience.

First party at the Maison du Peuple
Partying outside the Maison du Peuple © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

 

First party at the Maison du Peuple
Partying in the courtyard © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

The mission of the coordinator has been twofold so far: on one hand, to create and encourage a collective dynamic within the MdP, by promoting diversity and inclusion, and on the other hand, to consolidate the creative station (tiers-lieux) project. The coordinator's mission is structured around four axes, which are the foundation upon which the Maison du Peuple is built and will develop its future project:

  1. Social cohesion, handled by the Prevention Service;
  2. Citizen participation;
  3. The economy (with a medium to long-term perspective on the economic sustainability of the project);
  4. The environment (currently being pursued with the support of Natagora).

 

Activities at the Maison du Peuple
A drawing workshop at the Maison du Peuple © Facebook La Maison du Peuple
Activities at the Maison du Peuple
A dancing night at the Maison du Peuple © Facebook La Maison du Peuple

The road ahead

The transition period from a creative station implanted in a different neighbourhood – stemming from the successful test at La Ruche à projets – to a reference space for residents and an incubator for new partnership dynamics, new participatory models, and the reception of local demands, serves to confront stakeholders (Prevention Service, Arebs, associative actors, citizens, other city services...) with the concrete challenges of the project's medium to long term sustainability.

The primary goal of the ad hoc committee created to study a legal form and management structure for the creative station is the identification of a governance model that can work for the Maison du Peuple and other creative stations that might open in Seraing in the future.

Drawing inspiration from existing successful models, particularly Cascina Roccafranca in Turin[1] and Relais Social in Liege, the project for the future of Maison du Peuple aims to create an autonomous structure, both administratively and financially, enabling it to ensure a "third" role, acting as a trusted intermediary between citizens and the municipality. To ensure the continuity of the path initiated by the UIA project and consistency with the set objectives, the creative station will need to:

  • Organise nature-based trainings;
  • Promote the reuse and recycling of materials and manual work (woodwork);
  • Serve as a cultural hub;
  • Serves as a space for meetings and learning;
  • Support local commerce and services.

The establishment of an autonomous structure aims, among other things, to ensure fair representation and shared management among citizens (project leaders), public authorities, and local organisations, fostering the experimentation of new practices through independent management of their own funds.

The structure will be coordinated by a steering committee, composed of a representative for each project axis (social cohesion, resident participation, economy, and environment), drawn from relevant municipal services, civil society from the neighbourhood, and project leaders. The idea is for each committee member to fulfil both a strategic role, providing future vision for the Maison du Peuple, and an operational role, linking the actions of the creative station with those of local services. Each entity represented on the committee will have its own roles and objectives, while the Maison du Peuple will primarily pursue the following objectives and monitor them through the collection of qualitative and quantitative indicators:

  • Increase the level of social cohesion;
  • Strengthen local economic development;
  • Foster citizen participation;
  • Enhance cultural offerings;
  • Promote biodiversity;
  • Encourage the development of local intangible resources (citizen skills, trust in public institutions, biodiversity infrastructure, historical heritage, local initiatives such as neighbourhood festivals, etc.).

 

Some recommendations for the future Maison du Peuple

The Maison du Peuple project is on the right track. It could be said that the future is already here, because the process that led to the creation of the vibrant space we see today, as part of the APTBC project, has a rich and intense schedule of activities and events. It continues to reflect on its development, never halting, and maintaining its coherence. Therefore, at this moment, the recommendations that can be suggested mainly concern social inclusion, which has been the main objective of the UIA project and whose achievement must never be lost sight of:

  • Considering the socio-economic characteristics of the neighbourhood, where a portion of the population experiences economic and social difficulties, yet also aiming to promote financial independence of the structure, it is essential to ensure affordability for at least some of the proposed activities. These activities should be accessible for free or with fees adjusted to the purchasing power of the neighbourhood’s residents.
  • For the creative station to successfully address the needs of residents, especially those who are more marginalised, it's important that, through the collaboration of all committee members, a regular mapping is carried out to avoid the risk of leaving anyone behind.
  • The Maison du Peuple must remain a welcoming place for everyone, and this should be reflected in the use and programming of spaces, which should maintain a diversity of offerings and promote a sense of belonging without favouring certain uses (or groups) over others and preventing discrimination.
  • Regular outreach activities to directly engage residents are crucial both for fostering social cohesion and for raising awareness among residents regarding other project axes, particularly the promotion of biodiversity. In this perspective, building partnerships with schools and other local social actors can be a starting point.
  • The project monitoring is essential to ensure ongoing adherence to principles and objectives (or to modify them if contextual conditions require). As suggested by OHCHR for the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the new EU thematic partnership on Cities of Equality, an intersectional approach is recommended, involving the collection of disaggregated data by gender, age, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, etc., to uncover any underlying processes of exclusion.

 

(My heartfelt thanks to Aurélie Portois for her availability, kindness, and enthusiasm.)


[1] For more details on how the APTBC project met the Turin network of community centres, see the article at this link.

About this resource

Author
Francesca Ansaloni UIA Expert
Project
Location
Seraing, Belgium Small sized cities (50k > 250k)
About UIA
Urban Innovative Actions
Programme/Initiative
2014-2020

The Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is a European Union initiative that provided funding to urban areas across Europe to test new and unproven solutions to urban challenges. The initiative had a total ERDF budget of €372 million for 2014-2020.

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