Expert article
Project
A Place to Be-Come Seraing, Belgium
Modifier 21 November 2022
by Francesca Ansaloni

What it takes to raise a community in Seraing

Seraing La Ruche à projets
Groupe photo at La Ruche
The A Place To Be-Come project is built around one great idea: that inclusion can be promoted by building a community of local citizens eager to develop common initiatives for their neighbourhood, to experiment and promote collective learning. While the place where this community would thrive - La Maison du Peuple - was undergoing a renovation process, the project team led by Lema started to boost the emergence of a community at La Ruche à projets, a temporary hub conceived as an incubator of ideas, synergies and entrepreneurialism.

In this article we will explore how a process - that aims to create a space where citizens can participate to civic life by bringing their competences, energies and also their needs - may grow and develop from scratch in an urban and institutional context where citizens’ participation and initiative is still lagging. Three or four years for a pilot project are a short time for building a community anew, so, while waiting for two spaces to get ready for welcoming citizens and local associations, the APTBC team has been working hard to offer a friendly temporary space where to test new ways of getting together, sharing values and generating new possibilities of commoning.

As we have already seen in the second journal, participation is not a widespread practice in Seraing. The city of Seraing includes the former municipalities of Seraing, Jemeppe, Ougrée and Boncelles, which were merged in 1977 to make one. Currently the city has 13 neighbourhood associations, of which only 3 are located in the district of Seraing. A neighbourhood association originates from the engagement and mobilisation of a group of citizens who are willing to spend time and energy into projects and activities aimed to improve quality of life in their neighbourhood. A new one is currently being created in the city centre where the APTBC project is implemented:  no association existed so far, suggesting that direct and active participation in civic life struggles to flourish in this area. However, it should be noted that grassroots associations abound in the central neighbourhoods and citizens have access to many proposed activities and services.

The APTBC project seeks to promote participation in this particularly difficult area by creating new spaces: two community hubs - or creative stations, as they are called in the Application Form - will open in the last year of implementation of the project. One will find place in a renovated building (La Maison du Peuple) and the other one will occupy a brand new prefabricated module (La Cour des Mârets) located in one of the three regenerated parks of the area.

While waiting for the buildings to be built, a process of citizens’ mobilisation and involvement was launched in 2021 within the premises of a temporary hub, “La Ruche à projets” (hive of projects). La Ruche has the declared goal of contributing to an increased offer of social, cultural and economic initiatives in the neighbourhood and pave the way for spreading a culture of participation and civic engagement.

La Ruche: access
Welcome to La Ruche! (credits ©Arebs)
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During 2020 and the first half of 2021, La Ruche hosted the team of workers who were selected and trained to improve and regenerate central green areas (see the first journal). To date, and since late 2021, three calls for projects were issued with the aim to “explore new ways of activating, share and occupy new spaces of encounter and sociability” (from the project website). In particular, as the guidelines for applicants claim, these calls seek to provide people in Seraing with “the opportunity to share their ideas, their passions, to propose a dynamic and social activity, or embark on an entrepreneurial project”. The ambition is to get more people informed about the project, throughout three subsequent calls for projects, to encourage more citizens to visit and get familiar with the space of La Ruche à projets, to promote the emergence of encounters, new initiatives and collective actions. This virtuous process is thus expected to support the rise of a community of motivated people eager to move to La Maison du Peuple and La Cour des Mârets, once works are completed.

Each call involved various activities, such as communication, briefing sessions, networking, workshops, social and cultural activities taking place at La Ruche.

The first call for projects was launched in November 2021 awarded 4 citizens and 5 projects of which a description is provided here. The second call, launched in March 2022, awarded 5 more projects, welcoming at La Ruche from June to October 2022 5 new activities that are explored here. To resume, the winning projects share the common goal of providing a social space where citizens can learn new abilities (such as repairing clothes and reusing fabrics), get assistance and build synergies to develop new projects, practise physical activity, people with particular needs can find support and mutual aid (such as women searching for a confidential atmosphere, people on the autism spectrum and their families, single-parent families, schoolchildren in need).

La Ruche: a winning project
Rebecca, leader of one awarded project presenting her work at a local event last August (credits ©Lema)

The third and last call was launched in September 2022 and awarded 4 more projects (a description here, in French) that will develop soon their activities within the premises of La Ruche : a tea room where conversations about the protection of the environment could be held; theatre studios to learn how to control one’s own emotions and gain self-confidence; a coaching service for people who wish to initiate their own business or professional activity; a radio station to keep citizens up-to-date and promote activities and initiatives taking place at La Ruche.

Assembling a community of people very diverse and with different approaches requires some rules to be shared. While having in mind practical and immediate needs, the team studied some tools to be tested at La Ruche in order to be possibly adjusted for the future community hub at La Maison du Peuple. For instance, they fixed some concrete rules about how to use the premises, manage the key and respect each user and, most of all, drafted a charter establishing five main values that every resident at La Ruche must adhere to:

  • participation to collective life of La Ruche, willing to be part of a community;
  • experimentation, with the possibility of sharing issues and challenges with other residents to grow up together;
  • intercultural approach and togetherness, avoiding any form of exclusion;
  • cooperation through communication;
  • sense of humour and harmony by disposition.

Louise Masciarelli, a master’s student who was doing her thesis on the participatory process taking place at La Ruche, followed during 8 months the first launch of the call for projects, by doing participatory observation at the workshops, administrating short questionnaires to workshops’ participants and conducting interviews with involved stakeholders. She then analysed the overall process with the aim to understand what elements can contribute or not to the effective implementation of a participatory process.[1]

From her survey it emerged that participation in Seraing create some great expectations among citizens, who sometimes get disappointed because on the one hand they are not used to engage directly, on the other hand they feel that their voice is not heard and their actions are not supported by local administration. According to respondents, participation is still poorly encouraged and many barriers and burdens - such as bureaucratic charges - exist for a citizen eager to engage into civic affairs. While the social fabric of the city of Seraing is developed around the activities of a variety of local associations, it is still territorially established according to former municipalities, which have few interactions with one another. This structure disadvantages the central neighbourhoods that are the most deprived. However, the results of a previous survey[2] , which investigated citizens’ expectations in terms of business and services, showed that residents from both the project area and outer areas agree on claiming for more cultural offer in the central neighbourhoods. These preferences have found some answers in the awarded projects at La Ruche, many of which are centred on the promotion of multicultural exchange and knowledge sharing. And the focus on the multicultural dimension emphasises even more what the participants to the first workshops have pointed out, that is the importance of a place like La Ruche - where people with diverse backgrounds and competences can meet - as a catalyst and multiplier of encounters and synergies as well as a social bond facilitator.


[1] Masciarelli’s thesis can be read here, in French: https://files.letsgocity.be/bf5fe850-75a0-4d6d-babc-6174d393811f

[2] The survey, conducted by the partner Lema, was aimed to understand Seresians’ needs in terms of offer for services and commercial activities (https://aplacetobe-come.enpoche.be/aplacetobe-come/publication/commerces-et-services-a-seraing-que-veulent-les-h) and reached more than 600 citizens

La Ruche: a growing community
A collective event at La Ruche (credits ©Lema)

Today, of the 14 awarded projects, 3 are on hold and 11 are keeping La Ruche alive and the place of multiple possibilities that is meant to be. At the same time, the end of the project is looming and a leader in charge of the transition and of defining the future strategy needs to be identified, leaving thus some uncertainties about the future of this well-engaged process of civic action. The team project’s efforts of bringing together different people willing to engage, to play an active role in their city and build new social relations, have succeeded: a small but cohesive and motivated community is born at La Ruche, which has become a place of encounters, exchange and planning. Their challenge is to convey this energy and entrepreneurial attitude to La Maison du Peuple, as soon as the rehabilitation works are completed (expected by the end of 2022). For this transfer to happen smoothly, the team is working to consolidate the recently constituted community and to fine-tune the common rules and values that have successfully been tested at La Ruche for the upscaling into a permanent creative station.

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