IFSJ Study visit 2023 France – Report and testimonies
IFS Study Visit France 2023 by Sophie Michelena, national coordinator (FCSF)
We had a busy but fun week in March in Brittany with our 8 European visitors. Our study theme was outreach work, and mobile social centres, so we travelled in our minibus to 3 different cities in 4 days, and visited many projects inside centers and met many volunteers and residents on public spaces along the way.
The Federation of Social Centers in Brittany prepared an amazing programme to observe the various means of reaching out to people where they are, and the tools used by different social centers to do this work. The learning objectives were about understanding the importance of outreach work in rural areas and priority neighbourhoods, and the necessity of not simply waiting for people to come into our centers.
We also wanted our visitors to understand more about how the French network is organised, how the support mechanisms work, the values of our French network, how social centers work closely with local and national institutions and about the culture in France: food and “convivialité” were often mentioned and on display!
We even had a week of strikes and public demonstrations, which affected our travel for instance, but we think the visit was highly successful, given the feedback received from the participants.
Testimonies by participants
The social center comes into the neighborhood with their tool and first of all pushes something like dealers away from the area and also some neighbors are getting some coffee and can connect to other neighbors and even though other neighbours might not attend there is still a bit more connection between neighbours and a feeling of being cared about and less crimes in the area which everyone is benefiting from. Natalie, Germany.
This I believe has a positive effect on their political choices in the sense that people who feel heard and seen are less prone to fall for more right wing politicians. And this keeps the spirit of inclusivity and togetherness alive in a broader sense. So everybody is an indirect beneficiary of the social work that is done. Davor, The Netherlands.
Most important for me was that social centres go out and seek new innovative activities to reach out people who usually don’t participate or act. Outreach activities are not organized to lure people to social centres but to face local people and enhance conviviality in neighborhoods. The employees and volunteers are truly interested in meeting the people and listening their worries and thoughts. Regularity and consistence are very important for the trust of local people. Laura, Finland.
The thing that surprised me the most is funding. Local town councils and elected officials work together with social centers and help with the funding. Also, the national government plays an important part to fund those 5-10-year projects as well. Municipality and national government need to work together to make the region-cities-small towns a great place to live. Local people are aware of local problems and their voices need to be heard more. This [outreach work] can also help the municipality be more active and know the high-priority neighborhoods better. Nefeli, Greece.
I will present the ideas of management and the board which consists of local people. For me this model of management was amazing – the local people make the decisions concerning the strategy and employees facilitate and carry out the activities together with the volunteers. Our new strategy requires us to go more among the local people in most fragile neighborhoods. The outreach activities we were presented during the study visit come to me and my organization at the right time. We need new ideas how to face people, how to involve them in different activities and enhance conviviality, and in a long run, how to strengthen local democracy. Laura, Finland.