Over the past few months most of my time has been spent on fieldwork relating to the European Migrant Integration Academy (EU-MIA). The academy, to take place in Turin in February 2014, will be based on case study material from 10 integration projects in different EU-countries. Together with FIERI – a Turin-based research centre – we have, over the past few months, been visiting these projects, carrying out and filming interviews with key stakeholders and beneficiaries.
Whereas FIERI is doing five field missions in southern Europe (France, Italy (2), Spain (2)), we at COMPAS have so far visited projects in Austria, Britain, Germany and Sweden, and this week I will be off, together with Ida Persson, to Vejle, Denmark for the final mission. In the next paragraphs I will attempt to summarise the experiences from the missions that I have been part of : Bermondsey (Southwark), Hamburg and Vienna. (The mission to Visby, Sweden was carried out by Ben Gidley, Ida Persson, and Simon Rowe.)
St. George’s Festival, Bermondsey
For our pilot mission, we returned to Bermondsey where we previously have done fieldwork as part of the Concordia Discors project. Whereas the St’ George’s Festival, staged every April since 2006, was the central event that we focused on, it was important for us to establish a broader understanding of how the festival is nested within a broader context of community development. These are primarily the South Bermondsey Partnership, implemented 2004-11 and led by a small locally based team from the London Borough of Soutwark, and, since 2012, the Big Local, led by two well-established organisations with a long history in the area – Bede House, and Time and Talents.
Talking to different stakeholders enabled us to understand how different meanings were invested in the festival. At policy level the aim was to challenge the association between Bermondsey and the British National Party in a manner that didn’t denigrate the neighbourhood. But among local residents there was a feeling that while a wide range of events were taking place to celebrate diversity, nothing much was done for the local white population. The St. George’s Festival served both purposes, ‘reclaiming’ the English flag from BNP while also providing a hugely popular, and inclusive, community event in a neighbourhood that is increasingly diverse. Furthermore, as many told us, while St. George is closely associated with English identity, he is also the patron saint of many other countries.
‘Eltern vor Ort’, Hamburg
The name of the German project which Ida and I visited in June is ‘Eltern vor Ort’. That translates into ‘Parents on the spot’, and there are two meanings to that title. One refers to the thematic focus of the project, namely the role of parents in the schooling of their children. It is in Germany a long-standing experience that the drop-out rate of youths in the school-employment transition is much higher among those with migration background than for the average population. By engaging with the parents, the aim is to break down barriers between home and school and enable parents to be more actively involved in the schooling process.
The how to element brings us to the second meaning of the project title. Key to the approach chosen by the implementing partner is long-term inter-action with parents ‘on the spot’, in their own socio-cultural space, typically familiar venues in the neighbourhoods chosen for the project. Project workers spend substantial periods of time in the neighbourhoods, getting familiar with people and their circumstances.
Parents, mainly women, are trained to become facilitators (moderatoren), and these parents are in turn encouraged to pass on their knowledge to other parents. By thus making the parents partners in the implementation process, it became possible for the project to capitalize on the facilitators’ own networks and social spaces, with them choosing venues for meeting with other parents – be it at home, in community centres, in mosques. For me, as a researcher, the highlight of the visit to Hamburg was easily these meetings with facilitators, and the experience of their involvement and enthusiasm.
‘Gelebte Diversität’, Vienna
My field mission to Vienna focused on the relationship between staff development and successful community engagement in the social housing sector. Perhaps more so than in other European cities, the provision of social housing has been high on the city agenda ever since 1919 when the Social Democratic local government of Vienna first came to power. Today, around 25% of the population in Vienna lives in social housing. But the demography is changing rapidly, and with the proportion of social housing residents with migrant background increasing from 9% in 1995 to 40% in 2009, the social housing sector in the city is facing, and facing up to, new challenges.
‘Gelebte Diversität’ (lived diversity) is the name of a strategy pursued by Wohnpartner, the social housing provider in Vienna. Central here is the approach to diversity as strength and strategy of the organization. The nine locally based neighbourhood teams, each consisting of 10-15 members, are carefully put together in such a way that each of them represents a wide range of professional competences, languages, national backgrounds etc. This enables them to engage effectively with local residents, with emphasis on mediation and community development. Furthermore, Wohnpartner operates with its own training and learning unit where employees are given the opportunity to share their experiences and see these used for future programme development.
Altogether, these are three very different projects, and these short outlines hardly do them justice. But what they’ve got in common, and what contributes to their success is the ambition and capacity to engage with local residents on their own terms. These are, together with findings from the other projects, also experiences that we hope to make use of in the integration academy that concludes the EUMIA research project. The academy will be held in Turin 3-14 February 2014.