The Utrecht Refugee Launchpad was an innovative solution to the issue of asylum seeker and refugee reception, conceived during the 2015-2016 refugee ‘crisis’. The city government, benefiting from direct European funding, built a partnership with NGOs, social enterprises and educational institutions. Between November 2016 and October 2018, the project housed asylum seekers and refugees in the same complex as local young people in the district of Overvecht. It used co-learning, inviting residents from the neighbourhood to take courses together and engage in social activities in a shared social space. Courses in English and entrepreneurship were offered as subjects of ‘futureproof’ value, useful to participants’ professional future regardless of the country they would ultimately reside in.
The co-housing and co-learning reception facility, known locally as ‘Plan Einstein’, aimed to develop asylum seekers’ social networks with neighbours, while providing opportunities for participants to develop their skills, to enhance wellbeing and improve community cohesion in the neighbourhood. As such, the project aimed to engage with concerns from receiving communities, activate asylum seekers ‘from day one’, as well as reverse the negative spiral of boredom, anxiety, and worsening mental health that existing approaches to reception generate.