ECHN has recently completed the series of “Building a Fab City Hub: inspiring stories and insights”, a collection of three thematic sessions focused on some of the key concepts around which the nine pilot cities of CENTRINNO are building their innovative Fab City Hubs.

ECHN had the honour of coordinating a task of the CENTRINNO project addressed to its pilots, in order to shed more light on inspiring organisational structures and governance strategies. Three thematic sessions in total were held over the summer, and a vast array of guest speakers were invited to share their experiences with the partners of the project. The challenge was to draw a picture of existing inspiring models of governance and implementation of core CENTRINNO concepts, such as social inclusion, vocational training and heritage. For this reason, we invited professionals from disparate backgrounds across Europe, who could offer a multifaceted perspective on such multilayered thematics. Session after session, the pilot cities got in conversation with several professional experts, and the outcomes of these exchanges produced a first very important batch of knowledge that will feed the upcoming Fab City Hub Toolkit.

The first chapter of this journey took place on the 16th of June, with the first session focused on social inclusion. To launch the project, ECHN invited its very own Vassilis Chalarampidis, co-founder and director of Romantso, the first creative hub established in Athens. Romantso has had an active role in revamping the neighbourhood of Gerani, where it is located, and social inclusion was one of the top priorities for the hub. Vassilis presented the story of Romantso, explaining how it settled in a formerly abandoned building in a neglected area of the city, and how this paved the way for an impactful regeneration of the urban and social fabric.

Romantso. Picture from Nikos Kokkas

Romantso. Picture from Nikos Kokkas

The session with Vassilis brought to light seven main fields of action that can be adopted to build an inclusive hub. This collection of actionable takeaways starts off with a crucial point: framing your hub as a social centre. Romantso’s decision to adopt this term guided the hub through the next steps, including an explorative field-research of the neighbourhood and its citizens, a distribution of activities and initiatives by means of pop-up events and collaborations with locals, and mapping and networking activities for the local community.

Ultimately, Romantso rose as a lighthouse for the district of Gerani, with a multidisciplinary approach that set the venue’s spaces as communal platforms for the diverse local communities. CENTRINNO’s pilots had the chance to identify the steps that Romantso took in order to become an inclusive hub, and the seven fields of action represent a preliminary model for future actions.

Inside Romantso

Inside Romantso

Inside Romantso, the loom

The month of July was dedicated to the theme of vocational training. This time around ECHN set up a panel with three different guest speakers who approached the theme of the month from different perspectives. Indira von Oven, project coordinator of the Hout- en Meubileringscollege (HMC) in Amsterdam, spoke in behalf of a renowned post-secondary vocational college; Paolo Montemurro, co-founder and director of Materahub, reported the experience of a consortium of cultural centres that have been using culture as a tool for innovative learning; and Christophe Dunand, governance advisor for Réalise, accounted for a Geneva-based association that has been engaged for many years in integrating vocational training into reinsertion and placement into the labour market.

On the 25th of August, the guests of our second session engaged in a dense conversation with the pilot cities, and they identified three main challenges that vocational training centres face. The first one is harmonising employability with innovation: how can we find a balance between providing students with employable skills as well as introducing them to new innovative practices? The members of the panel highlighted the importance of taking into account both the market’s and the student’s needs, in an attempt to provide a realistic yet innovative training program. On top of that, entrepreneurial skills turned out to be a key tool for the new professional figures, who can harness culture as a strategic element for innovation.

The second challenge explores how to reduce the gap between training centres and the local industry. Local companies or unemployment agencies can have in fact an active role in the training program of vocational schools, representing a direct outlet towards the job market. In some cases, training centres might even facilitate the clustering of new innovative professionals directly linked to their training program.

Last but not least, the third challenge tackles the need for educational freedom, a privilege that not all vocational training centres have. Non-traditional and non-formal training centres might operate out of the usual educational paths, granting more innovative trajectories. To maintain such freedom, though, it is necessary to provide accessible programs open to all and to cultivate strategic long-term partnerships with key stakeholders.

The session dedicated to heritage closed the series on the 8th of September. In this last appointment, CENTRINNO’s pilots met two guests who shared their expertise about heritage in a complementary way. The very term “heritage” can have ambiguous meanings, and that is why Danielle Kuijten, acting director of Imagine IC, exposed some of the initiatives of her institution. Danielle’s contribution gave shape to a more comprehensive definition of what “heritage” can be. Imagine IC’s conviction is that heritage is a collective cultural phenomenon, rather than a fixed and pre-conceived element. Imagine IC acts therefore as a platform for heritage democracy, a space at the heart of a complex and diverse district of Amsterdam where different communities carry their own stories, values and ideas. Danielle’s ultimate message was that as a heritage centre, the agenda needs to be created by the local community itself, and the centre’s responsibility is to moderate a fruitful conversation.

The second guest of the session was Ruba Saleh, coordinator of the C-Ship Program at the Management School of Brussels. As a researcher, she presented the main points of a study she led for the CLIC Project, where she devised a circular business model for heritage adaptive reuse. In this case, the pilots had hands-on experience on a new way of framing a cultural business, according to a model that tries to address cultural, social and environmental values in an integrated manner. Here, a monetary perspective is combined with a human-centred model and the sustainable development goals. The final result is a business model that can be adopted by those realities that are planning to readapt heritage sites in innovative ways, like CENTRINNO’s pilots.

The series of “Building a Fab City Hub” has been rich in intervention from different experts, and ECHN coordinated a ride full of exchanges and new perspectives. The pilots of CENTRINNO had the chance to interact with external contributors, collecting precious takeaways that are going to shape the future toolkit of Fab City Hubs.

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