Denmark has a comprehensive for associational activities (including sports clubs, cultural associations, etc.) and being a part of this is a core element in Danish civil society, especially for children. The goal of the organisation called Club Guides is ‘to contribute to equal opportunities for all children and youngsters to participate in the associational life’ (Culture and Leisure Administration, Copenhagen Municipality, 2014). Club Guides works for social cohesion through the inclusion of children (and families) of all backgrounds in Danish civil society. Furthermore, the project aims at increasing the social mobility of children from marginalised families through improving their capabilities for social life, education and as members of the civil society. In the case of ethnic minority children, guidance can be required, as parents of ethnic minority children do not necessarily have a background in a country with a strong tradition for such clubs. The project does not aim at emphasising diversity, rather it takes an integrationist or intercultural approach focused on supporting integration activities across cultures (Syrett & Sepulveda, 2012). The strategy of the Club Guides is to aid the inclusion of children in associational activities through a guided introduction to leisure time activities. This is thought to have a number of positive outcomes: 1) being a member of a club demands both structure and responsibility of a child, 2) it facilitates social interaction with other children, possibly creating friendships across ethno-cultural and socio-economic lines, 3) it keeps children from hanging out on streets, and 4) as leisure activities are often physical, they improve both the health and the learning capabilities of children. Besides, it can strengthen the social cohesion between the entire family and its surrounding community, as parents are expected to be involved e.g. in helping with practical tasks and participate in parents’ meetings.
The Club Guides was initiated in 2003 and is organised as a city-wide, joint initiative of the local municipal authorities and the Danish Refugee Council. The project in Bispebjerg is co-financed by Copenhagen Municipality and the Residents’ Project Bispebjerg. The main expense is the project coordinator as all club guides are volunteers. The resources of the project amount to € 4,600 annually. The funding runs out in 2016, after which it will be necessary to raise additional funds if the project is to continue. The target audience is children in Bispebjerg; the project is thus both people- and place-based. The activities of the Club Guides are organised around a group of volunteers. The family and a volunteer guide meet and discuss the wishes of the child, and the guide introduces the family to the practices and principles of Danish clubs and associations. The guide then organises contact and registration for the relevant activity and often joins the family for the first session in the associational activity. Furthermore, the guide can assist economically marginalised families in applying for economic support for membership of the associations. Finally, all families are contacted for a six-month follow-up session.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is not an explicitly used term in the everyday work of the project volunteers. Rather, diversity lies implicitly in the framework of the project: to help children of all backgrounds take part in Danish associational activities on an equal footing. While the focus is on all children of Bispebjerg, two specific kinds of diversity prevail in the project’s work. First, Bispebjerg being a disadvantaged city area entails that socio-economic diversity is central. Second, due to the large share of ethnic minority families in Bispebjerg and the potentially limited knowledge of Danish associational life within these families, ethno-cultural diversity is another prevalent form of diversity in the project. Furthermore, the Club Guides are intensely aware of the hyper-diversity of the families they help. The children and the families have different needs, wishes and lifestyles which need to be taken into account in the approach to the family and the club guidance. This is incorporated into the guidance alongside ethnic and cultural diversity and socio-economic situation. Thereby, the hyper-diversity of the children’s and their family’s situation is taken into account.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The most important external success factor of the Club Guides is the extensive and obvious demand for their services, indicated by a long waiting list for participation in the arrangement. This shows the success of the project but also becomes a success factor in that it ensures the continued support from the local authorities and has led to the establishment of a second project in Bispebjerg. Furthermore, marginalised citizens in the disadvantaged areas of the city are currently on the political agenda in Copenhagen. This contributes to the support for efforts like the Club Guides. According to the project coordinator in Bispebjerg, a key strength of the Club Guides is that the translation from theory into practice has been successful: The concrete initiatives have actually been able to realise the original objectives. In addition to this, two other internal success factors are central: First, taking a place-based approach as opposed to limiting guidance to children that are e.g. registered in a certain system or category makes it possible for all families in the local area to ask for assistance from the Club Guides. Second, whereas a professional inquiry of e.g. a social worker can seem serious and make the associations reluctant to work with the families, the informality of the young volunteers works as an advantage for the Club Guides. Often the guides become personally involved with the families and establish bonds reaching beyond the guiding sessions.
The biggest external failure factor for the Club Guides is the reluctance of the clubs and associations to admit children from marginalised families, the project coordinator states. He points to two possible explanations: First, the associations are afraid that these children will cause problems. Second, the associations prefer more resourceful families where parents are ready to joining executive committees, as well as chauffeuring to meetings and matches and back. Another external failure factor is the shortage of associational activities in the area: there are simply too few to meet the needs and wishes of the local children. Finally, a third external challenge facing the guides, although a quite infrequent one, is uncooperative parents. Unfamiliarity with the culture, organisation and practices of clubs or associations can lead to reluctance and rejection of the Club Guides by the parents. In addition to the external factors, there are three important internal failure factors of the Club Guides: First, the success of the project is highly dependent on voluntary work and the willingness of young locals to use their spare time on club guiding. The task of raising new funding when municipal resources run out in 2016 will lie entirely with the volunteers, thus making the future of the project uncertain. Second, “club jumping”, as the project coordinator calls it, and club-quitting is an important issue to deal with: some children quit activities shortly after joining them, sometimes to join other clubs and then quit these as well. The six-month follow-up is meant to prevent this by offering the families more guidance, if necessary. And third, the capacity of the project proved to be too small to help all children asking for assistance.
The Club Guides consider participation in associational activities to be of great importance for building up social cohesion and enhancing social mobility. The initiative is innovative in that it uses Danish associational activities as a way to increase social cohesion and integration across ethnic-cultural and socio-economic differences. Furthermore, it takes an inclusive approach based on the local community instead of focusing rigidly on citizens as belonging to one category or one part of the social system. The guidance is based on the child’s own interests and takes the situation and the everyday life of the family into consideration. Reluctance by local clubs and associations to admit children from marginalised families is a continuing challenge, along with ensuring enough resources for guiding the children on the waiting list.