Pelgulinna Neighbourhood Association (PNhA) facilitates local level social cohesion by contributing to resolving everyday neighbourhood related problems, visioning the future of the neighbourhood, helping the local government dealing with problems regarding the neighbourhood, providing social support for the elderly and disabled, promote safety and enrich the cultural activities. Today the target audience consists mainly of the elderly which has resulted from the emerged socio-cultural direction the association has somewhat naturally obtained and the interests the members themselves have. Thus, the activity of PNhA fosters social cohesion mainly by recognising a specific interest group, the active elderly, in the neighbourhood as well as creating places of encounter for this group with others interested in the aims of the association.
PNhA was founded in 1992, making it the oldest neighbourhood association in the district of Northern Tallinn. The number of members of PNhA is difficult to identify since everyone who is active does not necessarily need to be part of the association officially. Members of the association represent the inhabitants of Pelgulinna neighbourhood well socio demographically. When Russian-speakers are not usually involved in the activities of the neighbourhood associations, the PNhA is different in this aspect since they have Russian-speaking members as well. The older generation of Estonians who were already adults during the Soviet period (compared to the on average younger members of the Telliskivi NhA), have had more contacts with Russian-speaking immigrant groups, which probably explains the presence of Russian-speaking members in the association.
PNhA activity is directed towards social cohesion in the neighbourhood by providing possibilities of encounters for certain social groups, especially the elderly. It should be stated that in the context of fast gentrification the elderly often represent the more sedentary part of the population and has therefore experienced its transition. By providing opportunities to come together and to interact with each other, they aim to promote the feeling of the sense of community where everybody knows everybody. Furthermore, they seek collaboration with other neighbourhood associations or NGOs in order to achieve a certain division of labour between them; for example, problems regarding spatial planning are usually tackled together with Telliskivi NhA, while street children are now helped by Bethel’s Congregation. In their 20 years of activity, there have been some great examples of successful cooperation with the Northern Tallinn government, “which has always been and still is very supportive towards the association,” according to our interviewee.
An example of a successful project with long traditions that is carried out by the PNhA is the ‘Lady Companions’ project. Under this initiative more active local women are visiting those that are less mobile due to their health or disability or need social contacts for other reasons. They spend time with them and provide help when needed. Monetary resources for these activities have been traditionally combined through project applications, membership fees (3€ annually) and donations. During the earlier years different sponsorships were granted.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
No concrete standpoint is expressed on how diversity should be understood locally: “I don’t know how to answer this.” No activities targeting diversification are also undertaken consciously; it mainly draws together elderly people. The members of the PNhA are the most active people among the elderly population living in the Pelgulinna neighbourhood, and they do elicit the concerns of the elderly to the decision makers and are recognised as a certain interest group of the local community by the City Government.
The PNhA representative also emphasises the need to take steps towards closer relations with the Russian-speaking minority population in the neighbourhood and elsewhere in the city. “It would be nice if we could (during the Pelgulinna Day, an annual festival organised by the PNhA) bring together different ethnic groups living in Pelgulinn, Kopli or surrounding areas … to make them part of our family.” This way, they clearly aim at social cohesion across different population groups. The biggest obstacle in bringing together Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking populations is the language barrier, as was also recognised by the Telliskivi association. However, the elderly Estonians are more prepared to communicate in the Russian language compared to the younger generations. They can thus be seen as a bridge between the two main language communities living in the city. One concrete extension of the activities across ethnic lines would be to incorporate the Russian-speaking community into the ‘Lady Companions’ project as well.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The biggest success story is definitely the ‘Lady Companions’ project which has had a very positive response from the elderly and the local government and which still supports the project since its initiation in 2006. The main factors behind the success are the high commitment of the volunteers and their special expertise in the field as they are the only bottom-up initiative voluntarily providing such ‘service’. The main obstacle for more efficient activities is funding as the project is based on voluntary work; the association motivates the volunteers with seminars and trainings and by organising small trips that favour creating contacts and communication. Positive outcomes are mainly related to the successful networking of the elderly. The second factor hobbling the action is the age of the members—the participation of the younger generation in the neighbourhood association is hoped for, but more active younger people are often engaged in other associations where promoting their lifestyle (e.g. hipsters’ subculture) is on the agenda.
With the example of the Pelgulinna NhA, an interesting spontaneously developed subgroup of elderly has appeared. Many of its innovative aspects and problems are similar to Telliskivi NhA. However, its particular innovativeness is in engaging older people. As the city’s population is quickly aging, this is a very important initiative. The members of the Pelgulinna association have already been quite innovative in figuring out the ways (e.g. ‘Lady Companions’) to stay active. However, more can be done. For example, activities such as the elderly’s time banking activities are still missing. Here, good avenues for co-operation with the city could be developed as co-ordination would be needed for making such local level co-operation even more effective.
 hipsters—men and women typically in their 20s and 30s who value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter