The Tarlabaşı Community Centre (TTM) was initiated as a project by the Istanbul Bilgi University Centre for Migration Research in September 2006, aimed at developing a model for social coalescence and multicultural coexistence, fostering participation in urban life. After the finalisation of two terms of the EU project since 2007, the TTM has been operating through funds raised and projects run by Tarlabaşı Community Support Association (TTDD). This was one of the first Community Centre models focused on improving the quality of life in the Tarlabaşı neighbourhood.
The main aim of the TTM is to enhance social mobility, and to accomplish this it provides educational, social and psychological support to residents of Tarlabaşı, especially children, young people and women, most of which belong to disadvantaged groups. TTM also tries to enhance solidarity networks among the neighbourhood residents, promoting participation in social projects and assisting disadvantaged groups in resolving the diverse problems they face.
Since its inception, the TTM has provided assistance to 5,000 children and adults. Ceren Suntekin, Secretary General of the TTDD, explains that the scepticism of people in speaking with NGOs was a primary hurdle they had to overcome. The approach they adopted was for social workers from the Centre to organise home visits, which in time served to change the attitude of the people towards the Centre from negative to positive. After this, the local residents started gradually to visit the TTM to explain their problems and ask for help, which allowed them to launch appropriate activities.
The main activities of the TTM are as follows: organising free courses and workshops on different topics, providing guidance and support on legal and health issues and delivering psychological counselling services. The Centre offers courses on reading and writing, jewellery, sewing, knitting, modelling and carpentry, and organises such recreation activities as concerts, city tours, exhibitions and meetings in order to increase social integration. The Centre has also organised art, rhythm and creative drama workshops for children, besides prenatal care services for women. In addition to all these, within the scope of Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture the TTM launched two further projects: “Kadınlarla Resim Çalışması” (Painting with Women), established specifically for women; and “Tarlabaşı’nda Gitar Sesleri” (The Guitar Voices in Tarlabaşı) for children. Vocational courses provide new skills to the unemployed, while the provision of legal services helps ethnic groups and those with different identities, cultural norms and ways of life to protect their human rights.
The TTDD, which undertakes the administrative, organisational and financial duties of the TTM, consists of a chairperson, an administrative board and 52 members. The activities at the TTM are managed by a social worker, two psychologists (one working as a counsellor, the other as volunteer activities coordinator), an administrative assistant, a security guard, five professional trainers and several local and international volunteers that today number about 300. The TTDD also works with various partners in both the private sector and national and international NGOs. Moreover, it maintains good relationships with almost all the residents of the neighbourhood, whose problems are always taken into account during decision-making processes and activity programmes.
In the beginning, the TTM benefitted from EU funding, but since 2007, it has managed to increase its own sources of revenue, including donations collected through the TTDD and financial support from temporary sponsors, including both public and private companies, which has allowed it to finance its own projects. Membership fees are very low and contribute very little to the upkeep of the Centre. In 2013, the TTM saw a sharp decline in annual revenues: from € 400,000 in 2012, to € 40,000 in 2013 (Tarlabaşı Community Centre, 2014).
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
One of the main concerns of the TTM is to prepare projects and organise activities related to issues in which the government has limited interest, following the guiding principle of “class, social, economic, culture, gender identity and orientation, ethnic, etc. – all types of diversity should be met respectfully by everyone in society.” As such, its activities not only cover children, young people and women, as the most vulnerable groups, but also immigrants, ethnic groups and the LGBTT community. In other words, it provides different support schemes to people of different cultures, identities and sexual orientations. While activities aimed at immigrants, ethnic groups and the LGBTT community are limited, the Centre is able to provide information on relevant organisations to any applicants. Suntekin claims that the initiative would like to help all people living in the neighbourhood, but it is impossible to prepare projects and activities for each of them. Accordingly, priority is given to the most vulnerable, being women, children and young people. She goes on to say that to eliminate the prejudices towards people living in Tarlabaşı, the TTM tries to develop projects that enhance collaboration among the residents of the neighbourhood, and with those located in other parts of the metropolitan area.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The TTM is one of the first and most successful non-profit organisations providing support to the inhabitants of Tarlabaşı. Its main success has been its ability to reach the social groups that receive limited attention. The Centre brings together different segments of the society, including those of different religions, sexual identities and social groups, who are unable to express their problems. The enthusiasm of the volunteers, employees and members of the TTM administrative board have been vital to the success of the Centre, as overcoming the problems of the disadvantaged groups depends greatly on the energy and passion of those involved. According to Suntekin, “without them, sustaining the activities of the association would be impossible”. That said, the TTM has faced serious financial problems, and has sometimes run into problems with the public authorities. “The Turkish Government has no social service culture, and considers non-governmental organisations like ours to be a threat,” says Suntekin. Since there is not a regular source of funding and no government support, it is rather difficult to sustain its activities. Therefore, in 2013, they left their office and relocated to a much smaller building since they had difficulty to pay rents.
This Centre can be counted among the initiatives in Istanbul that introduce interesting projects to deprived areas, where diverse groups, mostly disadvantaged, live. Although some of its projects may be defined as a dream for people living in this deprived part of the city, such as painting courses for women, it is interesting to see the level of interest activities that the programme has attracted among the neighbourhood women. The ideas put forward by volunteers are rather important in this respect, and according to members of the TTDD, the “Training Programme for Volunteers” is their most innovative project. This programme enables volunteers to learn how to practice the existing working schedule, while encouraging them to come up with new ideas and initiate new workshops and courses. Although the organisation has recently faced financial problems, they aim to continue their activities in the future (Tarlabaşı Community Centre, 2014). In the meantime, the TTDD continues its search for local and international funds that will allow the Centre to continue its activities.