The project ‘We Targówek’ is one of five initiatives carried out in the districts of right Vistula bank Warsaw in the framework of the programme Local Systems of Support introduced in 2013 and is aimed at fighting social exclusion of young people – supporting their social reintegration, enhancing prospective social mobility and fostering local social cohesion. Currently, 1800 students from 12 schools are benefitting from the programme. For a three year period realisation of the initiative in three districts – Praga Północ, Praga Południe and Targówek, the City of Warsaw has earmarked approx. € 1.4 million. According to the Director of the Office of Support and Social Projects, the major Coordinator of the LSW project:
“The basis for identifying areas requiring support was an analysis of spatial accumulation of social problems. The objective of arranging a system of integrated action was achieved through the establishment of consortia consisting of non-governmental organisations active within the field of supporting children in the selected problem areas. Only such organisations had the chance to succeed in the contest organised by the city authorities. The institutional framework of the projects is based on the coordination of NGOs and their cooperation within the consortia.”
The main characteristic of the project ‘We Targówek’ is that it is implemented in an area where no non-governmental organisations have been active before. Targówek Fabryczny is a neighbourhood of 1200 residents, considerably isolated from the rest of the district and city, with one large council estate and a centre for refugees, inhabited by a group of approx. 80 people, mainly from Chechnya and Afghanistan, predominately women and children. In line with the national legislation, the children attend the local school which is also the headquarters of the project ‘We Targówek’. The consortium of the project consists of seven organisations which have an experience both in educational programmes for children, as well as in intercultural communication. Those are the associations ‘Children of Targówek’ (Dzieci Targówka), ‘Aim High’ (Mierz Wysoko), ‘Practitioners of Culture’ (Stowarzyszenie Praktyków Kultury), the foundations ‘HOME’ (D.O.M.), ‘For Social Diversity’ (Fundacja na Rzecz Różnorodności Społecznej), ‘In Site’ (Fundacja Na Miejscu) and the local parish. As the coordinator of the project ‘We Targówek’ explains:
“The local parish is a very well organised institution, extremely engaged in support on the spot. It has an own specialist psychological dispensary and an association supporting children which was established by the Parson himself.”
The lifetime of the project ‘We Targówek’ is almost two years (December 2013-September 2015). Its total budget amounts to approx. € 127,000, where most of the costs are carried by the Office of Support and Social Projects of the City of Warsaw. The group- and area-based initiative is an example of a governance arrangement aimed at fostering local social cohesion, including social integration and intercultural communication in an area with a particular accumulation of social problems resulting in poor school achievements of children. At the same time due to the location of a centre for refugees, the area is considered a ground for complicated intercultural relations. The primary objective of the project is to improve the educational performance of children (grades, scores, school attendance), contributing to social cohesion in the city-scale, as well as to a future-oriented enhancing of social mobility of the target audience. The NGOs cooperate with the school, the local centres for daily support, street workers and other local institutions. Major activities carried out include education, socio-therapy, hobby creation – sports, arts, crafts, drama. Most classes take place in the local school. Currently there are approx. 70 children aged 7-18 included in the activities.
The children of foreign refugees take part in all activities on an equal basis with Polish children. The issue of cultural or religious barriers is effectively approached owing to the professional experience of the organisations in the consortium. The consortium hired a so called ‘intercultural assistant’, present at school on a daily basis, as well as an additional assistant from Chechnya who assists in creating a more harmonious dialogue and interaction between the children, as well as between the organisers and the foreign kids.
The programme foresees all kinds of activities aimed at the improvement of educational achievements of children, but also strives at teaching them new skills and developing personal interests and hobbies, and raising their overall self-confidence. While the project is mainly devoted to children, a growing interest among the parents is observed, who start monitoring the learning and integration process. Also the so called ‘neighbourhood council’, an organisational body consisting of selected residents of the area, actively supports the activities. The coordinator of ‘We Targówek’ explains:
“The people here know best which children and which family needs help and intervention. They contact us directly.”
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The initiative analysed addresses socio-economic and ethno-cultural diversity. The project is designed to tackle the problem of social and culture-based exclusion and negative diversity – in the scale of the area, as well as the city as a whole. At the same time, it approaches the aspect of positive diversity which derives from the presence of children representing different cultures and their engagement in the programme. In this sense it touches the aspect of ‘managing (…) co-existence in shared space’ (Healey, 1997, p. 3), where the acceptance of diversity is the point of departure for profiting from diversity. Deriving from the above, socio-economic and ethnic diversity is understood by the project organisers as “a challenge which can bring evident profit to the local community if proper governance arrangements are introduced.”
Main factors influencing success or failure
The organisers of the project positively evaluate its preliminary effects, i.e. the cooperation within the consortium, the engagement of the target audience, the relations with the city authorities – the Office for Support and Social Projects. Also the local school presents an open attitude towards the programme. The above are due in the first place to the fact that the project is initiated by the local government. The coordinator of the project believes that a self-organisation of non-governmental organisations would not have the required authority and credibility to successfully cooperate with the public school and the local Social Support Centre (OPS). As the Coordinator of the project claims, the engagement of the City is also an important factor for a sufficient cooperation within the consortium.
Another success of the initiative is the positive reception by the local community. As the Coordinator of the project explains:
“It feels that the community is grateful for the interest in it, it is therefore required to think of establishing something constant, which will stay, after the project is finished – a kind of closed space, a youth club that will help continue the project and the process of integration.”
The broad acceptance is related to the effective and trustworthy realisation of the project. Its organisers seem to focus on the long-term perspective in trying to secure a possibility for the activities to be continued after the termination of the initiative.
The latter could be treated as a potential but evident failure factor of the initiative. If seized to be carried on, the present action could bring more loss than gain with respect to the development of social capital in the area. The strategy of the project aims therefore at creating an alternative way for the continuation of the project, as there is always a risk that the city authorities are resistant to financing the initiative after September 2015.
The solid networks established during the duration of the project between the organisations engaged should be treated as a foundation for the continuation of the activities in the future. The present coordinators consider applying for funds from other sources if the city authorities chose not to prolong the project in its current form.
‘We Targówek’ is a positive example of a public–non-profit initiative which merges the engagement of non-governmental organisations and the role of the local government in providing tools for the social cohesion of children, but predominately for their social mobility in the future. Assuming that the project will be continued, there is a chance that Targówek Fabryczny, an area identified as socially difficult and problematic with respect to implementing externally imposed actions will gain a better image within the city space. Simply, it may start to be perceived as a district of growing social potential and capital.