P2P Story: BRDO Cowork meets STPLN

Anes, Manager from BRDO Coworking in Bosnia and Herzegovina went to Malmo, Sweden in summer 2017, to meet STPLN and its team, through the European Creative Hubs Network and our Peer-to-Peer Scheme (P2P). This is his article about the experience of exchanging knowledge, creative hub to creative hub.

BRDO Coworking space (www.fb.com/brdocowork) is a relatively young community project ran by “Tuzla Live” Association (www.tuzlalive.org). BRDO was formed in the city of Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina), during the spring of 2016. It is a place and a network where a wide range of individuals with various professional backgrounds and of different ages can find a suitable working environment. It is a birthplace of many initiatives and projects majority of which are aimed at developing the local community and assisting the members in achieving their goals. Special focus is on development of (social) entrepreneurial endeavours, informal education, skill building (arts, craft, technology) and battling unemployment (amongst youth, women, 50+ population). The manager of BRDO and TUZLA LIVE Association (Mr Anes Husanović) was the person that visited STPLN.

STPLN is a community focused organisation established in Malmo, a working class town, very much like Tuzla. Tuzla’s work-heritage is deeply rooted in mining, whilst Malmo’s used to be in shipbuilding. When that industry collapsed the coastal shipyard and factory area was soon occupied by activists and youngsters, largely linked with skating community. Soon local government recognised this situation and provide its assistance to the activists. One of the thick concrete ship-repair buildings could not be removed – hence it became the address of STPLN. From day one it became open to all people with ideas, initiatives, enthusiasm, of all backgrounds and ages, where through workshops, events and education a significant, experimental and sustainable work has been done with help of technology, crafts, art and culture.

Choosing STPLN as a hub to visit was not so difficult. After reviewing the list of available hub-destinations, there were only a few of them whose working model and activities aligned with our organisational vision. Plus, off course, the fact that there were 4 direct weekly flights from Tuzla to Malmo – a there it was, a win-win situation. The initial contact with STPLN management was established whereby they were very welcoming and helpful, looking forward to meeting our representative at their place.

The obvious objectives set out by our organisation were to get to know the projects/activities ran by STPLN and familiarise ourselves with the STPLN organisational model. Furthermore, we wanted to talk about possibilities for cooperation whilst learning as much as possible about Swedish culture, people – talk with various individuals, different ages, backgrounds, etc. We also sought to get direct and honest feedback of how Swedish people perceive Bosnia and its citizens. Lastly, we wanted to present BRDO Coworking Space, “Tuzla Live” Association and Bosnia and Herzegovina and investigate into what would attract Swedish organisations and individuals to increase cooperation and exchange (people, knowledge, experience, tourism, etc.) with prospective Bosnian partners, maybe through a mutual application towards calls opened by EU and Swedish funds/programmes. Those were our objectives and as the time will prove, they were largely achieved during our stay at STPLN.

1st day – Our representative got there early, simply to check the STPLN neighbourhood. The area has been almost completely transformed, from a dockyard and centre of ship-making industry, to a mix of high profiled residential and business buildings. The old factories were transformed into offices whereby many of them took shape of incubators, innovation parks and ICT hubs. Hence the location of STPLN and the adjacent marvellous concrete skatepark do stand out very much from the surroundings and are easy to find.

Very soon the manager of STPLN Mr Bertil Björk expressed his hospitality and soon after gave a tour of the place. It is a hefty concrete complex above and below the ground whereby the HUBN coworking space, event hall and kitchen are on the ground floor and the space for all other workshops is in the basement of the facility. Those workshops include Makerspace (CNC space, Woodwork, Paint/Print, Sewing) Cykelköket (Bike kitchen) and Cykelbiblioteket (the Bicycle Library), Återskapa (Recreate space). It was a lot to take in, so the rest of the day was spent researching about history if STPLN, detailed content of activities within workshops and other spaces and chatting, making friends with regular users of HUBN Coworking space and workshop leaders.

2nd day – That day, by chance, a seminar of IKEA staff took place in the event hall of STPLN. Hence that was an opportunity to see how they have utilised STPLN space and staff to implement their event and to briefly chat with some of IKEA staff about the topic and methodology of their work. Subsequently, a meeting took place with Jesper, the leader of Cykelköket (Bike kitchen) and Cykelbiblioteket (the Bicycle Library) projects where we learnt more about each other’s organisations and careers, whilst analysing the past, present and future of the Cykelköket project, their link with their members, their community, partner organisations, the bike making/selling industry, etc. Later on that day a meeting of Cykelköket regular members took place, where another old-time member, Frederick, gave his insight into story behind the project and also gave a few very valuable tips on how to repair and maintain your bike.

3rd day – On this day several meetings took space with STPLN staff with topics concerning possible partnering and cooperation, about mutual interests, visions and resources, cooperation with other Swedish organisations and individuals, creation of network with kindred members, applying for mutually accessible funds, etc. Bertil and Josh (Joshua Ng) provided insight into current state of Malmo community and their perceptions of STPLN, common values and initiatives, cultural differences and how those are overcome/utilised, et. They also suggested, gave contacts and helped arrange meetings with organisations we deemed to be compatible and interested to cooperate with BRDO Cowork and TUZLA LIVE Association.

4th day – Carin, the leader of Återskapa project, took valuable time to talk about her background as a children teacher and environmental activism, as well as the history of her endeavour, present day-to-day activities and plans about how to expand the project and overcome current and recurring problems. It was interesting to learn about their efforts to bring local businesses/manufacturers on board and explain them the benefits of their programme. Moreover, it was great to hear about their link with local government, schools, kindergartens, partnering organisations, sponsors and other stakeholders. A thorough tour was given around the workshop space, materials and methods Återskapa uses to connect and involve all target groups. Carin extended invitation to a Återskapa and Cykelköket open community day that takes place every Sunday in STPLN.

STPLN enabled our representative to use the communal bike service for free, which was very helpful in getting around Malmo and attending meetings like the one organised with Kontrapunkt on this day (www.fb.com/KontrapunktMalmo). Hanna, their representative, was very honest in presenting their work and visions of future activities. The talk was about similarities and differences between work and experiences of our two organisations, whereby many similarities were immediately recognisable (cultural projects, youth as primary target group, exchange of activists). We talked about possible mutual EVS volunteering projects and other opportunities to access different Swedish and European funds.

5th day – This day was almost a day off. More precisely, a meeting took place with Hristo Valchev from ABC Sweden (www.fb.com/abcsweden), another organisation proposed by STPLN. Their projects range from urban gardens to youth centres and all of them are focused on sustainability whilst promoting gender equality, human rights, Fairtrade and positive environmental impacts. The talk was organised during the Cultural Festival in Lund (town just north of Malmo) where ABC was presenting one of their green projects in a local community centre. We discussed possibilities on starting mutual projects and transferring their know-how into Bosnian communities and educating our staff both home and abroad. Moreover, our attendance at the Lund Cultural Festival enabled further insight into Swedish culture, habits and their view about possible cooperation between our towns and countries.

6th day – The weather on this day was simply awful (not that it has been much better the previous days either J). It was Sunday and a regular time for an open community day inside Återskapa and Cykelköket workshops. Unfortunately the turnout was not as large as usual, because of the heavy rain, but those devoted ones who attended were very open for chat. There were too trapped by the rain J, so they relaxed and talked about what these workshops meant to them, how helpful STPLN is, etc. Several families that took part in the Återskapa space showed how and why their kids find that project very helpful in expressing the youngster’s creativity. Our representative had a chance to ‘use his hand’ and do some creative works in the Återskapa and also help with bike repair activities in Cykelköket.

7th day – The last day of the visit was also used up to the max – the flight was an evening one. The leaders of the STPLN’s Makerspace project were out of the office the previous week, so now was the time to chat with their representative Christian. He was very helpful in portraying the background of Makerspace/FBRKN project, its current activities and struggles together with some future plans they have. We talked about possibilities of cooperation, ways in which the know-how or tools could be acquired in order to open a Makerspace in Tuzla. Last, but not the least, STPLN was kind enough to arrange a meeting with an Arduino representative in a local SME incubator/accelerator. Quinn from the famous Arduino Company was kind enough to listen to our organisational background and visions on expanding the existing educational endeavours in the field of STEAM. We talked about their plans for developing greater educational projects inside Arduino’s vast network and ways in which our organisation can be involved in one of them. Finally, it was time to return to STPLN and say good bye to our great Swedish hosts.

All in all, the ECHN P2P visit has painted a realistic picture on our expectations about how easy, or not, would be to find a partner in Sweden. We have learned about their interests and practices and now we will do our best to meet them half way, i.e. find common ground for cooperation. Knowledge about how to design and run an open and successful coworking and creative space was also obtained, learning about interior design, management of facilities and equipment, creation of community, partnering with stakeholders etc. Overall, a positive impulse has been received which will be useful for our future work.

There were no significant obstacles present during the P2P exchange. Challenges were present – to learn as much as possible and meet as many people as possible. We believe that we have used up our time well. Many ideas appeared like: running a programme of exchange, both in knowledge and in people, all revolving around mutually interesting projects which are part of our regular organisational activities (bike kitchen, makerspace, recycle workshop, event management, cultural programme, staff training, etc.).

We warmheartedly recommend P2P exchange and ECHN network to all creative and communal initiatives in Europe!!!