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The weekend of the 17th of August, we followed the invitation from Plan C and participated in a session on social centres at their festival Fast Forward. The aim of the session was to have a conversation about what it takes to found and run a social centre, to appreciate common problems in organising but also to inspire people in other cities and places to get together themselves.
Apart from us, there were representatives from the other social centres; from the Common House in London, Centro in Frankfurt/Main and the Cowley Club in Brighton. The social centres represented are diverse both when one looks at the city and the environment, in which they exist, but also with regard to their age. The oldest centre is the Cowley Club founded in 2002, while the newest one is Centro founded last year in 2017. Nevertheless, the exchange was fruitful, stimulating and motivating. For those who could not attend, we are summarising our contribution here.
The Nordpol although more a bar with more or less regular pub nights than a social centre still host a great variety of discussions, political talks, concerts, language courses of refugees, a weekly for free shop and provides a general infrastructure for left politics in Dortmund. The positive effects of its existence cannot be overstated; multiple other initiatives followed the model and within Dortmund the Nordpol is an integral part of the left landscape.
All that it took for the Nordpol to be founded was a relatively small groups of people coming together in 2012, collecting money and founding a registered association. After year of collecting, we started looking suitable places and pretty quickly we were lucky and spotted a pub in the heart of the Nordstadt, the northern part of the city centre, which is a neighbourhood struck with poverty heavily patrolled by the police because of the perceived high rate of street crimes, and which has high percentage of migrant workers intermixed with some students and left activists.
Of course not everything is perfect and runs smoothly in the Nordpol. Organising a social centres takes a lot of time and needs committed people. Bringing new people on-board is an ongoing process and a crucial part of keeping a social centre running. We also need to do a better job with regard to getting a foothold in the local community and reaching people beyond what is commonly called the left scene
All in all, social centres can be catalysts for change and even though they involve a lot of work, it’s worth it. The conversations during that session showed though the circumstances the social centres exist in are different often the same types of problems arise for instance who cleans the toilets? To build a future, we need to foster more of these conversations and learn from each other.