THE SEND INITIATIVE IN GRONINGEN
The Groningen Urban Pilot Project aimed to stimulate employment and economic regeneration in the Korreweg/Oosterpark district of the city and formed part of a larger physical urban renewal programme. The project, entitled SEND (Social Economic Network Development), focused on building a strategy that brought together the various local actors (private businesses, local government and community organisations), with the aim of simultaneously providing opportunities for the long-term unemployed and meeting the needs of local Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). This co-operative approach offered benefits and created synergy effects for all those involved.
The project was implemented over a four year period, from April 1992 to December 1996. The total original cost of the project was 3.180 MECU, of which 1.590 MECU (50%) was co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). However, extra funding was secured from local and national sources, allowing the total expenditure of the project to increase to 4.7 MECU. The amount of ERDF co-financing remained the same, with the percentage being reduced to 33.8%.
The SEND initiative was organised around two core actions:
These were supported by a number of related sub-projects, with a strong market orientation:
As well as the direct benefits to local businesses, the long-term unemployed and the target neighbourhood, an important element of the SEND approach was to develop partnerships and networks between the public, private and voluntary sectors involved in socio-economic regeneration. The success of the SEND initiative has, in part, been attributed to the creative and sustainable forms of co-operation that were developed between these organisations.
URBAN REGENERATION IN THE NETHERLANDS
The Netherlands has a long history of neighbourhood-based approaches aimed at tackling the complex problems of multi-deprived areas. In particular, two recent policies at national level have encouraged an integrated area-based approach to urban regeneration. The first, initiated in 1985, focused on integrated strategies to improve housing and living conditions, while putting strong emphasis on unemployment and related issues. This policy was called "problem-accumulation area policy" and was characterised by a strong involvement of residents' organisations and housing associations.
In 1990, the concept of "Social Renewal" in urban regeneration was introduced by the national government. The aim was to widen the focus of urban renewal activities, incorporating aspects of social welfare, as well as ensuring that local solutions were proposed for local problems.
It was against this background that the SEND project was proposed. The project was not just an isolated attempt to revive a deprived neighbourhood of Groningen. It was rather a logical continuation of the area's existing urban revitalisation strategy which aimed to incorporate the new concepts associated with "Social Renewal" and its attendant focus on particular target groups (the long-term unemployed, drug addicts etc.).
THE TARGET AREA
The city of Groningen is in the north of The Netherlands. It is the seventh largest city in the country, with 170,000 inhabitants. The project area, the Korreweg/Oosterpark district, is situated close to the city centre. Characterised predominantly by social housing, the area has been subject to significant depopulation since the mid-1970s. The current population stands at 28,000 inhabitants, with a high proportion of students and migrants living in the neighbourhood.
Although at the start of the project, the target area only accounted for 15% of the city's total population, the district held 25% of the Department of Social Services' clients, and 23% of the city's registered unemployed. Coupled with its housing stock, much of which was built before or just after the Second World War, the area typified a run-down, inner city neighbourhood in need of regeneration: both physical renewal of its built environment, and social renewal of organisations on behalf of the residents.
AIMS OF THE PROJECT
As with many integrated urban renewal schemes, the SEND project had a series of inter-related objectives. These operate at three levels:
Based on this set of objectives, the SEND project was implemented through a number of individual sub-projects, using a strategy that aimed:
THE EMPLOYMENT CENTRE
The Employment Centre was one of the central activities of the SEND project. It was opened in June 1994, in the heart of the target area, as a facility offering integrated services to long-term unemployed people. These were provided by staff from both the local organisation of employment services and the social services of the municipality. Two levels of service were offered to clients:
A "front-office" service that provided information, advice, a registration service and a list of current vacancies to those who drop in to the Centre;
In line with the project's original actor-related objectives, a series of internal activities within the Centre were also developed. These included training the Centre's personnel and actions to improve the internal organisation of the Centre. These activities continued through the lifetime of the project.
The Employment Centre has been enormously successful in terms of attracting the client group. Since opening, the Centre has exceeded its annual target for visitors, in-take, and matching long-term unemployed people to training and employment opportunities. Whereas the original visitor target was 15,000 per year, the Centre currently attracts over 25,000 people on an annual basis. Independent evaluations have shown that the Centre is better used, more appreciated and achieves better results for local disadvantaged groups than the central services located in the town centre which were all that were available prior to the project. Since the end of the project, the staff from the social services department have been withdrawn, owing to internal and budgetary problems within the municipality, but the Centre continues to offer employment services to residents and other unemployed people from the wider area.
Project for ex-psychiatric patients
As part of the work of the Employment Centre, a special sub-project was set up to help ex-psychiatric patients become re-integrated into the labour market. Institutions already existed in The Netherlands where this target group could find work in sheltered workspaces, but the SEND Employment Centre worked with mental health and disability organisations to find ways in which these people could leave sheltered facilities and gradually move into the regular labour market. By the end of the ERDF co-financing period, substantial progress had been made in bringing the two worlds of sheltered institutions and labour market services together, and in finding joint ways of helping the target group back to employment. The approach has proved promising and has continued to be funded by the partner organisations since the end of ERDF funding.
The Enterprises Network
The Enterprises Network was the second central activity of the SEND project. Its aim was to encourage the private sector to integrate long-term unemployed people into the labour market, by demonstrating the practical benefit which the unemployed could bring to their business. The Network was initially set up by a consultant, and was subsequently taken over by the "Groningen Small Business Center" for its implementation.
The first objective was to bring together businesses from the region into a network to create mutual benefits for the enterprises involved. Secondly, these companies were supported in their economic activity through individual and collective activities. The aim was to consolidate and, where possible, enlarge their activities in order to maintain or create employment.
The main individual activity involved visits to SMEs to gain awareness of their requirements and to provide information on the SEND approach. This was an important means of publicising collective activities, and of disseminating information about the project and its aims to the region's businesses. During the project's second full year of activity (1996), 50 visits were planned but only 112 were actually undertaken.
Direct support for the development of businesses was also given through so-called Practical Marketing Support. The aim of this scheme was to help SMEs adapt to the changing conditions of the economy, through workshops, market research and market promotion. A second area of direct support was through the so-called "BIT Stimulation Programme", supporting SMEs to develop their internal administrative systems through the use of new technologies. Both these services were delivered by drawing on the skills of long-term unemployed graduates who were employed as trainees by the Network.
'Collective' activities such as workshops and organised visits were also an important part of the Enterprises Network. In the second full year of the project's activities (1996), nine workshops were organised, with a total of 190 participants (the target having been 120 participants). Study trips to businesses were also popular, with four such trips being organised in the second year of the project (in the original plan, two trips were anticipated).
In addition, under this sub-project - but without any financial contribution from the ERDF - a new commercial facility was also developed, the so-called Insulinde Building. Once a school premises, it was converted into a business centre where newly-created enterprises could rent space at an affordable price. A local housing association bought the building and rented it to the "Small Business Center", the organisation responsible for the Enterprises Network, which manages the centre and which now provides premises for eight newly-started businesses.
The overall results of the Enterprises Network have been very good, with positive feedback from all those involved in its activities. Of the 30 unemployed trainees involved, 21 went on to find employment. The Network has continued to be funded by the municipality since the end of the project, it has now even been extended to include business in the North-West part of Groningen. The key to the success of the project is the perception that SMEs react far more enthusiastically to social regeneration approaches when they can see that, by drawing on the services of the unemployed, they can achieve concrete benefits for themselves.
THE ENTERPRISES SERVICE CENTRE
The Enterprises Service Centre was established in December 1994 as a supplementary part of the Enterprises Network project. The aims were threefold:
Two types of activities were undertaken: (a) long-term unemployed people were trained at the Service Centre, leading to a recognised qualification in the field of administration; (b) businesses were contacted to find out which administrative areas were in need of modernisation. As a result of these enquiries, a help desk and information evenings were established at the Centre where SME entrepreneurs or their employees could receive training in relevant software. Internet training was also provided.
This scheme proved particularly successful. Overall, 78% of participants in training courses run by the Enterprises Service Centre subsequently found employment. The businesses involved also reacted very positively to the services offered by the Centre. Following the success of the Centre in the pilot phase, it continued its activities on a permanent basis and established a "pool" of trained unemployed people, who had received training in secretarial and/or IT skills, to work for SMEs on a temporary basis, as and when the need arose. This pool now functions without public subsidy, and without any rivalry with fully commercial agencies which prefer to concentrate on larger companies which give guarantees on deadlines etc.
THE "FACILITATING METHOD"
The Facilitating Method developed from the activities of the Enterprises Network, although the emphasis here was on new, rather than existing, enterprises. The aim was to offer maximum support to businesses which were establishing new premises or operations in Groningen, while also employing other aspects of the SEND approach, in particular, finding job opportunities for the long-term unemployed and identifying new business opportunities for existing SMEs.
Tailor-made support was given to businesses moving into the area using a partnership approach that involved all the relevant local authority departments that dealt with setting up new enterprises (for example, granting licences, etc.) and included identifying possible sub-contractors and employees drawn from the unemployed. The approach combined the needs of each business with the broad aims of the SEND initiative.
This sub-project seems to have been a great success, proving itself to be both an innovative and a positive way of matching new businesses with potential employees. Two projects which benefited from this scheme were a new supermarket and a new shopping centre, involving a total of 163 potential vacancies and contact with 28 local suppliers. The central management of the supermarket chain was so impressed with the service and related publicity that they decided to adopt a similar formula when setting up future branches in other Dutch towns. Groningen is thus gaining a reputation as an innovative business location. In addition, through this sub-project, individual contact was made with over 20 other enterprises that were interested in the services offered.
The initiative has also encouraged a very efficient partnership between the private sector and the various local authority departments involved in the administrative arrangements surrounding new businesses. Overall the project proved so promising that the local authority decided to assume responsibility for its management after the ERDF co-financing period came to an end, incorporating it into networking activities linked to other target areas. The Facilitating Method is now implemented in Groningen as an element of the new national policy for larger cities in The Netherlands.
THE WHIB WORKSHOPS
The WHIB is one of the major training providers in Groningen. Its central office is situated within the project area. The organisation was therefore well positioned to be involved in the SEND initiative, and was entrusted with delivering a number of training courses to target groups, within the context of other sub-projects where needed. In addition, WHIB developed three new training courses for the target group of SEND aimed to respond to clearly identified market needs:
All three projects have been successful in attracting trainees, many of whom quickly went on to find regular employment. Over 50% of them already found jobs in 1995 and 1996. The courses continued to be held after the ERDF co-financing period ended. The Dismantling project, in particular, works closely with a second-hand shop which is located on the same premises. The project combines meeting the training and employment needs of the employees, offering cheap products to those on low incomes and incorporating good environmental practice.
ENVIRONMENTAL TRAINING PROJECTS
This project provided environmental training for the long-term unemployed in two sectors where there was local need for work. The aims were both to improve the living and housing conditions of the target area as well as to provide unemployed people with vocational training that could lead to regular employment. The two training schemes were:
Despite initial difficulties in finding the right participants, out of a total of 35 participants in environmental training projects, 16 have found regular employment after the training period. The Housing Environment Scheme has led to the development of a similar project focused on industrial estates rather than housing areas, which is now part-funded by the so-called Melkert money, national funding for wage-subsidy schemes.
CRIME PREVENTION TRAINING PROJECTS
The theme of these training projects was safety in urban areas. The SEND initiative developed three projects related to crime prevention and improving the neighbourhood's environment:
Overall, the project has had very good results, both in terms of trainees finding permanent employment and in terms of securing the continuation and commercial viability of the project.
LABOUR MARKET RESEARCH
This sub-project involved an analysis of the scope, structure and spatial distribution of unemployment in Groningen. The overall aim was to provide a detailed basis for future labour market policy in the city. A first study was published in 1994 giving a detailed overview of the structure and composition of unemployment, while a second study, published in 1995, involved in-depth interviews with 248 current and former long-term unemployed people. The aim was to explore issues of unemployment, job searching, and the paths followed to re-enter the labour market. Both studies have been used to influence employment policy. At a local level, the research has informed the "Action Plan for Employment and the Economy" for Groningen, which was published in 1996. The results of the studies have also been cited in national discussions concerning new employment policies for large towns in The Netherlands.
The benefits of the research have proved to be so extensive that the municipality has now provided funding for undertaking the survey on an annual basis.
A training project involving young people from ethnic minorities (juveniles who emigrated to the Netherlands at the age of 14-16) was envisaged in the original proposal, but was subsequently dropped from the SEND work programme due to the lack of match funding.
Summary of the Achievements of the SEND Initiative
The Department for Urban Planning and Economic Affairs was responsible for the delivery of the project. However, an important guiding principle in the management of the project was the need for flexibility on the ground. Those involved were keen not to impose their own ideas on the project which may have constrained its development. They therefore fostered a "philosophy of innovation" that would lead actors on the ground to develop ideas best suited to the local situation.
Project managers did not want to adopt a "top-down" approach. They believed that existing concepts and ideas should be encouraged to develop in new directions, using innovative approaches. Consequently, individual actions were developed by relevant organisations and services and were only guided and supported by the project developers. This approach has contributed to the overall success and sustainability of the project.
Steering groups were created for each individual action. They brought together all the relevant and necessary partners, including representatives from businesses and the local community. The overall success of the project can again be partly attributed to the synergy effects of these partnerships which have brought together public, private and voluntary organisations and which have created sustainable forms of co-operation between these actors.
In 1989, the City of Groningen was one of the founding members of the Quartiers en Crise network (although it withdrew in 1995). This is an EU co-financed network of cities from across the European Union which aimed to exchange experience and improve expertise on integrated approaches to regeneration in deprived urban neighbourhoods. Membership of this network brought an international perspective to the city, and helped to foster the European outlook that was further developed through the involvement in the Urban Pilot Programme. Throughout its lifetime, the project took a very active approach to international co-operation, exchange of experience and dissemination of information. This included presentations at international conferences, study trips and wide media coverage that stretched beyond the Urban Pilot Project network.
JOINT EVALUATION WITH BREMEN URBAN PILOT PROJECT
The SEND initiative in Groningen was implemented in close liaison with the ERDF co-financed Urban Pilot Project in Bremen. The two cities originally made a joint application to the European Commission for funding. Although they were two separate projects, both were linked through the common
objectives of trying new ways to stimulate training, employment and economic activity. Monitoring and evaluation of both projects were undertaken by the same independent consultant who was able to draw conclusions about the different approaches adopted to tackle urban development in both cities.
There have been a number of spin-offs from the SEND initiative. The methods tested in Groningen have also been applied in other cities, both in The Netherlands and elsewhere. In Hamburg, for example, a number of elements of the SEND approach have been used in training courses to combat social exclusion and unemployment. In particular, contact was made between a project target area in Hamburg, and the Enterprises Service Centre in Groningen. There are now plans to establish a similar Centre in Hamburg and implement it in co-operation with the Centre in Groningen.
A new approach
Although neighbourhood-based approaches to urban regeneration are common in The Netherlands, the SEND initiative built on previous experiences and took them one step further, through involving the private sector directly in "Social Renewal", and incorporating private businesses into new types of services that were being piloted in the field of employment promotion. The key to the approach was combining services to SMEs which enabled them to become more competitive with providing training, work experience and job opportunities for the long-term unemployed.
A new client group
Aspects of the Employment Centre were innovative in their approach, in particular the services offered to ex-psychiatric patients. Sheltered facilities already exist in The Netherlands that allow this target group to gain work experience, but this was nevertheless still within an institutional context. The SEND approach sought to find ways of fully integrating these people into the regular labour market, and thus enabling them to fulfil their full potential in society.
A new method
The Facilitating Method was an innovative formula to come out of the Enterprises Network. For the first time, businesses that were planning to open offices in Groningen were given help in linking their new premises with potential employees and suppliers from the local target area. The approach was so successful that it has earned Groningen the reputation of being an innovative business location.
The "bottom-up" approach
The project adopted a fully decentralised "bottom-up" approach, and a flexible framework within which a number of distinct but inter-related sub-projects were developed. This clearly worked to the benefit of the project and those involved, allowing the project to evolve at its own pace and to respond to needs as they arose.
It became clear throughout the lifetime of the project that each partner should be convinced that their participation in the project would be beneficial to their own organisation, and not create additional costs or use up other resources. The SEND initiative experimented with setting up a multi-service agency during the start-up phase of the project, to focus on the motivation of partners, and to discuss any problems that they foresaw. This was seen as a crucial way of winning the support of all partners if they were to be fully involved in the initiative.
The SEND initiative was particularly successful in sustaining the momentum of the project after the ERDF co-financing period had ended. This was attributed to a number of factors:
1. A local advisory board was established, comprising all relevant local actors. Over the lifetime of the project, these actors became familiar with the project and developed a feeling of responsibility for it. This seems to have been a decisive factor in building the necessary support for long-term regular funding after the end of the pilot phase.
2. The SEND initiative also demonstrated that continuous promotional activity is important in achieving sustainability. The success of a project and its positive outcome should be actively promoted, and remain on the political agenda. International activities can clearly help to raise the profile of a pilot project and to generate interest from local politicians. However, it was shown that publicity is easier to attain in a medium-sized city such as Groningen, where a pilot project is more visible, than in a larger city such as Bremen, where such a scheme appears less significant in the wider context.
3. From the beginning, individual projects were encouraged to consider how their activities might be financed after the EU co-financing period had ended. Projects were developed so that they would only need subsidies during their initial phase. Many projects had to demonstrate in advance that their income would gradually improve, and that they could eventually exist without, or with much reduced, subsidies. In the case of the Enterprise Service Centre this has been fully realised. This market-oriented approach greatly increased the chances of sub-projects continuing in the future.
4. Another key and related aspect of the SEND project has been the commissioning of reliable and independent evaluations. With the results of these studies, local organisations and politicians who were considering financing a project in the future, could make a judgement about the potential viability of supporting a sub-project after the pilot phase. Without such studies, local financiers would be less willing to support the project after the pilot phase.
For further information, please contact:
Mr Gerard TolnerGeograaf-Planoloog Gemeente Groningen Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening en Economische Zaken (RO/EZ) PGE-BEL Postbus 7081 NL-9701 JB Groningen
Tel: +31 50 367 83 10
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