This pilot project is about the transformation of the North of Heerlen by bottom up initiatives of citizens.
In the past, mining was part of the landscape, along with streams and beautiful castles. When that mining collapsed, there were also holes in the identity of Heerlen, particular in the North of Heerlen.
Instead of considering these places as "lost", the municipality saw a potential for the quality and vitality of the neighborhood. A bottom-up approach has been organized to involve those interested in these places, to stimulate ownership and the organizational capacity of citizens, and to change the relationship between local authorities and inhabitants. From 2016 until now there are over 50 initiatives in North Heerlen, from which 16 have been realised. The initiatives varies from 1. urban farming, to a bed and breakfast (2. tourism and recreation), to a life course forest (3. nature).
In parallel, in May 2016, the study/research 'Gebrookerbos Method' by Neimed (Limburg's knowledge hub for demographic thinking) was launched for a period of five years. The aim of this research is to gain insight into the portability and effectiveness of 'Gebrookerbos' as a possible generic method for other regions.
A 'brooker' is appointed from the start of the project. He’s an independent, neutral person and has a threefold role:
- supporting citizens' initiatives in their growth and development;
- engagement marketing (encouraging citizens to come up with ideas)
- sharing knowledge such as organizing thematic meetings and workshops.
Starting point is to encourage committed people to mobilise their own network and skills, and start interacting with their immediate circle of acquaintances (ABCD Method).
A close collaboration is established between brooker and researcher, which allows the project to be evaluated from the start.
On the other hand, a couple Account Managers work for the municipality and is the partner of the initiators to help them realize promising concepts within Gebrookerbos within the municipal organization . There are 7 account managers active at the moment.
The most vulnerable part of the process is the facilitation of micro-initiatives and communication, to the extent that they can be said to redefine the relationship between government and citizen. The key concepts are self-management, being creative with rules and daring to experiment.
Target group: all citizens and entrepeneurs who have initiatives for the North of Heerlen, unemployed citizens, low educated citizens, vulnerable population.