15. The Lieux Collectifs de Proximité network
15.1. Short description of the innovation
The network of “Lieux Collectifs de Proximité” (“neighbourhood community places” referred to hereafter as LCP) was created in April 2010 by seven local initiatives4 as a means to enable their development and sustainability, to professionalise their modes of working and secure long-term funding. In the framework of a collective project aiming at defining their common features and recognising the specificity of their work, a name and a definition were elaborated by the seven initiatives:
An LCP is a place that is open to all, with a strong identity, located in different neighbourhoods in Nantes Metropolis. It produces services aiming to strengthen social diversity, social ties and citizenship, improving living surroundings, reinforcing community dynamic. Therefore, it promotes inhabitants’ direct participation and cooperation with other local stakeholders, including public institutions. The LCP is an innovative stakeholder in its territory at the level of governance and delivered services. Its services are complementary to public institutions and it plays the role of a bridge between inhabitants and these institutions.
This definition enables very different initiatives to gather around common objectives. Their diversity concerns their location (city centre, middle-class neighbourhood, socially disadvantaged district, Nantes City suburbs) as well as the profile of their target groups (women, families, youth, children) and the content of the actions. We can underline the following activities as the main characteristics of the seven local initiatives:
- social inclusion and professional integration for disadvantaged youth and women, enhancing their professional know-how (sewing, dry-cleaning, child care, intercultural cooking, etc.);
- social and cultural development of children;
- reinforcing parenthood, strengthening ties between parents and children;
- creating exchanges of know-how (computer, cooking, art, etc.) and mutual support between neighbourhood inhabitants;
- developing an economic activity as a means to support collective projects: for instance, the production of food catering services, based on the know-how and participation of the women, enables financing of cultural activities aimed at reinforcing the sense of citizenship among immigrant women.
Although the LCP network was created by grassroots initiatives, public institutions and well-known non-governmental organisations have played a major role in its conception and development. Indeed, the specific local context of Nantes Metropolis Social and Solidarity-based Economy (SSE) policies and the existence of a close public-private partnership have contributed to the emergence of the LCP network. Nantes Metropolis has been developing proactive SSE policies for years. Recognised as major local non-governmental associations, in 2010 Ecossolies5 and Animation Rurale 446 participated in the first meetings between LCP leaders and worked with Nantes Metropolis to formulate the idea of funding the development of a network.
15.2. Conception and ways of addressing users
One of the main LCP initiatives’ specificities is to focus on conviviality as a goal in itself and as a way to achieve its objectives (social inclusion, professional integration, etc.). This is an important dimension of the LCP, created as friendly places where women and families feel at ease and not only as social services providers. The innovative dimension of the LCP lies in their capacity to create family-minded and friendly spaces of exchanges and meetings among people as a way to combat social exclusion and loneliness of people living close by. For instance, the cafés L’Equipage and A l’Abordage have become a point of reference for parents and isolated inhabitants experiencing temporary difficult situations: divorces, long-term unemployment, disability, recent arrival in the city, etc. Construction of social ties is the key element for helping women in difficult social situations: “poverty without social ties, it is hell”.
National and local studies have shown the increasing number of people who do not have recourse to their rights, either because they are not aware of them, or because they have given up on the possibility of gaining access to their rights (discouragement when faced with the complexity of administrative procedures, loss of self-esteem, stigmatisation effects, etc.). This issue constitutes a major challenge for LCP initiatives. Indeed, the LCP leaders feel that the inhabitants they meet lack confidence in public institutions and this problem is more acute in the socially disadvantaged districts with a high concentration of migrants and French families with foreign origins. Each LCP initiative has developed networks with local social institutions (Family Allowance Office), associations and professionals (jurists, psychologists, etc.), so that it can orientate or support users to contact the right body, provide inhabitants with information on their rights (domestic violence, immigration law) and develop their capabilities to overcome difficult situations (arrival of the first child at home, divorce). Nevertheless, as far as mediation between users and public administrations is concerned, the key innovative dimension of the LCP initiatives lies in their capacity to welcome newcomers in a family-minded and convivial atmosphere, which enables users to re-create social ties and self-confidence, disclose social difficulties and then find adequate solutions, in relation to local partners.
The LCP initiatives all aim to develop co-productive approaches that build on the resources of the addressees. The activities developed by each LCP are based on the know-how, skills and preferences of the members and users willing to commit themselves to the association: production of food catering services, organisation of thematic workshops (well-being, music, travelling, sewing, etc.). They also promote empowering approaches for their members, highlighting their skills (either parental, either concerning a specific professional field) thanks to workshops organised with the support of professionals.
Several LCP initiatives specifically address professional integration of women considered as disqualified into the labour market. They promote a global approach of social support to women and families, which may be considered as innovative in the national and local context. Indeed, two main approaches towards social and professional inclusion may be distinguished. On the one hand, national and local institutions are developing programmes addressing low-income single parents for whom access to child care services is the main obstacle to labour market inclusion (see innovation II above). On the other hand, the LCP initiatives integrate the professional dimension into more open support for women where gaining self-confidence, highlighting their own skills, developing their social networks, resolving concrete problems, such as mobility and access to transport, health, social rights, knowledge of the French language and culture, are as important as child care, when considering the return to work of women in difficult social situations and disqualified on the labour market.
15.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
After a first period of development, the LCP initiatives are in the process of clarifying their working methods in line with the classical path generally taken by voluntary organisations. Today’s LCP leaders were among the founders and their personal commitment was a determinant factor in the project’s success. At the same time, the volunteers are playing an important role in the working organisation with tasks such as reception of users, organisation of workshops, administrative work, etc.
Securing professional positions, professionalising the modes of working and strengthening the users’ participation are the main current challenges. First of all, over the years most of the LCP initiatives have obtained public funding for one or several professional positions (an average of 2.7 full-time equivalent per LCP). Nevertheless, public funding is limited in its duration (2 or 3 years according to the contracts). It is important to note the precarious professional situation of the LCP professionals: absence of long-term perspectives for themselves and the structure, low level of salaries in comparison with the responsibilities and skills they have, quantitative deficiency of paid staff members in comparison with the overload of work. It has contributed to difficulties inside the structures: professional burn-out, difficulty in continuously giving time and attention to users when administrative work becomes more and more time-consuming. Secondly, it raises the question of the respective roles of volunteers and professionals in the LCP organisation. Until now, the separation between volunteers and paid staff members’ skills and responsibilities has not been very strictly defined in the LCP organisation. The LCP are assessing the limits of such an organisation and expressing a need for more professional skills. The priority is today to recruit professionals whose function is to support volunteers’ participation, whose skills enable to mobilise volunteers on the LCP project and coordinate them around common objectives and activities.
In order to develop its sustainability, the LCP initiatives are developing diversification strategies and sources of funding. All seven LCPs have succeeded in mixing public, private and non-monetary resources. Public funding7 constitutes the main resource of the LCP (from 58-92 per cent of their budget). Four LCP have private resources (an average of 30 per cent of the budget) thanks to the services they sell to users. Important commitment of volunteers is highlighted in three LCP.
In this context of fragile internal organisation, the LCP network is used as a tool for securing professional positions and developing longstanding sustainability. Since its creation in 2010, the LCP network has been functioning as a loose and flexible structure, dedicated to strengthening the organisational capacities of the seven initiatives. We can underline the organisation of training sessions and exchanges of experiences between LCP leaders. Nevertheless, the main achievement of the LCP network is the decision of the City of Nantes and Nantes Metropolis in May 2013 to secure and fund the directors/coordinators’ positions for the seven LCP on a long-term basis. The intense capacity-building process initiated in 2011 by the network has led to the official recognition of the LCP as innovative stakeholders and to additional funding, in particular for the most urgent needs: salaries and premises. Furthermore, the City of Nantes and Nantes Metropolis have agreed to fund a “mutual support platform” with the recruitment of two professionals (support to the directors in the performance of their multiple functions, fundraising, bookkeeping, etc.).
15.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The LCP network plays a classical network role, which is to make its members more visible and legitimate them. The network creates much more important opportunities for dialogue and negotiation with public institutions than those each LCP could have on its own. It enables the LCP leaders to make their voices heard and advocate about common problems they face, such as lack of premises and the precariousness of professional staff. They also recognise that belonging to the network and being in contact with well-established NGOs permitted them to reduce possible misunderstandings with political representatives (better understanding of the political world’s codes of conduct and decision-making processes’ slowness, in contrast to the field-based realities they face in everyday life).
The main innovation of the LCP network is its capacity to have obtained cross-cutting funding for the LCP network as a whole, especially in the national and local context of public funds’ reduction and the economic crisis. Indeed, the City of Nantes and Nantes Metropolis agreed to finance the sustainability of the LCP network, which means that each of the seven LCP receives long-term funding because they belong to the network and independently of the sectorial policies that may be concerned by each LCP’s activities. It recognises LCP’s added value in developing cross-cutting approaches in the same place (parenthood and children, citizen participation, social mediation, professional integration, etc.).
In addition, the strength of the network lies in its capacity to maintain collective negotiations, which has helped to enhance its autonomy and legitimacy with public institutions and the initiatives themselves. The collective dimension of the LCP network’s advocacy introduced, for public institutions, insecurity in the decision-making process and potential loss of power. The City of Nantes is not used to negotiating funding for associations on a multilateral principle and attempted to obtain bilateral decisions or to divide LCP initiatives. However, the LCP leaders, supported by Ecossolies and Animation Rurale 44, kept on defending a collective position towards public institutions.
It raises the issue of the LCP network’s governance, the role of the LCP initiatives’ Boards of Administration, absent from the negotiation process, and the independence of the LCP network from public institutions. The new mutual sharing platform should be coordinated by a governance body, in which the City of Nantes and Nantes Metropolis intend to participate along with several LCP leaders, Ecossolies and Animation Rurale 44 representatives. Although this model of collaborative governance can be viewed as innovative in its capacity to secure a public-associative partnership, it raises the issue to what extent LCP non-professional members, whose participation is supposed to be at the core of the projects and guarantee the initiatives’ collective dimension and autonomy, are considered (or not) as legitimate and key stakeholders in the governance of this kind of regulation body.