Location: Harkujärve, Estonia
Coordination: Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Social Start-Up Biography
On this page we want to document the Harkujärve Community Centre and its development into an independent social start-up. To take you with us on this journey, we update this interview diary every other month. If you have further questions, feel free to contact the local coordinator (see above). If you want to learn more about certain terms you may encounter here (such as "micro project", "social start-up", "Accelerator Team" and the like) please check our "the ideas behind the project" section.
|Choose your issue of the Harkujärve Community Centre biography:
DEC 2019 FEB 2020 APR 2020 JUN 2020
Tell us about your Micro Project in three sentences!
Our goal in Harkujärve is to develop the church into a community centre, into a stable social enterprise. This is the "roof", this is our micro project in SEMPRE Accelerators. Under this roof, we aim at developing and stabilising several activities, such as the work with ex-offenders or the setup of a library. These services should help to sustain our community centre.
Who are the persons behind the initiative?
The project builds upon the joint effort of three groups, Firstly, there are core members of our church. Secondly, committed "end-users" play an essential role, i.e. individuals representing the local congregation. They are in particular involved in the different services that our social enterprise should offer. Thirdly, we engage experts whenever specific expertise is needed.
What are your long-term goals?
Our primary goal is, of course, to develop the community centre into a social enterprise: our final vision is to establish the organisation as a new legal entity that unites old and new services under its roof. This process should be driven by service users, i.e. members of our congregation. Together, we are working on the following challenges during SEMPRE Accelerators: (1) How to engage more people into the everyday activities at the community centre?, (2) How to improve the funding situation for our projects from a strategic perspective?, and, (3) How to increase the involvement of the local community to ensure that the process is actually driven and "owned" by the community.
Which topics do you currently address in your micro project?
In January, we further worked on our vision of developing a legal entity. In practice, this means that we identified and discussed possible fields of activities and services of the community centre, potential organisational structures as well as management and leadership models. When it comes to the individual services that should be delivered by the social enterprise, we reached a significant milestone with the opening of TEEVIK, a tea room attached to our reading room. Many community members expressed their interest in such an offer and contributed in several ways – be it through making furniture or as volunteers who keep the service up-and-running.
What were your recent challenges?
One of our challenges in the work with the community members who want to co-create the new community centre with us is that we sometimes still struggle at translating their enthusiasm into concrete activities. We are thrilled to see so much support and commitment on the end-user side, yet when it comes to assigning specific responsibilities and actually committing to these responsibilities, we still need to improve our joint work.
What are your short-term goals for the next months?
In the coming weeks and months, we want to focus on questions of financial stability, and we want to stabilise the newly established services of our future community centre – in particular TEEVIK. The issue of income has been addressed at our January meeting. We discussed our own training needs in this regard and agreed on further developing and concretising our plans.
All over Europe we are faced by the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily life. What were your recent achievements before the pandemic spread?
We were making good progress towards our goals of an improved organisational setup. For instance, we managed to concretise our plans for registering a new legal entity. We expect to have the registration finally approved at some point around autumn, no later than November 2020. Moreover, we worked on our short-term goals as outlined during our last interview – namely stabilising TEEVIK and developing ideas for financial sustainability. We had achieved to connect with us new active leaders of the services, previous end-users. Regarding TEEVIK, we were, for example, planning a training course to improve our own skills in market research. This training was scheduled for April or May, and unfortunately it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic – like so many of our other activities.
In how far does the pandemic influence the work in your Accelerator Team?
Estonia, like almost all other parts of Europe, is basically locked down. On 12 March, all gatherings were prohibited and leaving ones' home is not allowed without a good reason. Our community church remains open and we try to work as good as we can. One of the main challenges that we want to address is how to involve new community members under those conditions and keep the existing ones. Fortunately, Estonia is very well developed in terms of IT, even to the elderly the computer world is not unfamiliar. At the moment, we are testing different platforms for virtual meetings. The small initiative group is learning and teaching others how to use the platforms. Everything related to structural and organisational questions has to be discussed via IT at the moment. Unfortunately, we cannot meet stakeholders or representatives of ministries and authorities face-to-face, yet this would be essential to keep their interest and advance our long-term strategic goals. We try to continue digitally as much as possible – luckily, all members of the Accelerator Team have computer access, unlike in some of the other SEMPRE Accelerators start-ups. Despite the unfavourable situation, we see this also as a chance to improve our IT skills and integrate them into our work once the pandemic is over. We want to make up for some of the trainings and courses through webinars, but not all issues can be covered digitally.
What about the services offered by your social start-up during this situation?
One very big issue is how to help families with children with severe disabilities, which is one of the services offered by our community centre. We had many discussions with parents, caretakers and decision-makers. In many cases, the pandemic forces parents to stay at home. However, they still need a bit of "breathing time ". This is why we decided to continue our caretaking services at the children's homes in a way as good and safe as possible.The situation with our services for (ex-)offenders is different now: before the pandemic, the starting points of our work were visits to prisons or shelters, with pastoral counselling and visits of support persons. Now, these services continue via phone only. Still, our support persons meet inmates at the prison gates when they get released.
During our last interview you told us about the different services of your social start-up during these times of crisis. How did the situation develop in the meantime?
Apart from our services for (ex-)offenders and children with disabilities, about which we talked in the previous interview, the general situation is now that our church doors are open six days a week and it is possible to organise face to face meetings again, following certain hygienic rules. The reading room (which you can see on one of the pictures below) is open again, books can be exchanged without physical contact. Our pastoral coounseling is ongoing, which is ever more important during these difficult times. A local elderly home saw a COVID-19 case and the need for counseling was high, also for relatives of the inhabitants. In generall, we try to see the situation as an opportunity and train people to be actively involved with the help of IT.
All these services are united under the roof of the community centre that you co-create with the local community. How is the progress here?
One of our main tasks at the moment is to keep contacts and not to lose the people that contribute to the creation of the community centre. Thus, the members of the Accelerator Team are looking for opportunities to translate the life of the community centre into the virtual world. Many of our volunteers are active on Facebook and participate in local news groups. Our aim is to become a virtual centre as long as these insecure times continue. In the future, once everything is „back to normal“, we might keep these structures and have an integrated virtual and physical community centre. Moreover, we started working out the statute of the future community centre and we used the time of quarantine to start working on a business model canvas, which should help us securing the financial stability of the centre.