Ildiko Simon (Cromo Foundation, Hungary) visits Nick Connaughton (Arcola Theatre), Gerry Proctor (Engage Liverpool) and Kate Stewart (We Make Places CIC) in United Kingdom in March 2017.
In the past I have been working with British organisations and experts in many projects. I have always felt that there are both similarities and significant differences between the Hungarian and the British cultures. When we met in Berlin at the CitizensLab Network Meeting in June 2016 and discussed Brexit I felt strongly that we have a lot in common: In Hungary, the government pushes Hungarians to criticise the EU and its policies. Thus, I was very interested in what my British colleagues have learnt from the Brexit process and from the sad ending of this story.
At the same time our organisation Cromo Foundation deals with training and development. It experimented with art and community development many times, but with very limited success. I was looking for potential solutions and partners involved in cultural projects to bring some fresh perspective into our projects and activities.
Finally, during the CitizensLab Network Meeting in Brussels, Kate and I started developing a Capacity Building toolkit. Therefore, meeting Kate, Gerry and Nick was also important for me to become a “test band” for using some of the tools Kate and I have been working on, namely Competency Matrix, Training Needs Assessment Questionnaire and Outline for Case Studies.
I spent four days in UK and during these days I got only positive impressions. In particular I built some new connections via Nick who introduced me to people at the Carnival Conference in Hackney. This lively conference was full of hands-on experiences from all over the world. I met Paxi, the CEO of the Global Carnival Centre, who was looking for Hungarian partners for his next project proposal. I also met an organisation that deals with prejudices against minorities via music and dance. We have a local partner here in Hungary with whom we can build a three-party partnerships in the very near future.
What always surprised me whenever I met British or other nationalities from Western Europe is the natural way of thinking of a community as a concept. In Hungary, this term has to be always explained: who is the community, where do you belong to, what to do with being a community member. It is always a challenge to understand it.
What also surprised me are the historical similarities between UK and Hungary. Both countries are very proud of their culture; both had losses in the past: UK lost its colonies, while Hungary lost huge territories after the World War I in Trianon, France. None of the two countries could overcome the loss fully. There are many negative emotions left. Both countries do not feel like they are really deeply belonging to Europe. That is why the negative propaganda against EU can easily crush the trust in the EU institutions and decision-making.
The visit to the UK partners brought me much more than I expected. I supposed I would hear stories and would take part in concrete activities, but I came back with partners and a testing band project for probing the Capacity Building toolkit, which brought Nick, Gerry, Kate and me together.
I was especially impressed by the meeting in Liverpool. Therefore, I shared my experiences with my colleagues at the Cromo Foundation when I came back from the trip. During the meeting, regional mayor candidates had a very strong and smart debate on the future of the Liverpool Region. This regional mayor position is very new in Liverpool: for the first time people will elect mayors not only on the local, but also on the regional levels. Because of the insights from the debate we switched our way of thinking from “we cannot talk to people who think differently” to “we must talk to people who think differently”.
Besides that, a discussion with Kate, Gerry and Nick on Brexit made me change my views on the question whether it is still worth to talk to people who are very against EU or not. Subsequently, our foundation started to revise its strategy which we developed in the past 7 years, on what to do to prevent Huxit. First, we have to map out in what extent people think differently and reasons behind EU scepticism. Second, we must organise meetings and discussions with people who have very different opinions about EU integration. Finally, we should focus on organising cultural events and festivals to bring people together and discuss about historical misunderstandings and also about facts and believes in that respect.
Ildiko Simon is a social politician and psychodrama therapist. She has been working as a trainer and in organisational development for 25 years. Her organisation Cromo Foundation established in 2002 aims to contribute to local and regional cooperation of non-governmental, business and governmental actors to strengthen a participatory, active, democratic society in Hungary.