At the end of February, our selection committee awarded grants and technical support to three projects in the towns of Kunštát, Bílá Voda and ChudčiceEach project team will receive a grant of up to $20,000 (CZK 450,000), training workshops and extensive guidance from a community engagement professional. The jury also awarded technical support to a fourth project in Votice. During the ensuing two years, these teams in the selected towns will transform public spaces into community places.

The concept behind these projects is that people in a given town collaboratively plan a public space to meet their community’s needs and then build it together. Via provides seed funding and guidance in project management, meeting facilitation and community engagement from start to finish. The projects result in new or improved public spaces that can act as magnets, drawing people to interact and gather, and that improve local quality of life. The projects also develop environmental stewardship by leading participants to care for a specific site and strengthening their bonds to place and community. Participants learn to discuss community issues in a respectful way and reach consensus on issues that affect everyone – a skill that will be increasingly important as our natural resources diminish.

The program is made possible through the generous support of The Hamer Foundation, the Hornbach company, and other individual donors. The program media partner is the monthly journal “PRO města a obce” (FOR Towns and Municipalities).

 

The three supported 2020 projects are:

Kunštát: A Forest of Opportunity

The forest adjacent to the town of Kunštát conceals a hidden treasure. The rundown 1940s-era Jelínek lodge is just a few minutes’ walk from the center of Kunštát, known mainly for its castle and traditional ceramics. The “In the Sun” civic association, a group of capable and enthusiastic young parents, operates a forest preschool in the lodge with town support. The lodge is surrounded by sun-dappled forest and extensive clearings, and complemented by several unusual buildings, including a former bowling alley. With Via’s support, the group will invite town residents to help plan the future use of the entire site and build improvements together, to create new bonds to both place and people.

The Jelínek lodge site in Kunštát has the potential to become an environmental oasis for the local community. Key challenges will include sensitively managing the design process of the large, complex site, and bringing different groups from the town into the fold.

 

Bíla Voda: Baking bread to build community

How do you develop a community in a tiny village on the Czech-Polish border, where the 320 residents are a mix of seven different nationalities? Bíla Voda is a complex place: the original pre-war inhabitants were deported after WWII,Communists built an internment camp for nuns in the 1950s and it now houses a mental health hospital and an addiction recovery centre. The town leadership is eager to help current residents strengthen bonds to one another. It plans to use bread as the seed (or starter, in this case:)) . With Via’s support, the town will invite residents to plan and improve a garden next to the town hall, where it has just installed a bread oven and fruit drying equipment. The vision is a diverse community sharing bread, and their time and energy, to give each other strength.

Using something as ancient and lifegiving as bread baking could be a non-threatening way to bring diverse people together. That’s particularly important in this extremely remote village, where this approach the potential to inspire other communities in the region.

 

Chudčice: A site for everyone

There are a number of associations and groups in the small town of Chudčice, all of which need a place to hold community events. The town leadership has identified an overgrown site on the edge of town that has the potential to become just that place. They are eager to involve residents in transforming the site and learn, together, what it means to involve a broad array of citizens in designing and planning a shared space.

Local community groups already enhance the town by putting on events and running activities. Their next step is learning to listen to one another’s opinions about a public site, and creating a shared vision.

Votice: Opening a cloister garden

The quality of the applications was so outstanding this year that despite not having funding to fully support four projects, we decided to award guidance and workshops to a fourth project. In Votice, a cloister in the center of town had beenclosed for generations. A local civic association convinced the town to renovate it and now, with Via’s support, the group will engage residents in planning, redesigning and reopening the cloister garden as a central community place.

By letting people into the cloister garden, and giving them the chance to collaborate on its redesign, the Votice group can create a place that will serve generations to come and help community members learn to seek consensus about a place that matters.

The next step in the program is an introductory workshop for the project teams later this spring, where they will get a more in-depth look at what awaits them and begin working with our community engagement professionals. We look forward to bringing you updates as the projects get underway!