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Islands of cooperation and hope in Miskolc

Jan 24, 2024 | News

Bábonyibérc – Photo: Gábor Osgyáni

Poverty has been a long-standing problem in Miskolc, and experts agree that it affects an increasing proportion of the population. Rehabilitation of deprived neighbourhoods and the integration of their inhabitants into society is one way to combat it. The Central European city has won a grant from the European Union to develop potential solutions that focus on the integration and active participation of local  population. Under the motto “Miskolc shall be a place for everyone”, the 4IM project aims to create opportunities for the development of underprivileged neighbourhoods and to help residents re-enter the labour market. The project focuses on two neighbourhoods: Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc, once thriving parts of the city that have since suffered from chronic poverty in the face of Miskolc’s steady deindustrialisation over the past decades. Through the project and the municipality’s efforts, these neighbourhoods have been turned these into tiny islands of hope for the city.

There are around 10,000 people living in the 16 districts of Miskolc in need of development, of which around 1,000 live in the areas selected for the “Miskolc shall be a place for everyone” project. The city’s rehabilitation plan provides an opportunity for residents of Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc to improve their living conditions via community engagement, outreach activities, improvement in the delivery and access to social services, and employment-promotion opportunities.

Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc

Miskolc was part of a network of wine-growing farming towns stretching from Gyöngyös to Tokaj-Hegyalja. These cities were once the most important links in the chain of settlements in the zone where the North Hungarian Mountains and the Great Plain meet.

Historically, Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc have figured among the 14 vineyards recorded in Miskolc. The former was the smallest nonetheless, its importance was manisfest shown by the fact that in the 18th century, the Greek Catholic bishop kept a wine-cellar there, among more than 300 others. Both districts were characterised by huts built next to the cellars by the locals which illegally offered food and drink and created a sort of rural slum. In the central valley of Bábonyibérc the Bábonyibérc-Újtelep housing project was established to house people in difficulty. After the First World War, most of its inhabitants – including refugees – lived in poorly-equipped, government-built huts that dotted the banks of the Pece stream.

Although the wine cellars of both areas played an important role in the social life of the citizens of Miskolc in the first half of the 20th century, the neighbourhoods became increasingly a hub for marginalised people.

Struggle out of hopelessness

“The difficulty with the development plans for these neighbourhoods is that no accurate official statistics for these parts of the city are available. Both districts have a predominantly disadvantaged or severely disadvantaged population. Additionally, there is constant movement in and out of the two neighbourhoods which makes working there exceptionally difficult” says Andrea Krank, head of the Resource Centre, an organisation set up by Miskolc to tackle the problem.

The people living in Tetemvár and Bábonyibérc have openly expressed that they feel worse off than those in other parts of the city: despite their proximity to the city centre residents have consistently had difficulty accessing basic public services – including health services, ambulances, etc. Paradoxically, they find it difficult to integrate into mainstream society despite their geographical proximity to the downtown area.

Few people participate in formal education and those that do frequently drop out before finishing. This has a profoundly adverse impact on their ability to access the job market as they lack not only the technical but also the social skills required to function in the workplace.

As part of the project, professionals will build contacts with local residents to assess the depth of the problems. One of the most pressing underlying issues in the two neighbourhoods is housing.

“Talking to the local population has shown that in nearly all households there is the desire to leave. Their life is made even more difficult by the fact that official ownership of most of the properties remains unclear, exacerbated by the very low market value of the houses. This makes many people’s dreams of creating better, safer and more secure housing for their families hard to realise, but we are here to try to keep that hope alive,” says Andrea Krank.

Painting: Sándor Gáspár – Miskolc Tetemvár

The centre of hope

In an initiative that is still a novelty in Hungary, a “Community Coach” has been invited to set up territorial working groups in both districts. These groups are made up of local residents, social workers, municipal representatives, a family support worker, a case manager, field workers and other NGO staff.

The Resource Centre, consisting of 11 professionals, coordinates the field work by targeting the key problems of the two neighbourhoods. One of the main objectives of the Centre is to build support, and maintain the motivation of local residents to encourage them to take action for themselves at community level. The Centre’s long-term mission is to improve the quality of life and increase employment-opportunities.

Krank concludes: “The Resource Centre has achieved promising initial successes in community-municipality cooperation. Trust and relationships with local people have been established whereby professionals have developed service packages tailored to the needs of the households. We work as a team to connect and coordinate the services of utility providers, municipalities and NGOs, so that professional assistance and problem-solving moves faster and becomes more efficient. Another recent success is the launch of employment counselling which has helped numerous local residents find jobs.”

Public meeting in Bábonyiérc

Source: Photo by the Social Innovation Resource Centre