Mirafiori Nord neighborhood is recognizable as a working-class district with its many public housing units, and also because of the contrast with the center of Turin, which is very grandeur, with its cobblestoned streets and arched sidewalks. It is a neighborhood that has limited commercial and other economic activities and struggles with problems like unemployment, crime, poverty, and ill-maintained public spaces and buildings. In this struggling neighborhood, Cascina Roccafranca has proved by its actions, that it is the bind that holds the community together in many different ways. It is a place that helps the community rise economically, socially, culturally, and physiologically. This community center has acted as the heart of community building and individual growth for the people of Mirafiori Nord, hosting all kinds of community activities and social programs. The local community is involved in running as well as benefiting from the programs initiated by Cascina Roccafranca.
“It is a unique space because it is a community center in the true sense. It has old people, physically challenged people, all of them were present in the converted farmhouse and everyone was doing something. The older people were doing readings for a play. A group of retired old people gathered once a week to produce a play. The director was the same age them. It was a beautiful thing to see such an active community.”
Cascina Roccafranca is a community center in the true sense, as it is welcoming to all members of the community, be it elderly, physically challenged, youngsters, or minorities of the neighborhood. The place is busy all day long with its community-led activities. From yoga classes led for physically challenged kids to the advertisement of community activities and news on the boards, the place is all about catering to community needs, rather than external actors coming together for cultural and social dialog. Cascina Roccafranca has settled in the neighborhood in such a subtle and at the same time obvious manner that it seems to have been a part of the community forever. It is a hangout space for the elderly members of the community, the freshwater filling station in the building has become a place for social interaction and meeting place, and a restaurant is an active place for interaction between people from ages. Unlike many other community centers, the focus of Cascina Roccafranca and its activities is evenly distributed among people from age groups.
“For us, a challenge was to imagine a space that could be used on the same day by users of different ages. Space is shared, and everybody needs to feel home but at the same time it has to be adapted to everybody’s needs.”
Stefania de Masi
As the whole world came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cascina Roccafranca was among the first type of places to be closed. However, after being closed for several months as a result of the lockdown, it reopened, but this time, to fight the pandemic for the community and help it recover from its aftermath. Cascina Roccafranca was converted to a food distribution node by the City of Turin, it became actively involved in distributing food packages to families. Not only did it cater to families with children under 6 years of age, with packages of food, books, toys, and any good necessary for kids, but also started a delivery service too for helped elderly and physically challenged people. Although its usual activities were stopped during the lockdown, it organized some workshops and games for the community, following the SOPs, to ease the situation.
…as our neighborhood has a high number of old people, we also had a high number of people passing from Covid (also people that used to just hang out in the CR). We also saw many people with worsening mental conditions: they may have survived the lockdown but they now have mental problems after months of isolation. CR thus started a series of activities to make people connect again via digital tools (social media, and chat groups). Unfortunately, we have noticed that many old people are still scared to leave their homes and meet others in a more physical context, and they are not coming back to visit the Cascina.
Stefania de Masi
Cascina Roccafranca adapted to the situation to serve the community to such an extent that it started a counseling desk, working on psychological issues and with victims of violence, which saw a rapid increase in the whole world during the lockdown. Even after the lockdown was lifted, it gradually started its usual cultural and social activities outdoor but paid special attention to those families that needed the most support during the lockdown. In past months, Cascina Roccafranca started a job consultancy desk to cater to those people who lost their jobs during the lockdown and help them not only through food distribution but also in the long term.
Through its resilience and quick response in the time of crisis, Cascina Roccafranca stood by the community in good times, as well as in the time of crisis. Its adaptability and flexibility were put to test when it was converted into a food distributing node and offered other services for the community like counseling and job opportunities. Using its resources, skills, and networks, it has maintained its presence as a community center in Mirafiori Nord by catering to the community’s needs in this hard time. Not only have they managed to help people economically, socially, psychologically during the lockdown, but also after the lockdown was lifted. It carried out with its regular cultural and social activities but kept providing their support to the people who were still struggling.
…we understand the value of our work: during Covid, when we were not able to continue our activities, people missed us a lot. When we could reopen again it was beautiful to see the importance of our work. Frequently, social and cultural life is seen as a secondary thing, not so necessary to live but this pandemic could show to everyone our importance. It is obvious that people need food and jobs as a primary necessity, but also a social and cultural life is relevant to everyone. Our next challenge will be to make people come together again after the last year of isolation.
Stefania de Masi
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