9 May 2018

Tandem Fryslan – social innovation and creative exchange

Making cultural connections in a pre-Brexit Europe

Tandem Fryslan

Let me introduce you to Thillie. She’s my Tandem partner for a project between me and her and our two organisations, Walk the Plank and Keunstwurk, a venue in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands.

We’re both interested in stories, and what people from each city would like to tell people from the other city about their city (and also find out from them). I’d like to learn about how volunteering works in the Netherlands and Thillie would like to find out more about how Walk the Plank works with communities.

We’re going to do this in Tandem, with each other, but also with people from the local community around Cobden Works.  The end result will be a Fun Palace at the beginning of October and a story book. But how did this all come about?

The Tandem experience started in November with an initial meeting on the island of Terschelling, in the north of the Netherlands: 5 days spent together getting to know some fellow Europeans (selected from about 100 applications). For me it didn’t start so well as my flight to Amsterdam was over two hours late (not quite long enough to receive a free bottle of water as compensation) so I had to get the train and ferry alone from Leeuwarden rather than travel with everyone else. And I spent the last night in a prison in Leeuwarden (which fortunately has now been turned into a hostel so I was a guest rather than an inmate!)

But along the way I met 21 other people, formed a potential tandem with one of them, taught everyone the song Daisy Daisy (‘on a bicycle made for two’), and came back refreshed, excited … and tired. 7 tandems were selected from the 11 possible partnerships, with each tandem involving one person from Leeuwarden Frsylan (the European Capital of Culture 2018) and one person from elsewhere in Europe: in this case UK, Greece, Ireland, France, Ukraine and two people from Croatia. You can find out more information here Tandem Europe programmes

Last month was the kick off meeting in Croatia, where the photo was taken. We spent the first few days in Praptunjak and on Saturday evening all the residents in the village (about 500 people) were invited to the cultural centre/library to meet the Tandem participants. I think well over half of them came; we were shown around the most interesting museum I’ve been to; a choir of children sang, we had a barbeque … and learnt to play a local game called Balotee which is basically bowls played in a kind of ten pin bowling alley (it’s native to this part of Croatia).

We also attended a conference about socially engaged arts practice, were given a tour of Rijeka (European Capital of Culture 2020), learnt lots more about each other (particularly our tandem partner) as well as ourselves and laughed. We might even have had a beer, some food and found time for a bit of dancing!

You don’t go into the process with a set idea of what you want to achieve, or who you’re going to work with. It’s really refreshing – liberating – to be free in your thinking about working together in partnership. At a time when Europe seems to be getting smaller (both geographically and certainly in its mindset), the chance to work, play – and celebrate – with other people from different countries is warmly welcomed … creatively and artistically, but on a much deeper level as well. It’s reinforced some things I thought I might have known, changed my thoughts about other stuff, and generally made me realise that we might all be a bit different but culture is something we share inside and out.