Leiden: A Warm Welcome for Newcomers?

2 October 2018

“How do we welcome newcomers – status holders, expats, international students – to Leiden? This is the question that brought the guests together at the 16th edition of ‘Leiden at the table’. There are a lot of initiatives already in existence in this area, but how do we connect them to each other and how do we ensure that it isn’t just a one-time event?

At first sight there are many possibilities in connecting the initiative ‘We Are Leiden’ and the Pilgrim year in 2020. The year will be the 400th anniversary of The Pilgrims’ arrival in Leiden. The group of English Protestants (the Pilgrims) travelled to the free Leiden with the Mayflower ship and took residency there for 11 years to practice their faith. The project ‘We Are Leiden’ has been in existence for a mere 2 years, but connects perfectly to the same topic: how can we arrange for a city that is as inclusive as possible? How can we ensure that every newcomer feels welcome, just like 400 years ago? In short: how appropriate is the connection between the Pilgrims and ‘We Are Leiden’?

The attendees certainly see possibilities, but are concerned that there are differences between the groups of newcomers; an international student, for example, will stay here temporarily, while status holders and increasingly many expats want to settle permanently. However, the groups have a lot in common too: they often feel isolated within their own groups and miss out on having contact with the city. This is exactly why an expanded and sustainable platform or network is worth investigating. How could such a thing take shape?

House of stories
The delicious lunch prepared by the Syrian Katya Akkari gets the conversation started. The guests come to a consensus reasonably fast: to create a network like this, it is crucial to have a permanent location. A place where you can drink coffee, cook together, and where activities can be organized where the people’s stories are the center of attention. A place full of opportunities. Artists and journalists could also get an artist-in-residence spot here. The place will be much like ‘het Verhalenhuis Belvédère’ in Rotterdam or ‘het VerHalenHuis’ in Tilburg.

Remaining buddy system
Another great opportunity can be found in the expansion of the buddy system. A lot of initiatives already have the buddy system in use: ‘We Are Leiden’ has been pairing around 150 locals to newcomers for the past 2 years. Almost half of these buddies are still in contact with each other. Another example is the buddy project JAS by the municipality and ‘Vluchtelingenwerk’, which ensures that status holders can get to know the city and society with a buddy.

What Now?

The idea of an extended family that serves as a foundation for the joint plan is seen as exciting and promising, but how do you put this in action? Observation: before action can be taken, the ideas have to be mapped out and analysed. These projects must also be made more visible in order to increase the social impact.
Perhaps a community manager who stands between all parties and looks after the interest of all people has to be appointed. Marlijn Kok (Mayflower 400) and Pepijn Smit (We Are Leiden) will take initiative for a broader follow-up meeting in which these plans will be developed, and in which the target group itself is present. To be continued!

Present at the Table:

Ezra Bredius – assistant business leader Theatre Hotel Courage
Frits Bruins – former administrative advisor municipality Leiden, project leader ICORN (in cooperation with PEN Nederland)
Kathelijn van der Ceelen – Expat Centre Leiden
Tim van Dijk – Foundation JAS, municipality Leiden
Megchel van Es – policy officer Cultuur, municipality Leiden
Mirjam Flik – culture broker Leiden
Marlijn Kok – project coördinator Mayflower 400
Michel Nivard – Fonds 1818 Regio Haaglanden
Pepijn Smit – initiator We Are Leiden and artistic leader PS|theater
Lot Vegter – social entrepreneur, Nieuwplaatz, Liquid Society

Article in Dutch: http://www.magazine-on-the-spot.nl/leidenaantafel/we-are-leiden/