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First stop Middelfart. What happened during the VERSO Conference?

At the end of May 2012, Middelfart Municipality was first stop on a tour round Europe to collect best practice cases of how to use social voluntary work as a means to reinforce the employment situation in Europe.

On 30 May, a delegation of VERSO – Volunteers for European Employment – steering group members, knowledge partners and political board members from eight different European countries gathered for the first European conference on volunteerism in Middelfart, Denmark. The international guests were picked up in bus by the Middelfart delegation in Copenhagen and brought safe and soundly through the scenic Danish landscape to the island of Funen. Crossing Funen to its western point – Middelfart – the European guests passed through the birth town of Hans Christian Andersen. However, minds were set on the opening of the Kick-off conference in the evening, and a tight schedule of discussing unemployment challenges in Europe lay ahead. So already on the bus, guests shared knowledge and formed cross-European friendships. By the time of arrival in Middelfart, the local guide had made sure everyone was well-informed about Middelfart’s strategies for being a ‘green growth municipality’, which include a famous energy-saving project involving public buildings and street lights and an expansion of the infrastructure, which will create both jobs and enhance the quality of the area in the eyes of newcomers and local businesses.

Think outside the box …

The motto 'think outside the box’ set the agenda from the beginning of the three-day conference at Hotel Comwell Middelfart. The programme offered a combination of meetings, workshops and fieldtrips that also allowed the guests to see the local area.

The conference opening continued this focus on inventive thinking and looking for alternative ways to solve unemployment issues in Europe. The Mayor of Middelfart Steen Dahlstrøm explained: “We must think outside the box if we are going to solve Europe's unemployment problem.” To highlight his point of view, the Mayor introduced the Danish comedian, actor and social activist Jacob Haugaard to help open the conference.

Mr Haugaard has much experience in going about things in new ways. Again and again he has proven that a different approach to things will get you far. He told about changes in his life including going from being ‘Crazy Jacob’ to running for a seat in the Danish Parliament and actually getting enough personal votes to become a member of the Parliament. He has also much experience of volunteer social work through the Danish Muscular Dystrophy Foundation (Muskelsvindfonden) and the yearly concerts that are held for the benefit of the foundation.

Field trips: four types of volunteerism in Middelfart.

Mentors who help unemployed find an internship or encourage youths to complete their education; these are just some of the tested strategies Middelfart Municipality shared with Europe, when participants from the eight EU countries in VERSO met in Middelfart from 30 May to 1 June 2012.

Four field trips:

  • The guests visited the eldercare sector in Middelfart. Here caretakers serve as mentors for people in internships and help them improve their employability and be able to hold a regular job.
  • Another field trip was a visit to an old farm house in the energy village of Føns. Here the citizens have come together in corporation with Middelfart Municipality and examined their homes looking for possible energy saving potentials. The citizens have agreed to renovate the houses accordingly and pay for the work with money saved on energy - thereby also creating more jobs for the workers doing the renovation. The bonus is a better in-house climate, lower energy costs and more jobs.
  • The third trip vent to a project called ‘Stay healthy all your life’. In this project, local government workers visit people who are on incapacity benefits and talk about their situation and health. The goal is to help those who want to improve their life quality by introducing them to new social networks and cafés driven by volunteers from Red Cross Middelfart. Hopefully more people will improve their quality of life and some may get an internship or a job.
  • On the forth field trip, the golden egg of ESCO was introduced. ESCO is a project-model for energy savings in buildings. Middelfart Municipality is famous in Denmark for being the first to renovate 100 public buildings for free. A private partner guarantees energy savings and the municipality invests in the project and pays for this investment with the savings on the energy budget.

The Municipality of Middelfart and Aarhus University wish to highlight the importance of volunteerism in the fight against unemployment through this new European development project. Unemployment has been increasing throughout Europe, and innovative solutions are necessary if the problem is to be solved. Middelfart shared a number of good solutions with participants during the three-day conference. Next stop is Greece, where Middelfart hopes to learn about other new ideas to fight unemployment.

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Revised 2012.06.19