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Paul Bert Network Centre: a world away

Nouvelle-Aquitaine - Bordeaux
Social ties in priority neighbourhoods

Laundromat, cyber café, play space, philosophy café, choir, public baths and even low-cost housing! These are just a few of the activities offered by the Paul Bert Network located in Bordeaux's city centre. Its challenge? To be simultaneously a point for meetings, cultural exchange and democratic expression and offer assistance for persons in need. Created in 1986, the association continues to develop: today it covers 1,000 sq. metres, counts 12 employees, 30 volunteers and more than a thousand visitors each day.



Since 2008, the Paul Bert Network association has been housed in a five-story building in the heart of Bordeaux’s historic district. The building’s interior decoration by french artist Claude Lévêque makes the centre unique. “It’s important at the same time to maintain an aesthetic framework and serve as a reception centre, even if the site is dedicated to persons in need of services. We wanted to avoid ghettoisation,” explain Emmanuel Jourdes, network coordinator. So that everyone is treated like a customer, there is a charge for most services in order “to preserve self-esteem”. Costs remain quite reasonable, however. The featured lunch at the restaurant is four euros and a coffee is 40 cents. Two hours in the public baths will run you six euros.

Assist people in need of services

Those who come to the centre are often recipients of social services and indigent workers. In addition to offering low-cost services, the association assists them in their daily life by helping them search for housing, training and employment. On the first floor, there are internet stations (70 cents in the afternoon) and a consultant is available to help with writing cover letters and curriculum vitae: “We encourage a return to employment using assistance,” explains Emmanuel Jourdes. The Paul Bert Network also offers courses in French as a foreign language “that include lessons in civics,” notes the coordinator. With 100 immigrants from twenty different nations, the courses are given by six volunteer teachers. The centre also offers a vast choice of cultural activities: plastic arts workshops, choir, concerts, etc. and a family space to encourage exchange between parents and children over games and snacks.

In 2007, the Paul Bert Network also set up a public bath (hammam) with the help of several partners including the VINCI Foundation. At first, the concern was about public health so that “showers would have been enough,” explains Emmanuel Jourdes, “but public health covers more than personal hygiene: it’s the entire relationship with the body that comes into question and its cultural and social dimension.” More than a functional time, the hammam is a social space: “Women often come with their children and spend the afternoon. We hear them talking and laughing.” This facility, which has a capacity of twelve, received a grant of €30,000 from the Foundation. A second grant of €16,500, accorded in 2010, allowed the solidary laundromat to enlarge its capacity. Laurence Ruot, executive secretary at TMSO (VINCI Construction) in Mérignac, and the association’s sponsor, is enthusiastic: “As part of VINCI, I share my skills and network. I help them access training and employment for people who use the centre. I participate in general assemblies and help prepare the centre’s future.” There’s no lack of projects! Recently, Paul Bert Street was made greener with the addition of a community garden and, in autumn 2010, a civic network will be set up for the residents of the neighbourhood.

June 2010 © Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

Reporters d'Espoirs news agency

VINCI Foundation works with Reporters d'Espoirs, a French news agency, to highlight and share the innovative social initiatives that it supports. The arrangement includes the writing of articles and exchange on topics that lead to solutions. Thus presented, the initiatives, validated using the criteria of the editorial charter of Reporters d'Espoirs, are intended to demonstrate their development and results.