CLLD in the city of Kotka?
Civil-society initiative welcomed by public authorities for the activation of youth and other disadvantaged groups
Kotka is a medium-sized city located on the Gulf of Finland about 130 km east of the capital Helsinki. Structural changes affecting its forest industry and international port, amplified by recessions in the early 1990s and from 2008 onwards, have led to growing levels of unemployment, including increasing long-term and youth unemployment. In a national comparison, Kotka shows significant levels of ‘unwell-being’ of groups of residents and neighbourhoods, and various symptoms of social marginalisation that in turn have negative impacts on the overall atmosphere, self-esteem and external perception of this place.
Against this background, civil society organisations, with the backing of the City as well as relevant regional authorities, decided to use the ‘Community-led local development (CLLD) component’ of the Finnish Structural Funds Operational Programme Priority 5, supported by European Social Fund (ESF), for strengthening their co-operation for the benefit of disadvantaged groups of society in Kotka. After preparing an Action Plan for Civil Society Based Development in Kymenlaakso 2014-2020, since 2015, two consecutive ESF-funded projects have been carried out, engaging and activating the young, the unemployed and immigrants as well as other disadvantaged groups in Kotka. The projects have been coordinated by Sepra, the association that has been for long in charge of the LEADER activities in the surrounding rural areas.
In addition to representing an experiment in participative and civil-action-based local development, embedding this small local initiative in wider national and EU policy developments heightens its relevance and value as a RELOCAL case. Various ‘dimensions of the locality’ come into play. The positive experience from LEADER (in rural parts of Kymenlaakso, Finland and the EU) has been a resource and motivation for the projects. They use (small-scale) ESF funds, while one of the coordinators at Sepra is personally engaged in the national and European fora on how the CLLD idea may in the future be implemented in Finland and the European Union. These link this relatively small initiative into interactions across the multiple levels of cohesion policy governance in the EU.