When people think of Barakaldo, the first idea that comes up is that it is a city located in Bilbao’s outskirts, where there are plenty of industries, with a lower income level than other cities of the province and home to the biggest exhibition centre in the north of Spain. All is true, but none of these refers to the outstanding change that the city has lived in the last decades, the big efforts to convert it into a more friendly place for people, taking advantage of its industrial heritance and highlighting its social resources.
Barakaldo may be unknown to visitors to the Basque Country, however, there are so many undiscovered, hidden gems, many of which are a direct result of the local policies developed in order to address inequalities. Therefore, the Barakaldo Team organised a fieldtrip for the Uplift Consortium Meeting members to share the sites of this amazing city. We were lucky to have Agurtzane as our guide for the day. He led the team and showcased the best of Barakaldo in a fun and illustrative way.
Barakaldo is a medium-sized municipality in the Greater Bilbao area. During the twentieth century, it was a significant industrial hub, with some of the most important companies in Spain being established here. However, at the turn of the century, the industrial recession that started in the 1980’s was reaching its peak and most factories have since closed. Much of Barakaldo has been redeveloped, former industrial areas being restored for social purposes, especially housing.
PROTECTED HOUSING OPTIONS FOR YOUNGSTERS
The first stop of the tour was the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, BEC, located where Altos Hornos, one of the most important iron and steel industries in Spain was. The representative from the urban management society in Barakaldo Eretza, Maribel, briefly introduced Barakaldo’s recent policies’ regarding housing inequalities with a focus on youngsters, stressing the last protected housing project and the councillorship commitment, to support young people to make a successful leap into adult life. These commitments include affordable flats, higher subsidies and grants and more housing options.
It is noteworthy to mention that the latest protected housing project that Eretza has proposed is a new block of flats to be built on a disused urban site next year. Almost 50% of this block has been reserved for young people. The redevelopment will also include a park, with vegetation and even a pond.
Following the route, we arrived at the neighbourhood of Cruces, named after the General Hospital, situated there. This is a national reference in terms of research and transplants, and a key point in the Basque Country’s national health system.
BARAKALDO’S GREEN HEART
From there, the group headed towards El Regato, Barakaldo’s green lung. An area just a few kilometres from the city centre, but the feeling it evokes is that we’re in the middle of the country, a very relaxed and calm space. A large reservoir is the focal point. We disbanded the bus to take a short walk to soak in the landscape. We then crossed a bridge over a stream to look at the Frontón court, to play Pelota, a traditional Basque sport, this piqued everyone’s curiosity.
As the rain appeared, we headed back on the bus to Megapark, Barakaldo’s commercial hub. There you can find some of the most important international businesses, such as Ikea, MediaMarkt, Decathlon… It’s not only the strongest commercial zone in Bizkaia, but also one of the most important hubs for the youngsters of the city to work.
Leaving this commercial hub behind, we headed to the San Vicente Towers. These have been a real game changer to the areas housing options at the turn of the 21st century. There are seven high towers -considered skyscrapers in Barakaldo- with more than 1200 flats with a high percentage of protected houses. They surround another landmark in this zone, the Botanical Garden, a living museum where vegetation becomes art. It has an area of about 60,000 m2, in which we can see more than 300 different woody species and a great diversity of herbaceous plants; all of them arranged in different areas containing a multitude of secrets and curiosities. A green oasis in the centre of the city.
The rain stopped just in time for a walk at the city centre. We wandered across the pedestrian area towards the Topaleku (in bask, meeting point), a municipal facility for young people. The Giltzarri service is placed there, and it is focused on educative leisure and participation for teenagers from 12 to 18 years old.
Mireia, the Youth Technician at Barakaldo’s Town Hall, explained the key points of this initiative: to accompany these boys and girls in their way through adolescence, their personal growth, values acquirements, and civic education as citizens committed with their community.
To this end, “a team of social educators are present in their educational centres and leisure spaces to get their engagement with these places and activities and encourage them to build the participation structure that we have called the Giltzarri Platform”. It is made up of more than 40 youth groups, commissions and delegations, a Council, and an Assembly, where around 500 young people participate annually, make proposals for activities and new services or issue their proposals for projects that involve the entire city.
It was an insight to Barakaldo’s reality that the attendees were very interested in, as they had many questions in mind. For example, how they communicate with the teenagers, the profile of the users of the service and about its educational intention. In addition, they were interested in the quality of participation, the topics they proposed to work on and their involvement in making decisions that affect their lives and the community. Before leaving, many of us couldn’t miss the chance to have some fun using the devices at the facilities, such as the table football or the deckchairs.
A SAFE SPACE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Our walk continued towards Gazte Bulegoa, a youth office where a team of social educators accompany youngsters between 18 and 35 years old in their way to adulthood. The objective is to become a place for reference for young people, to support them with information about opportunities and resources.
Naiara, one of the social educators that work there, spoke about their day to day work and case study examples of how the team support young people to achieve their goals; describing the centre as a “wide offer of leisure, educational and supportive activities that take place in this safe space”. She was asked about the main user’s profile, as well as about the dissemination of their work, as this is one of the most recurrent questions along Uplift research.
The visit coincided with the setup of an art exhibition. A first-hand example of Gazte Bulegoa’s support to young people, in this case, a space to display the first exhibition of a young artist.
WHERE UPLIFT BARAKALDO BEGAN
The last and final stop of our tour and fieldtrip took the group to the place where the Barakaldo Uplift story began; the Illgner Building, it was here where our Youth Board met and where the first Social Lab took place.
The Illgner building was inaugurated in in 1927, it was a facility for Altos Hornos, the major iron and steel company in Spain. The building owes its name to Karl Ilgner, and it is an authentic jewel of architecture with a brick façade with enormous windows, and an interior based on ornamental motifs.
The visit ended with a traditional ‘pintxos’ dinner, and the feeling of having discovered the real Barakaldo, with so many creative options and opportunities for young people to live and thrive, beyond what any visitor would have imagine.