Weaver, an alternative office building in the very centre of Maribor, opened its doors to a range of organisations, initiatives and individuals in 2014. The headquarters of a galenical laboratory owned by the Municipality of Maribor have not been used for five years. Therefore, the municipality decided to give it for rent in order to promote tourism, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, cooperatives and social innovation development.
The initiators of shared working spaces are organisations that were paying a rather high rent, organisations that were not able to rent their own spaces, desk-sharing programme users in the former premises of CAAP and individuals that were not able to find suitable space on the market.
The negotiations with the Municipality of Maribor started in 2012 when Maribor was the European Capital of Culture, but no successful agreement was reached at that time. After several years of negotiations, in May 2014 the municipality signed a contract with the local public institution for tourism, Zavod za turizem Maribor – Pohorje. They organised a call and selected four beneficiaries that are now using the building: PRIZMA Foundation for Improvement of Employment Possibilities, Centre of alternative autonomous production CAAP, Socio-cultural association Frekvenca and Institute Green Directive.
The beneficiaries have a contract of free rent for five years that binds them to pay for all operating costs. The contracts between the four beneficiaries and other users last for three years. Currently, there are more than 25 organisations and social enterprises or cooperatives and more than 20 users of the desk-sharing programme (self-employed, micro enterprises, start-ups), all together more than 100 individuals.
New users of the premises renovated, cleaned, painted, and furnished 2500 m2 of space with their own minimal resources, through voluntary work, and some help from sponsors and donators they were able to attract. In the summer of 2014, the individuals working for the beneficiary organisations and other volunteers invested thousands of volunteer hours to renovate the building. In this first phase, Weaver already became a synonym for new connections, collaboration, co-creation, new opportunities, and possibilities for cooperation.
Weaver is also a support environment for socially engaged work and lifestyle. The enterprises, cooperatives and NGOs housed in this building are active in many different fields such as culture, media, food, housing, minorities etc. Fluid intertwinement of multi-coloured threads woven by offices, halls and stairways of Weaver has given birth to a new platform of social relations where life and work go hand in hand.
Although all users organise their projects independently, they share much more than just operating costs of the building. They share technical equipment such as printers, photocopiers, projectors and shared spaces such as the kitchenettes, boardrooms, classrooms. But they also share knowledge and help each other when help is needed. Quite frequently they also collaborate in common projects and activities as their efforts are often complementary.
The activities of Weaver are tightly bound to the local context of Maribor. On the one hand the interested public gets involved through regular activities and events and on the other hand almost all social enterprises in the city have some contact with the organisations in Weaver. The desk-sharing is also an opportunity for local organisations to work in the vicinity of similar organisation. Weaver has also become a central point for social enterprises and cooperatives that are situated in the city centre.
The management of a building with such complex network of relationships between organisations and individuals can be very challenging. Therefore, the users organised regular meetings in the first year which later on resulted in a programming board. The programming board discusses technical questions, the programmes and the content of the building (coworking, public events, support environment) as well as public relations and community building.
Community building is a process that requires a lot of attention – people run out of energy and motivation – and therefore they need an encouraging environment and certain conditions have to be fulfilled to spur creativity. A variety of profiles enables complementary services and products, so you can find everything you need in one place. Cooperation is not based only on the friendly environment but also on shared interests. Reciprocity between the users is also connected to jobs they can arrange for each other, which is much more rewarding than the job they get by coincidence.
An important factor for collaboration are also established communication channels. For that purpose they use interactive boards in the building and they formed a group for communication about common activities. They stress that it is important to encourage every individual not to get isolated in their office but talk about their activities with other users of Weaver.
An alternative office building
Office building with the theme.
Location: the very centre of Maribor
Timeline: 2014 –