Can Masdeu - inspiring 10 year old social centre

Today I woke up in a beautiful strawbale house, with a view over numerous little allotments - created from the rubble by the squatters and the local 'abuelos' (old men or literally grandads) on moving in 10 years ago - and down the wooded valley out across Barcelona - which is about 10 minutes away by foot - how cool is that?! What is even more amazing is that I was taken there by one of the locals who noticed me looking lost and was very friendly and positive about it.  I was taken back to the metro this morning by a lovely woman on her way to work. Manuela wasn't involved initially but now has one of the allotments, and thinks it's so great that even though she only lives 10 minutes away she lived with them for a few weeks to get more of an understanding of what it's like to live there.

Can Masdeu is a huge abandond leper colony, squatted in 2001 and turned into, what is described on their website as: 'a living collective, a project of social projects, a public space, a political colective, etc.....In the house gardens we grow the majority of the vegtables that we eat, in season, which are sometimes supplemented with the eggs from our chickens. For many years we have also baked our own bread, for ourselves and to sell in the community, in the bakery that we built. We buy our dried goods through ecological cooperatives and frequently barter with other farmers for fruit and olive oil.'

There are currently about 25 residents living there and as the website goes on to say: 'the organization and balance of all these things requires a significant dose of organization. Its not always easy, and it’s sometimes exhausting work but it is the purpose through which we live learn and sustain ourselves'.

So I  went to chat to them about the organisation - how they do it, how they have managed to survive and stay active and true to their ideals over the last 10 years and what lessons they have for us at Kindling. I learnt loads from Martin and Kat sitting outside the strawbale house Martin is building, from various people in the Kitchen of the social centre yesterday (while helping to cook for over 100 people who came to the weekly sunday workshop and meal), and from other residents over the kitchen table last night.

Practicalities of living in community with a social centre

Public weekly workshops and lunch:
Every Sunday they hold workshops in the social centre, do a guided tour and provide lunch (they also have a free shop in the social centre, with clothes that people donate when they leave, which anyone can help themselves to). The annual programme includes are a wide range of workshop themes, and they seem to attract a good number of people every week.

The Can Masdeu residents take it in turns to cook lunch and run the bar in teams of 4 every a Sunday (I think they said you do it about twice every three months).

The only thing about doing the lunch is that you never know how many people are going to turn up can vary between 40 and 150 – so cooking can be a bit stressful! - but generally it seems to work out (it just means they sometimes have a lot of left overs to eat the following week).

Duties/systems in the household:
Everyone is a member of a number of 'comisiones' (work groups), e.g.:

  • Projects
  • Internal communications
  • vehicles (maintenance and repair and co-ordinating use)
  • Food (keeping stock of what's in and buying it)

You sign up on a rota that is up in the hall, to cook (and wash up – or find someone to wash up for you). Martin thought that was crazy at first but makes sense as avoids the conflict re creating to much washing up for someone else. One of the 'comisiones' includes co-ordinating this rota – making sure that everyone is taking part and chasing up people if they aren't.

Work days:
They do one house day and one garden day a week – the house day is for a big clean and any repair type jobs (1 day isn't really enough – the house is huge!).

There is a good system of swapping jobs. So if someone is really good at fixing bikes they could agree to mend someone's bike in return for them doing their cooking or cleaning duty – it's worked out (informally) on hours of work (so 3 hours to cook = roughly 3 hours to do the bike).

Everyone pays 45 Euros a month (1.50 a day - though really it costs about 65 per person, so they are subsidised). Guests pay 2 euros a day. They also raise money through the sunday workshops/ lunches.

They meet every 2 weeks. It used to be weekly, but this works (better in Martins opinion – who doesn't really like meetings).
About 3 times a year they have a three day meeting mixed with doing nice things together. So they go on big walks and then have sessions to talk about any internal stuff they need to talk about.

Conflict resolution:
The emphasis is on telling people if you're not happy with something (and that to live there you need to be able to cope with that).

If there is a conflict between 2 people and it isn't effecting the rest of the community then they are left to get on with it/sort it out between them. If the conflict is having an impact on the rest of the community – for example if they don't want to work together (so everyone has to think about it and try and organise things around them), then the subgroup 'internal communications' will talk to them and tell them they need to sort it out (and help them if they need it). You could also go to that comision and ask for help if you don't know how to broach a conflict with someone.

A local perspective

I learnt loads more than this from Martin's reflections about living at Can Masdeu for 10 years, but I won't ramble on about that now (and I need to check with him any way how much of that was for public consumption!). Also I wanted to add a bit about that little chat I had with Manuela on the way back to the metro, as it is another perspective from a local community member....

I walked back to the metro stop with a local woman (Manuela or Manu) who lived 10 minutes walk from Can Masdeu, and asked her about her views on the community. At first she wasn't involved at all in the project, but this year she took on a little allotment as she is only working part time so has time. This summer she decided she wanted to live in the house for a while to get more of an idea of how it all works, so she asked if she could live there for 3 weeks and they said yes.

She really enjoyed it, but feels that as her house is within walking distance the living space in Can Masdeu should be for people who come from futher away and don't have anywhere to live. Manu said she feels even closer to them now having done that. Feels really comfortable that she can just pop in and help out with something.

I asked what she would advise us as a people wanting to set up a new centre – what she felt was the important thing that Can MasDeu did to integrate with the local community?

At the beginning they came to neighbourhood meetings and said they were wanting to open up the building and create the allotments and asked if people wanted allotment spaces. It was all just a lot of rubble – they worked really hard. There were some old men their who had already been using bits of the land for growing food so they worked with them. They also joined in with all the local festivals which was good.

The most important thing said Manuela is that they were open about what they were doing and what they wanted to do, and that they were accepting of and open to the people in the local community.

Again a huge thanks to everyone at Can Masdeu, especially to Martin for being so open and honest with me about the positives (and not so positives) of community living and working, it's been a real help - I can't wait to get ours going and for you to come and stay!

The Kindling Trust is a not for profit social enterprise with charitable aims (Company number: 6136029).
Kindling Trust Ltd - Bridge 5 Mill, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 7HR