On the 24 th of January, during the month our Agenda dedicated to active citizenship, as the External Relations Coordinator of One Hour For Europe Turin I had the occasion to interview Lucia Panzieri, president of the Cooperative ZAC!, and Andrea Gaudino, former volunteer of Voluntary Service and now working member of the cooperative and responsible of the Politics Gym at ZAC! The ZAC! (acronym which in Italian stands for “Active Citizenship Zones”) is a cooperative based in Ivrea, a town near Turin in a territory called Canavese, and specifically in the so-called Movicentro. The Movicentro (the name is a portmanteau of the words “movement” and “centre”) is a public space near the train station of Ivrea. As you will read, we also asked questions about the ZAC!’s most recent project, DAD – Didattica a Due passi (Teaching around the corner). This project (named after the Italian acronym for distant learning, DAD) offers a room, tutors and internet connection to students who struggle with online learning from home. We as a team are very grateful to Lucia and Andrea for answering our questions and giving us advice for our future. I wasn’t able to meet up with them due to Covid safety restrictions, but I hope to organise a meeting between ZAC! members the Local Team as soon as possible! The interview took place in Italian, but was then translated in English for our website. Could you introduce your cooperative and what you do? What do you offer to the community? The ZAC! Cooperative has been awarded, through a municipal call, the management of the unused spaces of the Movicentro of Ivrea (about 600 square meters), with a project that allows us to think in a new way about the relations within the city. The ZAC! is now a welcoming and pluralistic gathering space, with a bar/restaurant that promotes healthy food and conviviality, and meeting spaces for young people and associations, who participate in the management and cultural programming of the activities of the Movicentro with great enthusiasm. The primary objective of the cooperative is the recovery of an unused public space to be returned to the city and its inhabitants through a project of urban regeneration and active citizenship. The areas through which this project is activated are several. The first is the consolidation of local economy and the promotion of local products. The second is leading role of the youth both through activities in their own spaces and in high schools in Ivrea and through the management of a study room. The third are cultural welfare paths with the promotion of events (concerts, theatre performances, documentaries and films). Last, but not least, is an increasing attention to the active involvement of the public. In addition, the cooperative is increasingly targeting fringe groups of young people, through a service of outreach education and projects against early school leaving that reach young people who are otherwise indifferent to cultural proposals that are significant for their lives. One Hour For Europe has dedicated this month to active citizenship and we think the ZAC! can be a great example. What does active citizenship mean to the ZAC! in their activities? Active citizenship is what we’ve had in mind since we were born! It is not by chance that we call ourselves "Active Citizenship Zones". For us it means participating, personally showing face without waiting for others to do it for you. This is not just an abstract concept, but is put into practice daily by the many members of the cooperative in the shifts of volunteering in the kitchen, in the bar, in the organisation of concerts and study or in-depth events (when you could still organise them!). The initiative that has over time embodied the deepest sense of active citizenship was the ZAC!’s Politics Gym, which consists of moments of thematic and political deepening in order to learn and therefore be able to act consciously. We also believe that citizens have a key role in bringing out the needs and desires of the territory, and we wish to give them a collective form, which can be brought to institutional levels and to participation in the political life of the city. What brought you to choose to take part in the Movicentro call in 2014 and what does it mean to inhabit such a place? What relevance can large-transit areas such as stations have for active citizenship? In 2014 our strong motivation was to put into practice in everyday life some principles of the solidarity economy, make them work and make them visible in a public space. Indeed many founding members come from critical consumer experiences and new lifestyles related to the Solidal Purchasing Group Ecoredia. In time – well, almost immediately – we realized that our witness, because it was expressed in a place "belonging to all", has been greatly amplified and has been enriched and contaminated by other experiences, of other citizens and associations that have approached to share our spaces. In a time when access to cultural, social, and pleasure consumption is increasingly linked to economic availability - paid platforms, premises with high prices, private and expensive sports centers - being able to count on parts of the city which are beautiful, open to all and free is paramount. Our commitment becomes political, and therefore active citizenship, when we want these spaces to become squares crossed by everyone, without exclusion. We are a Turin group: do you think that acting in Ivrea can be much different than in a larger city like Turin, or are there constants in these experiences? There are always constants in experiences like these: willpower, involvement of members/volunteers, desire to organize accessible and inclusive opportunities on the territory. We think, however, that there are some differences between acting in large urban centres like Turin or small towns like Ivrea. Here, it is probably easier to build an effective network on the ground, both between people and between associations, and it is also less complicated to emerge publicly as an innovative reality. It is also true that in centres such as Turin there is a greater concentration of energy and young people, while here the youth tend to look elsewhere for their growth opportunities. The ZAC! is a gathering space: what changed for you during lockdown? For example, how was “DAD – Didattica a Due passi” born? What were the results, and what was it like organising something so different? Do you think the changes from the pandemic can teach us something? The lockdown has put a strain on all the cultural events, which we miss greatly, as all occasions of meeting. The depopulation of public spaces that we have seen has made us think a lot about inequalities: in which houses are our children living? Large, warm, comfortable, or small, without wifi, with problems of economic or relational nature, without opportunities for comparison? From this reflection our proposal of Didattica a Due passi was born, in order to be a reference point for those children in difficulty with distant learning, and also in difficulty with the family context. Truth be told, the initiative has been seen as an opportunity and seized by very few students, or maybe we haven’t been good enough at networking with schools and social services. And also, we started this service when we all had already gotten used to distant learning. The pandemic has taught us to adapt continuously, it has helped us focus on our priorities but at the same time constantly change ourselves. Do you have advice to offer to citizens, kind of like us, who want to get involved in active citizenship? Why and how should we act? The first advice for those who want to engage within a territory is undoubtedly to know it, to know the social realities already active, and to know its needs and its potential. The why is always very intimate, difficult to reproduce in scale: the reason must be sought within the group, the people who decide to start a path of activation. On how, we feel to advise the way of the involvement of people in processes, as a way to aggregate new energies and do better and better. A continuous and daily attitude of listening and welcoming. Do you feel inserted in a European perspective? Why? Our reality feels first inserted within a more territorial framework, classifiable in the Canavese or even more precisely in the Eporediese (about fifty municipalities around the town of Ivrea). However, we never forget that we are part of a European dimension, for example through reflection on the future of Europe during the evenings of the Politics Gym, at the time of the European elections. We are aware that most of the major social and political issues (such as labour and workers' rights, the taxation of large multinationals, migrations, climate change...) can only be resolved if they are tackled at a supranational level. Is there anything you wish to add or tell us about? In these months, after only 5 years of activity, we realize that our cooperative has managed to give opportunities to many youngsters in our territory: cultural and working opportunities, social activation opportunities with volunteering and voluntary service, opportunities of in-depth knowledge of oneself and of one’s own passions, and of this we are very satisfied. Setting in motion mechanisms of transformation, personal or social, is a beautiful result! As a Local Team, we plan on taking some time to reflect on the great advice contained in this interview and I invite everyone else to do the same. In the meantime, we thank Lucia and Andrea once more for the time they took to answer our questions. If you wish to learn more about the ZAC! be sure to visit their website at ZAC! Zone Attive di Cittadinanza (lozac.it) and if you ever end up in Ivrea, be sure to pay them a visit, we know we will!