Slowly but surely, the former large retail premises on the Keerdok site are once again buzzing with activity. Several organisations have already settled in, and additional premises will soon become available.
"We don't want to fill the vacant spaces just for the sake of it. There must be clear added value for the people of Mechelen. The organisations that we are trying to attract should not be out primarily to making huge profits. Instead, we are looking for players who intend to make profit in terms of solidarity, sustainability and connection. What makes this initiative so interesting is that we can offer organisations a temporary home in one and the same location, which creates a breeding ground for wonderful interactions. As such, we can turn a temporary concept into a long-term initiative," says Gabriella De Francesco, Alderman for Social Affairs and Well-being.
The former premises of clothing retailer JBC will become a social food hub thanks to social grocers Ecoso and Foodsavers. The former premises of A.S. Adventure are now home to The Aware House, an exercise area/indoor skate park built with recovered waste materials, which also includes areas for osteopathy and yoga, as well as studios for screen printing and woodworking.
The arrival of The Aware House by JOY vzw is anything but surprising as this organisation came up with the unique idea of repurposing the site in such a way that it creates experiences for its users and guarantees the public function of the space. JOY vzw is a non-profit organisation made up of a group of skaters who are truly dedicated to skateboarding. Their decision to use as many recovered waste materials as possible is inspired by their pursuit of a low ecological footprint.
The Aware House wants to inspire young people by offering them a space to exercise/an indoor skatepark. The aim is to make a positive contribution to society as a whole by organising competitions, skate classes, workshops, concerts and exhibitions. This is done in close cooperation with local youth. The Aware House also hosts a bar offering affordable and healthy world cuisine.
The Aware House will be open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. During the school holidays the doors will open every day. The official opening is scheduled for the summer but on 9 June the organisation is hosting a kick-off event in collaboration with Concrete Jungle Foundation, an innovative non-profit organisation that aims to empower people and communities worldwide by promoting and supporting the positive values of skateboarding. Ecoso, in turn, will focus on upcycling and food, as the hub for local, social and circular entrepreneurship.
The city itself is the first temporary occupant that will move into the former JBC retail building as part of the Foodsavers project. The plan is to roll out a genuine pop-up food hub. Real-estate manager Monumento specialises in repurposing buildings or sites that are in danger of losing their function, with a focus on a creative, artistic and green projects.
"It is a process that creates added value, relieves owners and offers a home base to associations eager to develop. The key to a successful temporary repurposing project? A creative initiative for all ages, with a focus on social themes and good involvement of local residents. The repurposing of real estate is a hot topic and an art, in which the right balance must always be sought between adaptations and current requirements, making the building or site sustainable while preserving its cultural-historical value and functions," explains Caroline Staessens of Monumento.