Impressions and experiences of the Hungarian hubsters with different meeting places.
by Bence Kovács of Transition Hungary
You might know the ingredient of “Having an office or not?” from the Transition Companion or the Ingredients cards (available among TN resources). Transition Network thought that this question was worth the support of few months rent of the office of the Hub for Transition Hungary, examining how it works on a national hubs’ level.
Transition in Hungary reached the need for its own office by the start of the Communities in Transition project in 2013. Until then efforts had been largely voluntary, and the NGO Védegylet (Protect the Future) had provided the framework for transition; now, having won 3 years grant funding from the Norwegian Civil Fund, the project team needed its own space and moved to a small studio at MÜSZI in the Centre of Budapest. Művelődési Szint (Community & Art Floor, in Hungarian) is an independent complex cultural space, an incubation house for artists and activists, a space hosting community arts projects, creative workshops and various cultural and social events open for the general public (website).
MÜSZI is unique as they are economically self-sufficient, unlike many similar cultural spaces that depend on the council or grants for their upkeep. Their income is generated from 4 sources – renting event spaces, studios and offices, co-working desks and running a bar. This covers all personnel costs and the long-term rent of the formerly unused third floor of the Corvin Department Store from a private owner.
This base was vibrant and inspirational; many interesting NGOs and artists were our “neighbours”, all sorts of events took place and the interior was ever changing fueled by an inhouse upcycling workshop. The space was ideal to host our events too; we held two of our annual national gatherings of local transition catalysts here and the monthly meetings of the Budapest based transition initiatives. However this setting had its limits. Our tiny office was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and the odd punk concerts sometimes coincided with a meeting we were to hold in the cafe. It was time to move.
Back in a shared space with the rest of the Védegylet staff, the next office was much calmer than the previous one, but both rooms were full of working desks with working people, so we had no place with a table to sit around in a circle – something very important to us. The meetings with more than 3 people were uncomfortable. What’s more, there was a bit of a cultural class too – the Hungarian HUB is chatty and noisy, not something the ‘heads-down’ administrative staff could take easily. So we went time -share: different days for different folks – hence making the most of the time, without compromising each others ability to ‘get on with stuff’.
After a year we moved again, into two rooms – one for the ‘admin people’ and one for the transitioners – this time in the large office of Autonomia Foundation (see: http://autonomia.hu/en/). The office is in the city center, has a large common space for larger meetings and a small well-equipped kitchen. There is always interesting chatter coming through the walls, talk of Roma solidarity projects, minority rights, legislation. Besides the infrastructure, there is a feeling of being ‘embedded’ in something important to us – the wider social situation.
This is what our hubsters said about what they liked about having an office:
“I could work more effectively at the office and that is the key aspect for me.”
“I get to work in a space that is not home and hence I don’t end up being interrupted by thoughts of housework. I can arrange meetings here one after the other and not have to pay to sit in a cafe. I can leave all my stuff piled up in one corner and not have it at home. I can have some ‘time off’ with those I work with when the hectic schedule allows it.”
“Good to have a place for meetings (where we don’t have to "consume" like in a cafe). Also nice to get to know Autonomia better. Location is great (and balcony!). Even my mum dropped in few times. Good to have a kitchen for personal and communal use.”
“Easier to work together on projects when we are at the same place. I enjoy the possibility of discussing and networking with others. Plus I can use the office computer that is faster than mine”
And how does having an office benefit the Hub?
“As a hub, we can have meetings to find out what trainings, events or projects should we organize or to participate in. So we don’t need to make the decisions online.”
“We think together in this space: people who commit a day or so a week can have a predictable space where they meet others, making organising easier. We have a bit of the desk that we can use to think together, covering it with ideas and reminders. We are ‘findable’ and have access to a communal office space. There is a kitchen so working in the city centre doesn’t have to entail extra cost due to eating takeaway food.”
“Many people could drop in for meetings and chats. Even use resources like our dvd library.”
“Good to have all our “stuff” (eg. posters, books, publications, paperwork, tea/coffee for meetings, stationary, etc.) in one place that we can all use and also land to others. We could even hold a 2-day workshop here, which saved us renting a room somewhere else.”
“Just great to have a base in the centre where we can come and work, meet, plan and talk without too much organization…”
“A more effective work due to a more fluid exchange of information”
Most memorable moments were connected to common meals and drinks:
“Small talks at the balcony were good, but undoubtedly the most memorable moment for me was when we and the members of the other foundation tasted my homemade beer.”
“My birthday! I was greeted with a surprise lunch and cake.”
An office cannot be perfect for everybody as some people prefer working alone, others in groups. But a healthy group needs to meet regularly, not only to work on and organise “transition stuff”, but also to just be together. Our first office was a good place to be, but not to work effectively, the second place was a good working place, but was uncomfortable to be and meet. Our current office fulfils both goals, a pleasant meeting place and an effective working space where we can imagine our hub’s future for several years. This gives a sense of stability, even when other questions like funding, staffing are a bit up in the air.
As we know as Transitioners, place matters.