Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme Investing in Local Communities Local host Alexandros Panagiotopoulos (Messolonghi by Locals) sits with Marou Chatzopoulou, co-founder of COMM'ON and implementing partner of Tandem Europe, to answer questions about Tandem Europe's Interim meeting that took place in Messolonghi, eager to share the impact on the local community that wants to build new cross-border relations and develop a new brand scheme for the city. Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme How did you experience bringing a group of cultural managers from all over Europe to Μessolonghi? As an organizer (COMM’ON) and as a local (Messolonghi by Locals)? M.C.: Every time we are hosting international meetings in Greece, as organizers, we are very excited! It is a great opportunity for us in COMM’ON, to work and support smaller communities around Greece, collaborate with local stakeholders and teams in order to welcome together -as one local team- our international participants and guests! Tandem Europe gave us, once again, this opportunity as this year’s thematic focus was on creative work that addresses burning contemporary issues in our European societies for civil society actors especially from urban and rural communities that often have to tackle their local challenges outside mainstream public attention. Messolonghi is a city in the western periphery of Greece that reflects this year’s thematic, as it has an active community of civil society actors that work in a variety of issues concerning their city and every day life. A.P.: Having the Tandem Europe group in Messolonghi, was a great experience for our team, Messolonghi by Locals. We were given the opportunity to work with our co- citizens and friends on a common cause: to host creative people from all over Europe in our city and to give them the chance to get to know the place and the locals during their stay. This experience urged us to work all together and collaborate, it gave us the chance to get to know other people and it was an opportunity to feel the joy of contributing in making our city better. Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme How did you experience the meeting? How did the local community react to the group? A.P.: I believe that the reaction of the local community is best depicted in the photo where Tandemians and locals are dancing all together in the rain. M.C.: The city of Messolonghi is surrounded by nature, on one side you have a lagoon with wild life and on the other side you have beautiful mountains. As the city is small, you are able to walk or bike everywhere within 10 min. This scenery helped our Tandem group to be relaxed during our intense 4 day meeting and at the same time have fun and enjoy nature! The people of the city hosted us warmly and I totally agree with Alexandros, this photo fully represents our local experience.. people from all over Europe coming together, exchange ideas, knowledge and energy despite the weather (although it was mostly sunny!!)! Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme What did you perceive as the biggest challenges and opportunities of this meeting? M.C.: Bringing a meeting like the Interim to a small peripheral area sometimes can be challenging, as you can not always find the infrastructure of a big city, but even then it’s worth it 100%. Together with Alexandros and Panos, participant of Tandem Europe III with Saltsinistas -another active community group of Messolonghi- we though of smart ways to mobilize alternative infrastructure assets and work with local groups, teams, associations and small businesses, to cover all our needs! The fishermen association of Pelada (lagoon) hosted us the first day and provided a home made lunch with fresh fish from the lagoon, the cultural-educational association “Eleutheroi Poliorkimenoi” hosted us in their building for all our working processes, Aris and Giannis from a local bike store made our lagoon bike tour possible, and many more! So the biggest opportunity is that we were given a chance to empower, inspire and be inspired by the local community! In small towns, villages or island you experience the whole, you interact with the “locality”. People are always more open to introduce and be introduced to the local culture, food, stories and as the rhythm of life is not chaotic and fast, the visitors are always more open to experience. Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme Do you think a meeting like the Tandem Meeting affected the local community to be more engaged / active in your local work in Messolonghi? What is the impact that you noticed? A.P.: Undoubtedly, meetings like Tandem's have a great and meaningful impact to the local community. Mostly because of the fact that creative people from all over Europe come to a small town like Messolonghi, meet and talk to the locals and thus transfer their own culture, their own experiences and challenges from their daily lives. Creating new relations with people from all over Europe is also very important as it is not something you can easily do in Messolonghi. One of the biggest problems the city faces is young people leaving to find work in bigger cities or other countries while at the same time there is a lack of extroversion and interaction with people from abroad as the levels of tourism are still low. This interaction helps realize similarities and differences with other European cities, get inspired by the work and creations of others and at the same time get some recognition and feedback on the activities implemented in the city. Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme What would you do differently next time in terms of preparing the local context? M.C.: As every place is different, you can never really be prepared for next time.. but let’s twist the question and say what we will for sure keep for next time! Find an equally active and engaged local community! “Local context” for us is not just one thing; it’s introduction, experience and interaction at the same time. We never visit a place just to organize a meeting, just to see or just to learn, we want to contribute with our knowledge and energy. An engaged local community helps us understand the “why”, why we are visiting and the “how”, how we can contribute. The goal is to be inspired and to inspire, to be empowered and to empower, to be engaged and to engage. Tandem Europe Interim Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme This story was brought to you by Marou Chatzopoulou, co-founder of COMM’ON and implementing partner of Tandem Europe.