A passion for skateboarding, for competitions in California, for trophies won across the globe. Then suddenly something went wrong, all that energy that always coursed through his veins just vanished: for this champion it was the beginning of the most difficult period of his life. And that was when Gianluca first came into contact with the Paolo Babini Social Cooperative, operating in Forlì since 1987 to support disadvantaged children, young people and families.
“In 2007,” recalls Nicola Proscia, the Cooperative's head of planning, “we decided to set up a youth community centre in the Via Dragoni public park, located in the Musicisti e Grandi Italiani district, to provide youngsters with a place to meet, listen to music together and play sport. We called it Officina52, after the street number of the park entrance”.
One of the youngsters who used to regularly hang out at the centre was Gianluca. “Around 2010, during a meeting with residents to discuss the park's positive and negative aspects, it was Gianluca who pointed out that, though the park was full of great features, there was nowhere to eat. And from there the idea to create Piada52 was born.”
Four years later, thanks to support from Enel Cuore, from the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì and from other organisations, the Paolo Babini Cooperative project to create, in the park, a piadina kiosk and cafe also serving Romagna specialities, became a reality. The objective was to facilitate the social and employment integration of disadvantaged people and to give new opportunities to the city's unemployed youth. Enel Cuore provided the equipment for the restaurant kitchen and bar, and in September 2014, Piada52 opened its doors.
A path to independence
“Gianluca was one of the first to take up the challenge of working on this project, initially as an apprentice, then through work grants and fixed-term contracts, before finally being offered a permanent position last year,” explains Proscia, who at the time was responsible for coordinating Piada52. “The job helped him to find some stability. He now lives in an apartment with other young people with stories similar to his; he's now started out on his path towards independence and has recently bought himself a scooter. At 38 years of age he's finally found a normal life, he no longer needs help, he works and he pays tax.” As well as working at Piada52, the experience has also allowed Gianluca to rediscover his old passion. “He's one of a group of people who manage the Officina52 skate park,” explains Proscia, “but, above all, he is the living memory of this kiosk.”
It's an initiative that's had a few difficult moments. “We are a Cooperative that deals with social projects, there's no entrepreneurial aspect to what we do, we weren't ready for the incredible success of Piada52. We honestly didn't expect half the city to come flocking to the kiosk: we found it really hard to begin with, then we managed to get things under control, also from a business perspective.”
Thus far, 35 youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds have followed similar development programmes to Gianluca at Piada52, working in the bar, looking after the green areas, managing the park, and carrying out cleaning activities. “Gianluca's situation is the only one where we've kept the same person in the post,” explains Proscia, “whilst for the others undertaking the development programme we have decided that it's better to adopt a rotational approach. There are four permanent employees – a cook, an assistant cook, a bar person and a social worker – all of whom help the youngsters with their integration. Once they've completed their training, the youngsters are then employed on other services provided by our Cooperative or by other social cooperatives in the area. There are currently 12 people working at the kiosk, eight of whom are engaged on the work integration programme”.
A meeting point for the area
However, the initiative also brings other positive benefits. “One of the project's strong points is the involvement of local residents. When we arrived in this park there were some issues: deviant behaviour, petty crime and drug use. Over these years we have invested in making this place a social hub for the local community. We've looked after the green areas, redeveloped the area by planting trees and providing new facilities, bought new furniture for the kiosk, put baby changing facilities in the toilets, and we've built a veranda for hosting musical and cultural events. Thanks to Piada52 the park is now a place that's enjoyed all year round by youngsters, families, children and the elderly. A meeting point for all the citizens of Forlì.”