23 October 2015

This is my story of how I got clubs to club together and (literally) set a village in motion. Mine is a tale of 300 participants, 9 restaurants, 9 associations and 1 HAS student. Me? My name is Anouk. I’m a 3rd-year student of Animal Husbandry and Animal Care at the HAS University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch  and I would like to tell you something about my traineeship at Imagro, a communications agency in Ottersum. Now, you’re of course wondering why a student of animal husbandry and animal care chose a communications agency? Especially if I tell you that during my 10-week traineeship at Imagro, I didn't see a single farmer or cow! However, I did learn a lot. The most important lesson is: Working together = the new way of thinking.

My story starts in September 2015, when I started my traineeship and took on the project management of the Ottersummum event in, surprise, surprise… Ottersum, a small village in the province of Limburg, with just 2,300 inhabitants. An event where 9 groups visit 9 restaurants in 9 culinary stages, and are served delightful mini-dishes with the theme of 'Ottersum, centre of the world'. Each restaurant had a different country as its theme, reflected in the way it was decorated and the dish it served. "Welcome to Italy!" it said on one door, for example. It was really amazing that the event was supported by 9 organisations from the village! What's more, it raised 1,000 euros for the clubs involved.

I think that’s really something special at a time when the way of life in small villages is being eroded, many clubs are closing down, and those that still remain are looking to the government for help. Ottersum managed to mobilise 300 people, and even demonstrated that clubs can stand on their own 2 feet. Demonstrating that they don't need government help after all! In my opinion, the premiership football club, Vitesse that received a total of 75 million euros (!!) could learn a great deal from this. Of course, you have to be willing to put in some effort. To make something like this successful you need a few people who are prepared to take the lead, who can take responsibility, but who also have a connection to the village and its people. I discovered that as an outsider I would never have been able to get this off the ground on my own.

But how was Ottersum able to achieve this on its own? I'm convinced that the answer revolves around just one word: Together! Organising together, but above all, taking responsibility together. If you can only achieve your goal by working together, you HAVE to collaborate, even though I think that sounds rather negative. During Ottersummum, the clubs visited each other, which resulted in new connections. For example, the senior citizens' club (De Zonnebloem) were having a beer with the youngsters from the carnival association. I come from Nijmegen, with its 171,000 inhabitants, an enormous city in comparison with Ottersum. Sometimes I feel invisible and alone in the city, but in Ottersum everybody knows each other, and you are never really invisible, making it easier to be 'together'. That's why I think that ESPECIALLY in small villages, the way of life doesn't have to be eroded. Villages are in the ideal position to turn the tide. They just have to work together. Ottersum is the perfect example.

Because when you’ve built something up together, you don't destroy it.

For more photos and inspiration, visit Facebook Ottersummum

"I told this story at the jubilee conference of the Association of Small Communities in North Brabant (Vereniging Kleine Kernen Noord-Brabant). The conference was attended by representatives and officials from 145 municipalities. Participants discussed the role and the future of small communities in North Brabant. Students from the HAS University of Applied Sciences gave brief pitches to start off the debate on topics including young residents vs. old; house-building and the quality of life in small villages. I was asked to tell my story as the opening presentation to the session 'Brabant keeps turning."

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