In 2021, Ripess Europe celebrates its 10th anniversary!
As part of this celebration, and in order to honour the network and its members in particular, Ripess Europe will be conducting interviews, throughout the year, with the people who have brought it to life since its creation. Follow us on this European tour of the network’s members!
This time, we have an appointment with Kevin Flanagan of An Áit Eile, Ireland.
Hello Kevin, can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your organisation?
My name is Kevin Flanagan, I am a board member of the cooperative, An Áit Eile, which is a member of Ripess Europe. I’m a founding member of SolidNetwork the new Irish network for the cooperative and solidarity economy. I’m also an Anthropologist, currently finishing my doctoral thesis. I have been researching and writing about the subject of the commons, solidarity economy and social movements in Barcelona.
An Áit Eile (https://aae.ie/), is based in the city of Galway, in the west of Ireland. The name of the cooperative is in the Irish language, translated into English, An Áit Eile means ‘the other place’. Inspired by the Italian social cooperatives, it is one of the first multi-stakeholder cooperatives in Ireland. It’s a small cooperative with big ambitions, working in the areas of culture, ecology and health care. The cooperative was founded by people with lived experience of mental health challenges.
One of our founders, Tom Stewart, is a tireless mental health advocate and is a local visionary in terms of reimagining more participatory and cooperative models of care that empower service users.
A recent example of a project the coop has been involved in is the Galway mental health cafe.
This is one of the first of its kind in Ireland. People in need of mental health care supports often face difficulties accessing these outside of business hours. The mental health café operates in the evenings from a café near the local hospital in Galway. The support staff have personal experience of mental health challenges and they provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere for people who need a little helping hand, a chat or just some company.
Here is link to a recent article about the café in The Irish Times –
An Áit Eile are currently working on a project with a network of care organisations in the west of Ireland to explore and develop methodologies for the co-production of health care services.
What does it mean for you to be a member of Ripess Eu?
An Áit Eile is a member of Ripess since we joined in 2019, so we are still relatively new to the network. I think because of the pandemic we have not had a lot of time this past year to really engage. One of the reasons we joined is because we wanted to connect with other organisations and projects that shared our values and commitments to a transformative vision for social change. For An Áit Eile we would really love to connect with other Ripess members. We are a small social cooperative and it would be of huge value to share and learn from the experience of others working in the areas of care, ecology and culture.
What does Social and Solidarity Economy mean to you?
Solidarity Economy is important for us and particularly in the Irish context where this past year we have been involved in the creation of SolidNetwork, which is an all Island network for the cooperative and solidarity economy, with members both in the north and the south of Ireland.
There are a lot of new cooperative and solidarity economy initiatives happening in Ireland but there is not a lot of awareness or support from local or national government. It can be difficult for people starting projects because there are no organisations dedicated to supporting them. One of the main reasons for setting up the network was that it offerred us a way to pool our skills and knowledge. If any of our members need help there is almost certainly someone in our group that has some experience that can be shared. We started last year by meeting online during the pandemic and after agreeing a members charter, and a name we launched SolidNetwork in January this year. We have 35 members and this includes people from worker and consumer cooperatives, people working in social care, housing, and ecological restoration and community land trusts. All together we are exploring ways for building relationships and connecting these alternatives.