Guy Swaegers: a steel workshop that combines learning, working and culture
I have a long history as an entrepreneur with a steel workshop. The studio, Moker, was born from an artistic project in the 1980s. The workshop made large artistic constructions and, at the time, we had many contacts in the cultural sector. I left the company in 2004. At that time, the cinema and concert hall De Roma in Borgerhout was being renovated. As a volunteer of the initiative, I came into contact with the neighbouring school for part-time education. That's how my idea grew to make a construction workshop for part-time students and as a work experience place, which became the Kopspel studio.
I am new to EPALE and find it interesting to contribute. I am happy to tell my story and tell others about the project we are building: a successful steel workshop that combines learning, working and cultural activities.
Kopspel, now together with the Gatam Cultuurfabriek in Antwerp, is a construction workshop for the cultural sector. We make sets, stands, stages, exhibition panels… In 2004, as a non-profit organisation, we were given a place in the Part-time Education Centre in Borgerhout and were able to set up a large studio there in one of the old workshops. We work with pupils and staff - often with refugees – who, with a special employment status, are able to rejoin the regular employment circuit. The age of the participants starts at 16, and there are people in their thirties and forties. They are low-skilled or have a language deficiency. They stay with us for a one- or two-year course. They build and install constructions, weld, bend steel and so on.
In the Kopspel workshops, we work according to the principles of learning by craftsmanship. The participants work together with coaches and professionals on projects that are immediately useful to the outside world. At Kopspel, a participant works from day one on a component that at the end of the process can be found in a theater, a museum, a cultural center or an artistic production. To date, our youngsters have made numerous constructions, decors, stands, exhibition walls and revolving stages or even been part of complete renovations in the cultural world. From large projects to small repairs. For example, we have become permanent partners of the Opera and Ballet Vlaanderen. Having said that, in many places we also compete in the normal tendering processes.
It all started with commissions for the De Roma venue: balustrades, stairs, light bridges and grandstands. Exhibitions soon followed, the first one was an exhibition for the spectacle group Royal de Luxe. This assignment came via the Summer of Antwerp Festival. This was followed by commissions for stages, stands and sets for theatre companies, the Flemish Opera, open air theatre Rivierenhof, the Antwerp Sportpaleis, etcetera. We worked for exhibitions in the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp), Museum M in Leuven, Fort Breendonk, even for a pavilion in Auschwitz. A number of contacts from my past at Moker were very useful for this. Exhibition designers also quickly came up with assignments. They became part of the new story I had started. They recognised its social importance and the opportunities it offered.
Motivating deadlines and cooperation with professionals
We soon took off with the studio and fortunately we were able to meet the tight deadlines. The initial fear of not being able to succeed and not being able to deliver the necessary quality dissipated. The deadlines and concrete projects worked to our advantage. They provide great motivation for the participants. We are working on really interesting projects. It is not about the classic example of building a wall and then tearing it down again. Their work is really seen and that is a very positive driver. Collaboration with renowned professionals is also an extra stimulus for the students.
Nurturing skills for life
Participants first gain the necessary self-confidence in the safe environment of the Kopspel workshop, and the outlines set out by the coach. This basic confidence can grow further if they can stand their ground outside our house as well. The participants not only get to know special and cultural locations, but also the people who work there, the technicians, the production managers. And vice versa, these people learn how to approach ylearners in order to get them to fit into their own work culture. Sometimes it is also necessary to counter the mistrust of our participants. One of the important skills that participants can acquire with us is dealing with many different people: customers, designers, clients, other technicians and subcontractors. This is often overlooked, but it is a key factor. For employers, it is very important. They have to be able to connect with the team, understand their colleagues, work together in a team. This is often an additional handicap for people from diverse cultural backgrounds. We also encourage them to take the initiative, to show motivation, not to hide.
Warranty on work
I dare say that anyone who has done a good job with us is guaranteed to get a job. Possibly with an extra safety course or specific training. I am often called by employment and interim agencies. We are always valued as a good reference. The participants are also given sufficient material, photos and documents, as references. Most of them end up in industry. At the bus and coach factory Vanhool, in container construction, at Anthony Cranes. There is less room for them in the cultural sector because most cultural centers or theatres no longer have in-house workshops. Two of our former students are coaches themselves, which is inspiring for the new participants.
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