Firebrands make the world a better place, and they do it for the local area and the sake of the community. Firebrands are social entrepreneurs and the dynamics of development – in the city, at the countryside and where the public cannot or will not participate. But the firebrands cannot do anything themselves. If their work is to succeed, they often need support, knowledge and perhaps financial support.
A meeting house converted into youth theater and music school for the children of the area and adolescents. The closed grocery store turned into local-based social economic activities. And a discontinued cinema that resurrects as the community’s venue after 25 years of slumber. This is just three examples of what can happen when firebrands join forces on a project idea and stubbornly continue until it is implemented.
Sometimes the aim of the firebrands is to renovate a building of local or cultural historical significance. Other times, the building is based on a social or cultural activity. But in any case, the firebrands create new life in the buildings and quality of life in the community. The firebrands go to work with enthusiasm, and for relatively small funds they make great changes. Among other things, they are therefore a huge driving force and resource for local development and quality of life.
Sustainable projects and communities
In Realdania, we have long supported the firebrands in the built environment to implement their ideas, and during that time we have experienced a world of passion, ideas and fellowship. Initially, we did not have a real strategy to support the voluntary projects, but the applications became more and, in the aftermath, followed positive, lasting and sustainable results.
Is the project anchored in local networks? Sprouting the idea of a concrete need? Yes, experience shows that they also have a greater chance of success on the long run. Common to the firebrand projects we have supported is that they are firmly rooted in the community. And therefore, volunteers are ready to carry on the good idea when the construction phase is over.
It has also been shown that the firebrands projects are about more than construction. Besides the concrete physical changes of the projects, a social effect is at least as important. The firebrands build bridges across local borders like age, sex and background. The building project itself gives reason to meet and when the work or the project is over, the community and social relations continue.
Cooperation benefits everyone
Being a firebrand is not always easy. New ideas and ways of doing things can meet resistance, both in the local community and at the municipal level. And the municipal system can be a challenge for impatient firebrands who burn to create change here and now.
In the municipalities where cooperation between the firebrands and the municipality thrives, it benefits both parties. Firebrands get more sustainable projects. And the employees of the municipality have a reason to become more aware of local challenges, unused resources and other ‘blind spots’ and can also put concrete faces on the community.
Firebrands create wonders
Realdania are proud to contribute to the work of the firebrands in campaign “Underværker”. The dedicated firebrands play their ideas into the collective actors who drive local development across the country. The municipalities of course, but also the local association and business. And the most long-term projects are often those where several actors work together. We are full of admiration for the creative power among the firebrands, but they rarely can lift the projects alone. It requires both support and sometimes financial assistance from other sides – eg. municipalities, business or philanthropic actors. Therefore, Realdania, with the campaign “Underværker” and earlier with “Byggeriets ildsjæle”, gives an economical support to the individual project, helps to qualify the good ideas and allows the firebrands to meet, share experiences and inspire each other. We have also prepared a project handbook that can be used by all firebrands with a good idea to a project.
At their best, the firebrands are pioneers, paving the way for new, creative and sustainable solutions to both local, national and global challenges. Initial skepticism from other parties often turns into enthusiasm once projects have started. Although many must go long before it is a success, the ambition and hard work of firebrands mean that dreams can come true. It is worth backing up.
At Underværker.dk you can read more about firebrand’s projects from all over the country, which have been supported through the Realdania campaign “Underværker”. Since 2014, six rounds of application have been completed in the campaign, where firebrands from all over the country have expressed their ideas and have been helped to implement them.
Anne Skovbro, director of philanthropy, Realdania
Anne Skovbro, filantropidirektør www.realdania.dk