The lock down of the prisons was largely driven by a “shortage of prisoners,” a combination of relaxed drug laws, a shift to rehabilitation, and an electronic ankle monitoring system started off as an experiment in the North of the Netherlands in 1995.
The lock down is not a bad thing at all, unless for the prison workers, maybe. I am certain that this is just one problem that most Governments of Belgium, Britain, Haiti, Italy, the United States and Venezuela would love to have as they grapple with prison overcrowding.
In fact, it is reported that The Netherlands has such a surplus of unused cells that it has rented some of its prisons to Belgium and Norway. It has also turned about a dozen former prisons into centers for asylum seekers.
One prison however that really caught our eye was Bijlmerbajes Prison, that was shut down in 2016. Shortly after the closure of the prison, LOLA a foundation that uses empty real estate for social initiatives, was commissioned by the Amsterdam municipality to turn Bijlmerbajes Prison into a creative hub, running educational and entertainment programs for ‘New Amsterdammers’ living in the center.
LOLA was also tasked with transforming the prison’s cells into a temporary home for refugees and asylum seekers. The foundation adopted the name Lola Lik for the prison facility and the co-working space.
LOLA literally means making proper use of the space available while Lik is Dutch slang for prison and, at the same time, means a stroke of paint. The creative hub was situated in the former main building of the Bijlmerbajes prison and neighbour to the refugee centre Wenckebachweg.
Though the co-working space was closed late last year after the building was bought out by a new tenant, the Lola Lik creative hub website is still active with over 28 members and hopefully they will be announcing their new location soon.
One interesting aspect of the co-working hub was the fact that everyone in Lola Lik was encouraged to add their own “lik” contributing to their craft, ideas or network to the hub.
The 9000m² of available space was used by creative professionals, social enterprises, craftspeople and program developers.
Many of them co-created with the inhabitants of the refugee centre or offered vocational training. Llocated in a public space, the creative doors were also open to all inhabitants of Amsterdam who had access to the Refugee Company café.
LOLA Lik operated under a framework where energy could nestle and bloom and where development was flexible and organic with a focus on the process and not the result.
Lola Lik had six available spaces for all its members.
First were the office spaces that were categorized into three packages; small, medium and large. It is not clear what the rates were, but the small offices covered a surface area of 20 square meters that could extend to 40 square meters.
The medium sized office spaces ranged from 40 square meters to 60 square meters and were perfect for companies and start-ups seeking to expand.
The third space was the large space situated in the building’s warehouse. The space was reserved as a public and social place open to all visitors and other users.
Once the central hangout for prison guards, Lola Lik turned that into a canteen turned Lola Lik users came together. At times though, the space could also be rented for meetings, conferences, workshops and events with a capacity of hundred twenty persons.
For the meeting rooms, the Lola Lik didn’t do much they turned the former prison employees’ meeting room into just that… a meeting room available for anyone who was interested in a private and unique meeting room experience. The room, usable for groups of up to thirteen persons, was also available to all organizations housing in Lola Lik.
In the former laundry space, the Refugee Company turned the place into an event space with café and in the prison’s former warehouse, which 350 square meters with ceilings of up to 4 meters the space was used as a canvas for markets, parties and expositions. The space was available one day per month as it also served as a temporary museum.
In the former production kitchen of the Bijlmerbajes prison, Syrian entrepreneur Jay Asad ran his Startup Kitchen. The start-up kitchen offered tailor-made meals and events for companies.
As Lola Lik closed its doors on 31 December 2017, the new owner of the Bijlmerbajes Complex, Bajes Kwartier BV, took over from March 2018.
The good side of the story is that though Lola Lik was shut down, some users continue their activities under the management of the new owner in the complex. These are Refugee Company with the A Beautiful Mess restaurant, Bijlmerbajes Events, Bijlmerbajes boxing school and The Movement Hotel.
Though targeting hundreds of people living in Amsterdam, the co-working space highly impacted hundreds of refugees who participated in the Lola Lik project in a variety of ways, thereby giving substance to their own future.
From volunteering to starting your own companies, from language lessons to skills training. Lola Lik has offered perspectives, connected networks and strengthened integration with respect for the talents. Various refugees were also given a chance to start life afresh as entrepreneurs, craftsmen, artists and creatives.
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