R84 Multifactory Mantova

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By Lorenza Victoria Salati and Giulio Focardi:

"To better understand how a multifactory can start, we will briefly talk about the evolution of one of them, R84 Multifactory Mantova. The story of R84 Multifactory starts in December 2013. In that month IES, Italiana Energia e Servizi spa, decides to close the extracting part of its refinery in Mantua, a Lombard city in the heart of the Po Valley. Two months later, the entire refining plant is shut down and only the logistics hub, that is the part used to store and distribute the products, remains active. The resulting loss of jobs is considerable and in order to mitigate its impact, IES launches a selection process to identify external projects to be located in unused spaces. The task of managing this transition is assigned to a Milan-based company specialised in corporate crisis resolution, Sofit srl. In those months, we are in touch with Sofit and we de-cide to answer to the call for projects, proposing they create a multifactory in a part of the area. Two years of meetings, negotiations and crises talks begin involving representatives and administrators from the municipality, the region, some ministries, trade unions, and the regional environmental protection agency (ARPA). The negotiations are extremely confidential and it is forbidden to talk about them to anyone, so we go several times to Mantua, to explore the city,but always incognito. The three selected projects are finally announced in spring 2016. One of them is ours, aimed at establishing a multifactory. In June 2016 we also launch a Call for Projects to identify the initial group of pioneers who will start the multifactory. In September the initial group of companies that will start the project is constituted. It is agreed that the multifactory will be taken over by a trade association, formed by the companies belonging to the Multifactory itself. During the first few months, we all work together with the future members of the multifactory on the statutes and the forms of governance to be applied. In the meantime, IES is carrying out basic maintenance work to make the spaces accessible, including the removal of some asbestos pipes and the installation of new gas-fired heating boilers.In December we start to discuss the name of the associationwith future members. After numerous meetings, three names remain to choose from: Yes Multifactory, La Raffineria delle Idee and R84. We entrust the final decision to the citizens and launch a public survey. The survey is published on January 6, 2018 in the “Gazzetta di Mantova”and on social networks. About ten days later, the votes cast award the name- R84: R for the refinery and 84 is the sum of the numbers identifying the first three buildings that the multifactory will occupy. On 31st January the association R84 is founded, on 21st February the contract between IES and R84 is signed, on 2nd March members receive the keys to their spaces. Thus R84 Multifactory is born. R84 Multifactory covers a large area called “ICIP villas”, consisting of green spaces and six buildings, once a mixture of residences, warehouses and workshops formerly used by the workers of the refinery. These spaces are now used as offices, studios and laboratories by around 40 professionals, craftspeople, artists and small entrepreneurs. R84 Multifactory Mantova is part of the project to renovate the eastern suburbs of Mantua and is part of an extensive urban renewal project, aimed at regenerating a place with special characteristics, since the conversion of a former refinery is an extremely challenging task. On one side, there are very strict constraints, imposed by various agencies and public bodies because of the strategic value and for environmental reasons. These are areas that have been heavily transformed during the years, with substantial pollution in the actual “production” areas, which remain inaccessible and dangerous even after the refinery has been shut down. Then there is a social issue, because of the image that a refinery carries and because of the thousands of negative stories that are remembered in the city linked to those places. But there are also a thousand positive memories, stories to tell, and emotions to express. A refinery is not just a steel and cement forest.

A refinery has plenty of contiguous, ancillary, and interstitial areas in the purest meaning of the word, which can be reanimated first and so drive a process of change for the whole area. Giving back to the citizenship those places means, first of all,giving a possibility to rethink the spaces, to live and express within them new emotions. It’s also a chance for the community to express needs and identify solutions. Reinventing places as workspaces means exactly this, looking at the future without destroying the memory of the past. Where there was a refinery, the main symbol of heavy industry and globalisation connected to primary resources, today another kind of production is taking place, which seems to be totally different: local, small, sustainable. Yet one element links them. Much as at the beginning of the 20th century a refinery was a symbol of progress and an example of the most advanced technology, today the lean, fast and sustainable companies of R84 Multifactory reiterate the same concept of progress, in this case under the form of advanced models for horizontal and sustainable business development and organisation. Just as a refinery addressed the challenges of the 1900s, a Multifactory addresses the challenges of the 21th century, promoting an integrated model of regional development that links economic sustainability, local development, local production of goods and services, environmental protection, and attention to the needs of individuals and the community." (https://www.academia.edu/41043179/THE_RISE_OF_COMMUNITY_ECONOMY_From_Coworking_Spaces_to_the_Multifactory_Model)

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