On October 22nd in Matera, Casa Netural celebrates its 10th anniversary: not only an association, but also a home for a community of social innovation, located in the heart of the Mediterranean.
Founded in the first place in a typical small house in the Sassi not far from the Cathedral of Matera, in these ten years Casa Netural has come a long way, developing numerous innovative projects, enabling the community to realize their professional dreams, sharing knowledge and opportunities and effectively contributing to spread a new culture of work, sustainability and collaborative living.
Many of the projects born and developed by the association are now a real trend worldwide: coliving, digital nomads, remote working and the enhancement of villages.
When in 2012, Andrea Paoletti, an architect from Biella, and Mariella Stella, a civil activist from Matera, decided to found in Matera the first rural networking space in the world (hence the term “Netural”), the coworking model was an unknown thing in the city.
From that moment on, Casa Netural has opened its doors to the world and has begun to aggregate citizens, social innovators, creatives or simply curious people, to share ideas and passions and imagine together new scenarios for the city. In this way and thanks to a special format named Le Chiacchiere di Casa Netural (“Chitchatting with Casa Netural”) a new community was born, gathered by the desire to collaborate and develop projects capable of generating a positive impact in the city and throughout the Lucanian territory.
The first coliving in Europe
The very first project to be launched – and that is still active today- was the Coliving, special residences to promote cultural exchanges between the local community and social innovators and change makers from all over the world. Successful designers and members of important organizations operating in the fields of environmental sustainability, business creation, experiential tourism, cultural experimentation in 2013 were, in fact, invited to Matera to experience a week of true “design” and “experiential” regeneration by immersing themselves in the warm and slow atmosphere of Matera, meeting the inhabitants, professionals, artisans, and sharing their stories and best practices with them.
Today, also linked to the recent pandemic, the Coliving has become a real lifestyle and the collaborative living project of Casa Netural is an attraction for people from all over the world, especially for the digital nomad community, and gathers hundreds of people every year.
Discovering the little town of Basilicata with Netural Walk
Another project promoted by the association in its early days is the Netural Walk, an anthropological and social walk to discover Basilicata and its small villages. Every year, since 2013, a small portion of the territory is chosen, and through a real process of civic activation, a path is built in collaboration with the administrations, associations and citizens of the small Lucanian municipalities included in the itinerary.
A sustainable journey on foot, designed in contrast to the idea of hit-and-run tourism. Every year walkers from all over Italy (and beyond) choose Basilicata eager to get to know the region in an authentic and passionate way. The tenth edition will be held next year between Castelsaraceno and Maratea and registrations are already open!
Helping the community developing ideas
From the desire to support the community in shaping their entrepreneurial aspirations, Casa Netural developed an entrepreneurial training course to help citizens realize their business ideas starting from their passions: the so-called Incubatore dei Sogni. A project that in turn has led to the birth of new initiatives, to name a few: Agrinetural (a project dedicated to the creation of participatory urban gardens and which conceived and designed the Agoragri park), Netural Talk (an educational project based on the learning of languages through non-formal training processes), Mammatera (a female craft enterprise project) and NeturalFamily (a project that still today develops initiatives for families and innovative educational paths for children aged 3 to 10).
Alongside its major projects, over the years Casa Netural has grown as a forge of a myriad of micro-projects developed together with the associates, to meet the needs of the city and the community, including: the first Pannoniloteca and Fascioteca of Basilicata, the Fasceggiate (family-friendly explorations of the Sassi district), Rinetural (workshops on sustainability), SoundNetural (archive of the sounds of rurality), Exploring Basilicata (mapping of social innovation in Basilicata), Fantalucania (creative workshops for children), Swap parties (to swap second-hand clothes), the Netural Schools (training meetings to exchange skills), the Bibliomater (neighborhood library for children born thanks to books donated by citizens), and Cucinetural (ethnic lunches and dinners organized together with Materani “adopted ” from other countries of the world to promote cultural integration under the banner of good food).
The evolution and the relationship with the neighbourhood
In 2014 the small house in the Sassi became too small for to the growing community, and the Association decided to look for a new home, involving of all its associates and the citizens of the city in a participatory and co-design process and the creation of a Facebook group that over time has changed the name from “Casa Netural is looking for a house” to “Casa Netural designs a home”, up to “Casa Netural lives the house”.
So in 2015 the association moved out of the Sassi, to the San Pardo district, with a view to greater involvement of the population in its activities and to contaminate the city. Since 2016, a special collaboration has been created in the district with Il Quartiere Si Muove, an association founded by the historic inhabitants of the district, together with which a wonderful project has been realized that has involved schools, associations, families in the creation of a playground for children and of lights to illuminate the streets of the neighborhood during the Christmas period, starting from the creative recycling of plastic bottles: “Il Quartiere Riluce”.
The values of active citizenship, participation and neighborhood have always been rooted in Casa Netural since its constitution. Some principles were then translated into the Portineria Di Quartiere (neighborhood concierge), a social space of mutual help and cooperation to improve small neighborhoods life and to help the integration of the social environment thanks to the spirit of volunteering.
The European dimension
However, this dimension of proximity has always been accompanied by a greater vision, to cross the borders of the city and the region, and create bridges between different generations and cultures. In 2013 to support Matera’s candidacy as European Capital of Culture, Casa Netural conceived, developed and coordinated the Basilicata Border Games (the first urban game on a territorial scale that saw 3000 citizens and 5 cities involved in a real process of community animation), and subsequently, developed and coordinated Mammamiaaa, one of the official project of the Matera 2019 cultural program, which involved more than 6000 people across Europe to explore the culture of food through convivial moments and the sharing of family recipes. These initiatives saw their peak in 2019 with the creation, in Matera, of the first Social Food Forum in the world and of the Uasciazz, a community dinner that saw the participation of 800 citizens.
Over the course of 10 years Casa Netural, its home and community, has evolved more and more, experimenting with different projects and formats, constantly working on themes of social innovation, circular economy, sustainability, family, creativity and education.
In particular, the desire to always explore new scenarios has led Casa Netural to involve many partners and create two projects in 2015 and 2016: the Sharing School (the first school in the world of sharing economy – involving over 100 sharing economy professionals from Italy and abroad) and the Matera Design Weekend (the first design festival in Southern Italy – with detailed research on immaterial design).
At the center of every initiative there are human relationships, passions and citizens’ ideas. In short, the intercultural and multigenerational community. Over the years, volunteers from all over the world have joined the team to collaborate and create positive stories together, and some of these have then moved to Matera, choosing to build a life and a family in the south, investing in a sustainable and inclusive future in Basilicata.
To support Casa Netural over the years, the economic support of all the members, of the people who from all over Italy (and beyond) have participated in the crowdfunding campaigns promoted by the association, and of various local private companies that have believed in the vision of the project.
The generative power of rural networking
In 2018, as a generative action of the skills and professional relationships developed in the association, two new social enterprises were founded: Netural Coop, a cooperative committed to the enhancement of territories and communities, and Wonder Grottole, a laboratory village for urban regeneration.
10 years of tangible and solid activities, sowing culture and building international networks.
A story that tells how much associationism, made up of authentic and genuine collaborations, and the desire to create opportunities for the community, can be generative and produce social impact, especially in rural – peripheric contexts.