What is a “vrijplaats”?
The vrijplaats (literally ‘free space’) is a cultural and social center, which brings together a multitude of nonprofit-making organizations and individuals and provides them with a space where their innovative ideas can unfold as freely as possible.
The founding principles of the vrijplaats are sustainability, solidarity, voluntary participation and direct democracy. This set of values constitute a framework that can accommodate a variety of cultural and social initiatives. Thus, the vrijplaats will host a weggeefwinkel (a “store” which is not quite a store: things are not sold and bought here, but brought in and given out for free), the Fabel van de illegaal (an organization which fights against racism and social exclusion), as well as a meeting space with a kitchen serving organic vegan food and organic drinks. There will be a public activities hall as well, which can provide a floor for debates, theater shows, music performances, film viewings. In the future we also expect to welcome other, new organizations that are culturally or socially involved.
The location – a brief history
From 1969 to 2010 the vrijplaats was located in the Koppenhinksteeg, also in the city center. In 2010 it was evicted and for two years there was no vrijplaats in Leiden anymore. In April 2012 the association which administers the vrijplaats finally became the owner of the beautiful building at 36 Middelstegracht.
The building is a monument, part of a complex of buildings once owned by the Tieleman & Dros canning factory. In the early half of the 20th century, the factory complex extended on both sides of the Middelstegracht (which, in those times, was still a canal) as well as in neighboring streets. Vegetables such as peas, beans and carrots, already husked, peeled and sliced by entire families in their own homes, used to be brought to the factory by boat. Once inside the factory buildings, the vegetables were sterilized and canned. The main market for the canned products was represented by the overseas territories of the Netherlands. Following the independence of the former European colonies in Asia after WW2, the market dramatically shrunk. The company could never recover from the blow and in 1955 it was declared bankrupt.
The future of the building
Time and lack of maintenance have taken their toll on the historic building. We are here now, however, and we will spare no time or energy in order to restore it to its former glory and put it to the best use!
The renovation will spread out over more than a year and will be undertaken in several steps so that initiatives can gradually open their doors to the public. For example, in a first stage, we plan to open the temporary meeting space in just a few months.
You and the vrijplaats
A huge amount of work lies ahead of us and every helping hand and every cent count towards making it easier! You can join our volunteers in the renovation process – even if you have only little time to allot to it, and even if you think you may lack specific skills, we assure you that you could make a difference! You can also make a donation (transfer to bank account 118903403 t.n.v. SVK Leiden).
Do you share our values? Do you have ideas that you want to put into practice? Do you want to get involved? You can also join the vrijplaats by becoming a volunteer and contributing, in the longer term, to the activities organized here!
And don’t forget that you can just drop by any time – our doors are always open to new ideas, suggestions, and questions. Hereby, we would like to already invite you to the upcoming opening of the meeting space – more specific information will follow in due time!