Can you describe what you do?
Every day brings a new challenge for me. I work with young people in the boxing club Royal Gym as well as on the street. By engaging them in sports, we provide difficult and socially vulnerable youngsters with a sense of structure, discipline and respect. A couple of years ago, we also started to approach kids on the streets to help them get back on the right track. This year the city has given us funds to expand our spontaneous voluntary initiative into a social project, and so far it has been very succesful.
I am also engaged in the project ‘Pleinmakers’ in my own neighbourhood, Oud Oefenplein. We are a small group of people who try to strengthen the social fabric from inside out: we organise events, we talk to kids and their parents, and in general we try to lead by example.
How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
I think Mechelen has become a role model for other cities. It is very well-governed, with a positive emphasis on security and group cohesiveness. As a parent, I have become greatly aware how different this place has become in the past twenty years.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
The Mechlinians really love their city. The positive evolution of Mechelen is not only thanks to the efforts of our city council, it is thanks to the enthusiasm and helpfulness of each and every resident. There is a great collaboration between the government and the local organisations.
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
There’s a saying that goes ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’. I did have my problems when I was younger, so I am definitely a good example of this. I want to right the wrongs I did when I was young, and give back nothing but positivity to my community. I want to prevent the young people of today from making the same mistakes.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
Of course there’s always room for improvement, and quality can only be maintained by keeping up the good work.
If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what/where would it be?
You really have to see the inner city, especially if you knew Mechelen twenty years ago. The Dyle river and the Vismarkt are places that have gone through a remarkable transformation.
I also want to point out that even the social districts here are very well developed and maintained, compared to the projects in any other major city. An outsider coming into the city wouldn’t be able to tell the difference with the other neighbourhoods.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
I’m going to name our major Bart Somers as my personal local hero. This has nothing to do with politics for me, purely on a human level he has my utmost respect. What he has done for his own city earns him that title.royalgymmechelen.be