The Mechelen Hundred

Portraits of a city's people, today

Nestled between Brussels and Antwerp, Mechelen has often been overshadowed by its larger neighbours. Yet teaming up with the City of Mechelen, our line-up of 100 of the city’s most prominent people, places and projects proves the extent of its potential. From artists and creatives to critical thinkers and fighters, these are the powerhouses driving Mechelen forward one step at a time.

Youssef El Yagoubi

Youssef El Yagoubi

Founder at Project Salaam Mechelen (1971)

Can you describe what you do?

I am the founder of and a volunteer at Project Salaam Mechelen, an intercultural indoor football project that combines sports with a sociocultural mission. We bring together people from different backgrounds, origin, age groups, beliefs and sex. We value tolerance, respect and unity. The literal translation of “Salaam” is “peace be upon you”.

Besides Project Salaam, I work as an energy consultant and I live in the north of Mechelen with my family of four children.

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?

Mechelen has become a beautiful and big city. It is very vibrant and lively during the day, but after six o’clock it turns rather quiet. I find the local inhabitants to be fairly sceptical and down-to-earth, but there are many cultural initiatives, so there’s always something to do. As far as interculturality is concerned, I think Mechelen by far has the most positive attitude towards it in comparison with Brussels or Antwerp.

What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Recently, Mechelen has evolved in a very positive way, and it has quickly gained a good reputation in comparison with the problematic notoriety it had in earlier days. With Bart Somers, we now have a strong-minded mayor who has learned to engage every citizen with good intentions.

How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

I grew up in a warm and friendly society, but since 1990 it has become a bit less so due to the rise of prejudice and discrimination. As a reaction, I grew stronger and I created Project Salaam specifically to contribute to a more welcoming environment in Mechelen. The city has always supported my initiatives and inspired me, on a practical level as well as in spirit.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I feel I could make a significant change myself occupying a responsible function in the city council, either in the domains of diversity policy or sports. But this would mean I’d have to go into politics, and I prefer to stay clear of that in order to maintain the neutrality of Salaam Mechelen.

To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?

My advice is to just go out there and discover it all without a guide. But be warned: you will need at least 3 days to take it all in!

Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?

There are too many examples to choose from I’m afraid. Mechelen is brimming with stories!