The second floor of a 1912 building in the historic centre accommodates three cozy rooms of "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre. Being the perfect hosts, Ivan Petushok, who manages the project, and coordinator Anastasiya Grigoruk, greet me with a smile at the foot of stairs to the second floor. They started to lovingly create the space with their own hands a few years ago. Then, Ivan tells us, it became clear that they lack business skills to develop the business further. He saw the ODB Brussels newsletter advertising the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator”. That is how the Hrodna team became an active participant of the EU-funded Biz4all programme.
That is what the premises of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre in Hrodna looked like when the organizers first rented it. Photo: personal archive
The room with a hole in the ceiling
Ivan describes that three years ago he organized game nights in the old gym. On Friday nights, the activity brought together many board game lovers: starting 4-5 people, after some time they had up to 40 participants with games going on from 8 pm to 6 am. Anastasiya, who at the time worked at the Hrodna time café, started frequenting the Club to help out as a volunteer. A year later, the decided they needed to expand and look for their own premises. “It was then that I learned about the rent coefficient, which is wavered if you rent a government building directly from the state. Nastya took a long time to find the room that would be good for us”, recalls Ivan. “In the end, we were offered this, on the second floor of a 1912 house. It is luxurious and big, but it had been put up for rent for more than ten years! It didn’t have even basic working conditions, let alone repairs. I have some experience in construction, so I was not frightened by the hole in the ceiling and a 10-cm layer of soot between the arches. It took us about eight months to do repairs with our own hands and investments. At the time we only repaired two rooms: the green one (25 sq. m.) and the sofa-bed room (15 sq. m.). We have just a few finishing touches left on the third room of 40 sq. m., which is the biggest. Of course, I was not the only one doing the repairs, we had help from friends, acquaintances and volunteers”.
This is how the premises of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre in Hrodna look today
Photo: Valerya Nikalaychik
While Ivan and Anastasiya with a team of like-minded people were sorting out the premises, a crises happened, so the only Hrodna time café and another board games club closed down. However, this did not scare off the young enthusiasts: they decided not to rest on their laurels and opened in early 2016. Then they organized the first game night: the walls were not fully covered in paint, there was some debris around, but about 45 people came to the opening.
|Ivan Petushok and Anastasiya Grigaruk in one of the rooms of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre in Hrodna. The painting on the wall is “Playing Future” by Yegor Shakaladau, a Hrodna painter. |
Photo: Valeriya Nakolaychik
Volunteers and friends also helped them to get furniture and items of the interior. For example, the interior doors, which have also been there from 1912 and could not be replaced, were painted by Tatsiana, Ivan’s wife.The painting “Playing Future” was provided by a Hrodna painter Yegor Shakaladau. Almost each "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre has a special history.
|Anastasiya Grigaruk (in the centre), coordinator of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre in Hrodna at a Biz4all event "Communication with Customers", 05.02.2017, Minsk |
Photo: Vitaly Brazouski
The place to unite and organize
After the opening the centre started bringing in people who wanted to organize their events there, both commercial and charity ones. Most often the centre hosted free-of-charge events. For example, a number of meetings and auctions to support cancer patients together with the “Pora” Centre, the Animal Shelter collected food and other products for their animals, and a game night was organized for people with disabilities (the Disability Day Care Centre of the Hrodna Leninsky District). Their social mission developed naturally, and the team never denied it: when someone asked them to organize such events, they almost accommodated.
|Ivan Petushok, Head of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre in Hrodna at a Biz4all event|
Today the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre earns money by working as a time café. You can come to do your own business here or take part in the cultural and educational programmes on offer. Guests pay either for the duration of their stay or for a specific event. The team thinks their social mission is not just organizing charity events, however. Anastasiya underscores: “This is primarily a place that brings together like-minded persons: people of different ages can spend some quality time and relax”.
The Centre organized commercial and charity projects for a whole year but broke even, and even that just because the cost of the enterprise is low. One needs marketing and management skills, to promote their services properly. At that time, they found Biz4all programme, so they submitted their application to participate.
Being part of a community of social entrepreneurs
Anastasiya says that during the first couple of Biz4all modules their team were revising and not really learning new things. After all, the guys already had a working project, and they had already learnt many things by doing. Marketing and crowdfunding training modules were the most interesting for the team of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre.
|Marketing and sales coach Aleksander Patutin |
Photo: Facebook personal page
Aleksander Patutin, speaker at the marketing and sales training, paid special attention to the Centre and provided detailed recommendations on the directions for further development, which turned out to be extremely useful in practice. Anastasiya thinks that the Biz4all experience is invaluable for establishing new contacts. “It is useful to listen to other people’s experiences”, she says. “It really inspires and supports you".
|Sergey Fenenko, mentor of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre of Hrodna in the Biz4all programme. |
Photo: personal archive
Representative of the Belarusian diaspora Sergey Fenenko, who is their mentor in the project, notes that their cooperation has been fruitful. Ivan and Anastasiya have already taken on board his main recommendations and tips for further development and started to implement them.
They decided to launch their crowdfunding campaign at talaka.by, and it is still going on, with 5% of the declared 4000 roubles already raised. They chose this platform because there you can receive the collected money regardless of how much they raise. Initially, the team was raising funds to renovate the unfinished room and improve the centre as a whole, but they have already performed some repairs even while the campaign is still underway. They will use the money they raise to purchase furniture and equipment: cabinets, new tables and chairs, bean bags, a projector and an X-box.
|Interior of the "Portal" Recreation and Development Centre, Hrodna |
Photo: Valerya Nikalaychyk
The Centre constantly gets interest from new volunteers who are ready to help develop the project. However, Ivan and Anastasiya note that they do not have enough time to train each volunteer in order to use the human resources correctly in future. Now the centre operates both as an individual entrepreneur and as a non-profit.
Text by: Valerya Nikalaychyk
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|
The publication was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with the fiancial support from the European Union.