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5 questions for Nicole van Dijk

In our new column ‘5 questions for’, we engage with interesting people, our network and relations, diving into the world of oral history and everything related to it. This month Nicole van Dijk, initiator and director of Stichting Wijkcollectie, previously working for Museum Rotterdam as a programme maker Real Rotterdam Heritage.


1/ Can you (briefly) introduce yourself?

‘As initiator and director of the Wijkcollectie foundation, I work with a team of 7 employees to safeguard contemporary neighbourhood heritage. Previously, I worked at Museum Rotterdam as programme maker Real Rotterdam Heritage. At Museum Rotterdam, I worked for years at the intersection of heritage, neighbourhood development and as a curator’.


2/ What is your expertise


‘So since 2.5 years, as director of a very nice club of people who have been safeguarding neighbourhood heritage in more than 20 Rotterdam Districts and also further developing the Real Rotterdam Heritage’.



3/ With Stichting Wijkcollectie, neighbourhood stories in Rotterdam are made visible and preserved as the city’s ‘intangible neighbourhood heritage’ with the aim of starting connection and cooperation. To what extent does oral history play a role in collecting these stories?

‘We collect all the stories by conducting open interviews. Interviews are recorded and transcribed and then stories are created from them. Always in consultation with people we have spoken to. In that sense, it is oral history, though ours is about the history of the future. In other words, we record stories that we decide, in consultation with neighbourhood residents, belong to the collection of important neighbourhood stories. In doing so, the stories are designated neighbourhood heritage. These are stories of people who, in one way or another, dedicate themselves to others in the neighbourhood or to a development that is considered important. By declaring this district heritage, we want to inspire and appreciate. So we offer stories and people the ‘heritage stage’ as support.”


4/ The Real Rotterdam Heritage project collects striking stories and objects together with Rotterdammers. It is an innovative approach to collecting urban history. Can you tell us more about it?

‘This collection of stories is also about history in the making, or the heritage of the future. The Real Rotterdam Heritage maps that from the whole city, the District Collections from neighbourhoods. That means there is sometimes an overlap between the various collections. We once started with Real Rotterdam Heritage and because of the potential we saw for cooperation at neighbourhood level, we started working super-locally. By setting up collections of neighbourhood stories and organising neighbourhood events, we were able to bring people from the same area together, which accelerated collaborations. The Really Rotterdam Heritage collection is still important because it allows us to filter out themes that are important for the entire city. For example, in the Real Rotterdam Heritage as well as the Neighbourhood Collections, we have collected stories about and by people who, in one way or another, are committed to a cleaner city. Because we see that this is so alive, we are organising a city clean-up conference in September. We are working on this with various partners in the city and groups from different neighbourhoods. With cooperation partner Museum Rotterdam, we are making a film about the past of city cleaning and with people who are active in the neighbourhood now, we are talking about contemporary solutions’.


‘So ours is about intangible and contemporary heritage. Three tricky terms that can be explained in different ways. What is heritage, when is it about now and what falls under intangible heritage? Because we see heritage and, in a broader sense, culture as important parts of neighbourhood life, we also think that it is precisely with these diffuse parts of society that you can make a lot of difference. Because we see heritage as meaningful, as a way in which you can arrive at a new commonality. This is always evolving, of course, but is done pre-eminently by people thinking about it now. By thinking with residents now about what are important activities in the neighbourhood and why, we want to contribute to finding new forms of commonality. We do this with the neighbourhood stories we bring together and with which we offer a stage to the people who tell those stories. We are also looking for more ways to turn these stories into neighbourhood heritage. For instance by recording them in photo or film, in theatre or another art form. In this way, we can transfer the stories and it can be experienced collectively. In our opinion, an important condition for heritage’.


We see heritage as giving meaning, as a way of arriving at a new commonality


5/ What do you hope to achieve with your work?

‘Our goal is to use today’s (neighbourhood) heritage to contribute to a more just and social society where people feel heard and seen and where people themselves can make the change they feel is important. For us, stories are the basis of this. In stories, we hear the wishes and desires but also the fears and threats people feel. If we hear themes or topics more often, we organise events or activities in which we address them. Like, for example, with the city clean-up conference. Here, we think it is important that residents themselves come up with ideas and improvements and that it does not become a meeting directed by the municipality’.


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