Mon­sieur Garet

  • Com­mu­nity worker, Direc­tor of the Fédéra­tion Nationale des Cen­tres Soci­aux, France.

From one cul­ture to another

When Alain Godon arrived with his fam­ily in St Nico­las — St Lau­rent in 1979, build­ing on the estate was nearly com­plete. 2,440 homes had been con­structed and half of these were col­lec­tive hous­ing. Sev­eral tower blocks of 15 to 17 sto­ries and “slabs” 6 sto­ries high were con­tained within the heart of the estate, located near to a shop­ping cen­tre too large for the area, and these were home to a con­cen­tra­tion of sev­eral hun­dreds of families.

At the foot of the build­ings, and close to this large super­mar­ket and its shops, is the Chante­clair com­mu­nity cen­tre which opened its doors in 1977. In charge of activ­i­ties and of the centre’s devel­op­ment, it was there that I met Alain Godon. In this neigh­bour­hood with its young pop­u­la­tion, there were many chil­dren. Work­shops were open for them on Wednes­days and on Sat­ur­day after­noons. As an ado­les­cent, Alain showed great inter­est in the activ­i­ties we organ­ised. His love of paint­ing led me to sug­gest that he join those who were also try­ing their hand. Con­se­quently, he would come each week and quite spon­ta­neously give the chil­dren advice on their pot­tery or draw­ing. This is the end result of meet­ing, of lis­ten­ing and of sug­gest­ing that he takes on some respon­si­bil­ity. So it was that, along­side the adults of a club for artis­tic devel­op­ment, he shared his tal­ent with the youngest chil­dren. In no time at all the chil­dren would come to the cen­tre and ask if Alain “is there” — demon­strat­ing how he was able to estab­lish spe­cial bonds with them. This period was to lay the foun­da­tions of what was to become the Centre’s action flag­ship: Children’s Work­shops (up to 150 “kids” in half a day).
During this period, 19791983, the fam­i­lies from the New Homes were work­ing class (man­u­fac­ture of nylon thread, met­al­lurgy units, etc.) or mid­dle class (employ­ees in the ter­tiary sec­tor, highly devel­oped in Arras). There was of course unem­ploy­ment but not at a struc­tural level. Large groups of ado­les­cents would con­gre­gate around the stair­wells, at the bot­tom of the tower blocks and in the shop­ping mall. They would occupy their own time, mak­ing up new games and new rites of pas­sage from one peer group to the next. They may have been a nui­sance to a few peo­ple, but it was a far cry from van­dalised door­ways… Inse­cu­rity and impov­er­ish­ment within the com­mu­nity would hap­pen later.
N ever­the­less, it was quite a dif­fer­ent world from that of Achicourt, on the other side of the town of Arras, that Alain was to get to know whilst still liv­ing in St Nico­las. Friends and pals came from dif­fer­ent social back­grounds. The sur­round­ings, which con­sisted of large con­crete build­ings built on grassy areas next to the tar­mac of park­ing lots and high­ways, were dif­fer­ent to those of the Godon family’s ori­gins. Achicourt’s brick houses, recon­structed after the First World War, and its nar­row lanes lead­ing to the allot­ments of the last mar­ket gar­den­ers were sub­sti­tuted by the brightly coloured build­ings of St Nico­las and its open spaces exposed to the four winds. The tran­quil­lity and seclu­sion which belongs to a “rep­utable” fam­ily in a small com­mu­nity would carry no weight in this new envi­ron­ment. Over a period of sev­eral years, Alain was to spend his time alter­nat­ing between vis­its to both of these towns, switch­ing thus from one world to another.
C learly it was in this period that Alain Godon began to develop a love of brightly coloured set­tings, a sense of cul­tural mix within his sur­round­ings, as well as a sense of the detail that so ener­gises pub­lic spaces. This con­stant to-​ing and fro-​ing between one cul­ture and another, from one social envi­ron­ment to another, far from desta­bil­is­ing him, enriched him and endowed him with the social ease that treats peo­ple with the same respect, the same atten­tion, irre­spec­tive of their sta­tus, their fame or… their pur­chas­ing power!
When in 2007 I met Alain again, after he had con­tacted me, at an exhi­bi­tion in Le Tou­quet, we chat­ted to each other as if it had only been a few weeks since last meet­ing. Look­ing back at his ado­les­cent years at the Chante­clair Cen­tre, what stood out for him was the impor­tance of mutual trust, the encour­age­ment to take respon­si­bil­ity and the free­dom of expres­sion at a time when the adult-​to-​be is con­sol­i­dat­ing his build­ing blocks of self-​fulfilment in the years to come.
Rekin­dling those moments we spent together in the eight­ies, he seemed as if he was pleased to re-​discover his roots which today have bestowed him with a con­fi­dence and a serenity.

Dominique Garet

Com­mu­nity worker, Direc­tor of the Fédéra­tion Nationale des Cen­tres Soci­aux, France