Europe in Sigulda? Sigulda in Europe?

Less than an hour’s drive from Riga, Sigulda is the perfect antidote to big city bustle Stunning scenery, ancient castles and incredible adventures are awaiting in this natural wonderland For centuries, painters, poets, and lovers have found inspiration amidst the lovely landscapes of Sigulda, and visitors continue to embrace this exceptionally beautiful part of Latvia today Overlooking the picturesque Gauja River in the majestic Gauja National Park, Sigulda’s forested valleys are steeped in myths and legends They are a treat for the eyes in all seasons, especially the autumn when the leaves blaze gold and red According to a NeoGeo research, the only one out of the 20 largest cities in Latvia, where the number of inhabitants has increased since 1990, is in fact Sigulda With each year the numbers of visitors, newcomers and birth-rates are steadily increasing Family friendly environment, good infrastructure and the proximity of Riga are only a few factors, which make Sigulda attractive not only for locals, but also investors and tourists And what is the role of EU in Sigulda? Well, after Latvia joined the EU, the information about attracted resources in the first planning period, is very little As we found out in Sigulda City council, only one municipal project was fulfilled, which was aimed at promoting entrepreneurship In the planning period of 2007-2013, 33 projects financed or at least co-financed by the EU were accomplished The finances in total amounted to 11,2 million euros, from which around 82% were covered by different EU funds Proportionally the largest part of finances (30%) were given to education – two new kindergartens were constructed, two schools got renovated, and learning materials were modernized Also, the urban environment was organised by constructing a 20km long bicycle path and by restoring the Sigulda railway station and central square Finances were also given to tourism and health – the Sigulda hospital got renewed and modernized, the conditions of Bobsleigh and Luge track got improved, as well as the medieval time castle and castle ruins changed their look On the other hand, in the current planning period (2014-2020) already 19 projects worth 10 million euros have been accomplished, from which 76% are co-financed by the EU Apart from investments in education, tourism and urban environment, attention is also drawn to properly arranging the city’s water management services, where about 5 million euros have been invested In the context of Latvia, Sigulda does not stand out that much In accordance to Latvian National Television, in the period from 2012 until 2015, to improve the infrastructure and social environment of Sigulda region, 750 thousand euros were attracted from the EU funds, which, when calculated on 1000 inhabitants, Sigulda is ranked in 49th place, whilst first place is taken by Mārupe, but last by Cibla Regarding agriculture and fisheries, 500 thousand euros have been invested in Sigulda region, ranking it in the 97th place, which means that Sigulda is more focused on public services and less on agriculture Ranked in first place is Vārkavas district, but last is Jūrmala It should be noted that the data may be incomplete with reference to Latvian Television information Within the framework of our project, we focused on three most widely-financed sectors: education, tourism, and urban environment, analysing three projects – the construction of a kindergarten on Skolas Street 5, the renovation of Sigulda castle ruins, as well as the restauration of the Sigulda railway station

Every investment is very important, no matter if it is a private or a public investment In this case, if we take into account place, many citizens of Sigulda now recognize this as the center of the city Sigulda railway station was reconstructed, considering that Sigulda never really has had a center and moreover there was just no logical place to put the Laima clock won in an LTV competition Now the station serves as a multifunctional building in which a railway station, bus station, an information centre and a police station is placed It is the place were celebrations are celebrated and Olympians are greeted when returning home The reconstruction of the building and the territory around it took 2 years And from 1.1 million spent, 53% was covered by the EU, 45% by Sigulda Council and 2% by the national budget of Latvia Historically Sigulda has developed as a town of gardens, where the territory was split in small pieces of lands, where we can find many combinations of houses and their lands, gardens etc Sigulda has never had a center, which has been a good theme among the locals to talk about But at the moment, I would say, approximately 70% – 80% Sigulda’s citizens see this as the center And that’s a huge benefit for all of us – to have a large territory where we can gather together whenever there are some public events, such us greeting home our Olympians or celebrating the New Year’s eve That has resulted in a vibrant dynamic all around, creating a friendly urban environment For instance, many new businesses have emerged right next to the station And actually right here, outside, a new building will be constructed very soon, Which will include a hotel and other services Do you consider this to be the center of Sigulda? Pretty much, yeah No. Definitely not Why so? Because nothing particular happens here. In my opinion, more suitable center for Sigulda is the “Svētku” square This has always been the center. Both – geographically and furthermore now, when the station is renovated It all has added up. So yeah, it is the center in terms of geography. And I, as a local, am aware of that Yes, this is the center Although for me, personally, the center is where I live – in the Kaķīškalns district Of course it is nice that something is being done by renovating and constructing buildings, But to call this the center? I don’t know Well, I really don’t think so The fastest [development of Sigulda] has been happening for the last couple of years Few years ago the station was a complete disgrace and people didn’t want to stop by But now everything seems to be really nice, cozy and overall good It’s good that the investments can be attracted and with the help of EU’s money we can realize the projects Thus everyone can see that Sigulda’s county is not forgotten So do you consider the fact that Latvia is in the EU to be a good thing? In my opinion, yes. Overall the EU provides huge support for students and for other things There are lot of scholarships and other types of support. So, yeah, it is a very good thing Yes, I am happy for that Because I remember about ten years ago Sigulda consisted of 100% drug addicts and 0% tourists, and now it’s the other way around, which makes me happy Everything’s great, thank you! The [reconstruction of] station building can be considered to be the first successful nation-wide project Where a municipality was able to make a deal with “Latvijas Dzelzceļs” [national railroad company] In order to take over control of it

Because 6 years ago the building itself didn’t look that friendly – it was really grey and empty inside and out No one wanted to spend time here And thus, by attracting European funds’ money, we were able to renew the building And now there is a waiting hall; we have managed to arrange the public transportation system By making this as an important transport terminal for both – trains and buses Therefore making sure that it is easy for tourists and visitors to arrange their schedules And furthermore – an information center is placed here Which is important, because now tourists don’t have to wander around the city in order to find it Obviously already 5 years ago Sigulda welcomed plenty of tourists, But all we [the info center] had was a small room in a building shared with the Local service center So I would say that we have managed to divide these two sectors by prioritizing locals and their needs in one place, and visitors in other – here The construction of a new kindergarten with six groups in 2015 was necessary due to the lack of place availability, despite the fact that in 2013 a new kindergarten was constructed very nearby Construction lasted for two years and from the 1,4 million spent 85% or 1.1 million was covered by the EU, 13% by Sigulda Council and 2% by the national budget of Latvia It’s no secret that education is one of our top priorities and obstacles when considering every investment You have probably heard the most recent plans on reforming the education system It is planned that schools which are located on the periphery of Sigulda will get closed down Which means that in total 5 high schools will close down The consequences being that the two largest schools will need to take in more than 500 new students In total there are 6 municipal kindergartens and all of them are functioning on full capacity And as far as I know, there are only 16 children urgently waiting in line for their place “Pasaciņa” opened on the 13th of January in 2014, so we will celebrate our 4th birthday soon And at the moment all the groups are completely full This is the 2nd kindergarten built by a certain project (the first being “Ieviņa)” And this is a same exact copy of it And knowing that there are European investments, there are plenty of regulations that need to be fulfilled For example, the buildings need to be easy accessible for the disabled We have a wheelchair lift, which allows to get to the second floor Furthermore – all of the bathrooms are adjusted, and of course – ramps in order to get inside One of the groups is adjusted for kids with special needs But since all of them are walking on their own feet, we don’t use the lifts particularly But those are requirements And actually now all of the kindergartens are being adjusted in order to be accessible for everyone Do you have a clue how this building was built? Hmm, It was built four years ago Who built it? Constructors of Sigulda I have no idea Who build it? Ummm, builders?

A long time ago? I suppose that a long time ago It was built I suppose In the third year Who built it? We have the “Morning circles” What do we do? We study, we learn how to write Do you like it? We have breakfast, afterwards there is the “Morning circle”, and then do some tasks The same as now – we are doing some tasks In the “Morning circles” teachers lay out what are we going to do, which letter we are going to learn And we learn one letter per week Do you know what’s the European Union? [Both:] No Do you know what is Europe? Maybe you have heard something from your parent or the TV? No Do you know, what Europe is? A city I… Dunno What is Europe? Nooo Casey knows! What? No I don’t this huge district Where is it located? In America Presumably Would you like to go there? Would you like to live there? YES! Well, the differences between this building and the “Ieviņa” kindergarten are very minor I had a different vision regarding stuff like the placement of doors Or the location of particular rooms For instance the manager shouldn’t be in a room that’s completely in the other part of the building So those are the main differences from the first project And changed the colors of walls in two rooms According to European standards, we couldn’t change the number of doors, for instance The number has to be exact, but the placement can differ We have an amazing budget We have enough finances for new toys; the City council gives money for individual learning materials Which traditionally were bought by parents. But now everything is provided from the city budget By providing 30 euros per a children We benefit from the fact that a lot of children come here from neighboring districts Especially in schools – there are kids from Inciems, Krimulda, Līgatne, Nītaure etc Who choose Sigulda’s schools Regarding parents – every each of them have their own ambitions Most parents accept things as they are, But in the meantime there are parents who want to adjust processes to their liking And I always try to hear them out, taking into account their recommendations And compromises are always made! Yesterday, no… The day before we had a meeting with the mayor and his deputy, And they presented a very detailed plan about what amount of money is invested in education And the amount of money is pretty big There is no need to worry that education is forgotten in Sigulda And in my opinion, Sigulda has one of the best education regarding its quality For example, after the reconstruction of Sigulda High school it will swap places with Sigulda Grammar school That’s one big project. Because in September the 6 year-olds will begin their studies And at the moment it seems that there will be a catastrophic lack of available places And, as far as I know, there are talks about building a new school For once again this is an example about the fact, that if we want to build a school, where not only locals study But also those from neighboring districts, it is only fair that the finances shouldn’t come only from our budget Furthermore – this is a good example, where discussions emerge Similarly how it was with recently built sports’ center i.e. – yes, the locals need a public pool, but the athletes who come here from abroad need a gym, they need an athletic field track etc., where they could train And the main aim of all of this is to achieve multiple goals through the realization of one project As a municipal institution we have managed to take over the Sigulda Castle ruins Which were renovated with the help of European Union funds Before the reconstruction we considered this as a casual tourism object, and we didn’t profit from it, The City council invested a lot of finances just to maintain the infrastructure But now, after the reconstruction, the ruins serve as a tourism attraction We carry out economic activity and make profit out of it We have created multiple new jobs And took a burden off the city’s budget which previously had to maintain the infrastructure for the sake of tourists In 2012, the restored Sigulda Castle ruins were opened to the public where the walls have been fixed, the stage was restored, observation areas were built and accessible to everyone, including the disabled, became the northern and southern towers All work required 3 years’ time and from 1.2 million spent, 84% or close to a million was covered by the EU; 13% by Sigulda Council and 3% by national budget of Latvia Previously we had realized couple of smaller projects, bet the Castle Ruins’ project was the first major one

And actually it was a challenge for the Council In the sense that it was a really significant experience And even though I joined the team when the finishing touches were made, I consider it to be really successful, even now, almost 10 years later And now we can look back at the development (while at the same time pushing new ideas) Which were renovated with the help of European Union funds Before the reconstruction we considered this as a casual tourism object, and we didn’t profit from it, The City council invested a lot of finances just to maintain the infrastructure But now, after the reconstruction, the ruins serve as a tourism attraction We carry out economic activity and make profit out of it We have created multiple new jobs And took a burden off the city’s budget which previously had to maintain the infrastructure for the sake of tourists In 2012, the restored Sigulda Castle ruins were opened to the public where the walls have been fixed, the stage was restored, observation areas were built and accessible to everyone, including the disabled, became the northern and southern towers All work required 3 years’ time and from 1.2 million spent, 84% or close to a million was covered by the EU; 13% by Sigulda Council and 3% by national budget of Latvia Previously we had realized couple of smaller projects, bet the Castle Ruins’ project was the first major one And actually it was a challenge for the Council In the sense that it was a really significant experience And even though I joined the team when the finishing touches were made, I consider it to be really successful, even now, almost 10 years later And now we can look back at the development (while at the same time developing new ideas) and say that, yes, we achieved our goals, but we have to go further And at the moment we are focusing on restoring other parts of the Castle complex which will include three new EU financed projects And as a result the Castle complex will become the center of arts and culture And the total amount of investments will add up to 12 million euros The main aim is to create new work places And not only for the local entrepreneurs But also for new ones that are willing to change their legal adress to Sigulda. They just have to be creative We have developed decently attractive environment for new businesses i.e. – from spring, next year, new companies will be able to rent territory from us, After three freshly reconstructed buildings (with total space of 1500 m2) will open up for the public With the aim to attract more tourists and make sure that they spend here much more time Because as we all know it – the more time tourists spend here, the more euros they leave The first of the buildings (that is already open) was reconstructed with our own investments Another one is going to be reconstructed with our own money, by lending from the state But other than that – approximately 75 – 80% of investments come from the EU Actually, from three different funding programs One of the programs’ provided investments are dedicated to so called “territories of degradation” Which theoretically is aimed at territories that had factories and now are abandoned

Then in the case of Sigulda, which historically has never had a huge industry sector, The funding is used to renew the Castle complex’s former magnificence At the time of USSR, the complex was used as a rehabilitation center And knowing that at the moment tourism is our fourth biggest economic sector Then in comparison with the USSR times, when each year Sigulda was visited by more than 1,5 million visitors We can say that there is a lot of room for improvement The overall goal for Sigulda is to create an environment which would ensure that this is the best place to live in We have successfully defined this goal and how to achieve it And there are plenty of citizens who personally feel that the Council is looking after them That’s why the big investments pretty accurately shape the general feeling of being cared for and protected And that living conditions here improve rapidly Do you consider the fact that we are in the EU as a good thing? Overall I think that it is good Europeans just need to identify their common values Europe needs to strengthen its internal market And at the same time Europe needs to strengthen its competitiveness in the global field In my opinion – yes! I cannot even explain it I remember when we had to vote whether we want it or not It gives us a wider view on different things Even in the context of EU funds Most likely the kindergarten wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the funds I doubt that the City Council would be able to build couple of kindergartens in the span of a few years So it is a really positive thing! Who built it? Workers! A long time ago? Yes What do you do here? Yes, I do! And where is it located? Is it far away? I suppose so, yeah Do you know what it is? Yeah, me neither Europe is… ummm Does it sound like a place or a toy? Sounds like a place to me I think it’s a city And where is the city located? In Riga Who lives there? Workers and many people YES!