Over the next three years, Tallinn City Center Government (Kesklinna valitsus) will take part in a pilot project to increase communication in English with new arrivals. ERR News spoke with the project's manager Svetlana Štšur to find out more.
"Our plan is to make everyone in Kesklinn, regardless of their language or background, feel included and to spread information about everything on every level," Štšur said in an interview last week.
Whereas in the past, minority groups in Estonia have tended to mostly communicate in Russian, a new group of people who communicate mainly English has developed over the last decade, but communication has not kept up. Earlier this year, Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said Tallinn City Government's plan is to bring English language communication up to the same level as Estonian and Russian in the coming years.
Kesklinn is home to more than 60,000 residents and data shows approximately 6 percent of these are foreigners who have moved to the district in recent years - one of the highest ratios in Tallinn - who say their main language of communication in Estonia is English. These new arrivals tend to be students and workers, and more and more people are arriving every year. (They are the 'other'/ 'other nationalities' group in the graphs below- ed.)
Štšur said the city center government cannot afford to keep ignoring this growing group of people: "We can see that there is a demand for every kind of information, local and general. We have a huge amount of people and at the moment and we are not doing much to engage them, asking what they want or expect from us."
The project started with a Facebook group. Last September the city centre government created the "Tallinn City Centre for Expats" group to share news, information and ask for feedback from locals which quickly gathered several hundred followers and now has more than 1,400.
The group caught the eye of the Ministry of the Interior, and after a meeting, the initiative grew in size and has now become a project funded by the European Social Fund named "Tallinn City Center New Arrivals".
Its main goals are to increase communication, raise awareness and "general cultural sensitivity" about minorities amongst Kesklinn's staff, create a feedback mechanism for foreigners, to cooperate with existing integration projects and, finally, to get a better understanding of who the city center's new arrivals are and their needs.
As well as creating an English language presence on social media, a page in English about city center news has recently been launched in the free district newspaper "Kesklinna Sõnumid" and Štšur said there are plans to create a newsletter as there is too much news for the paper.
Efforts are also being made to bring people together in real life. Štšur emphasises the importance of creating a new community and a two-way dialogue.
"We really want them to feel like their opinion matters," she said. "Not just about bigscale stuff but about urban and street or neighbourhood maintenance - this kind of very grassroots stuff."
The two events which have been held so far have been well received. The first, an English language tour of the Kassisaba district, attracted approximately 40 people. The second, a question and answer session webinar about the Estonian healthcare system, attracted around 30 live viewers but has given the council a Youtube video which it can direct people to, helping to answer future questions.
The response to the project has been good so far and she gets excited to read the feedback sent in
"It's amazing how they respond, how they care," she said, adding that the feedback shows moving to Tallinn was a "rational choice" for many and residents "really want to get the most out of it".
"There is really a genuine excitement, especially from the expats who have been living here for 5-10 years and they tell us that Tallinn has changed so much, Tallinn is changing every day, Tallinn has so much potential, Estonia has so much potential - it is exciting, it makes me excited about living here," she said.
Areas of particular interest are anything green and she said and plans for the European Green Capital created a lot of interest, especially the cigarette ballot bins and "The Sea Starts Here" campaign. As residents come from other countries, they suggest useful initiatives they have seen elsewhere which could work in Tallinn.
"Green subjects are so important to our international community, I think compared to the locals they are even more active - on topics such as waste sorting, preserving green areas in the city center - they always have a lot of ideas about how to make something more eco friendly," she said. "They come to Estonia and they really see Tallinn as this green city and they would like it to stay this way or become even greener."
Štšur is also an immigrant, of sorts, herself. Growing up in eastern Estonia she understands and remembers what moving to Tallinn and starting again was like and this gives her a good idea of what new arrivals want to know.
"Estonia is known for this kind of reserved attitude but I think it is time for us to learn how to reach out to different cultures and make them feel really comfortable with us," Štšur said.
Editor: Andrew Whyte