WoodHouse Hotel: between social enterprise and integration

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About two years ago, the “WoodHouse Hotel was born in Milan’s suburbs, thanks to an Italian girl, a Chinese guy and their commitment.

The founders are Rebecca and Sijie. Rebecca was born in Milan and she grew up in the so-called Chinatown area, while Sijie arrived in Italy from Taizhou (in the Chinese province of Jiangsu) in order to study Political Sciences and International Relations at the Catholic University of Milan.

Chinese culture and traditions have fascinated Rebecca since she was a child, even though, she says: “It’s never been easy for me to deeply get in touch with them”. Her curiosity and admiration finally brought her to China, where she obtained a double degree in Urban Planning at the Tonji University in Shanghai and at the Politecnico of Milan.

And right after moving back to Milan in 2013 she met Sijie for the very first time. “We met in Milan, in the Chinatown district. We were both volunteering there in a parish, working with many Chinese children living in that area. What happened then? Well, back in that period our entrepreneurial adventure began, too”, they say.

At the very beginning, they considered starting out by opening a bed & breakfast, but soon changed their mind: “We wanted to help Chinese students coming from far away to study. We knew how lost they could feel living so far away from home and sometimes they are considered as ‘economical resources to exploit’ and nothing more than that. With our project, we aim to provide them with all necessary services and we support them during their experience, promoting their integration and trying to valorize their visit in Italy”.

Therefore, thanks to Sijie’s pragmatism – that had to face its fair share of Italian bureaucratic issues – and to Rebecca’s perseverance, 2 years ago their innovative project was founded in the north of Milan. The WoodHouse Hotel is based in Cinisello Balsamo, in a building previously part of Boffi enterprise – the famous firm producing wood bobbins. It could be defined as a “home-hotel“.

Actually, WoodHouse is much more than a traditional hotel: it aims to give value to a peripheral area of the city and to regenerate a rather run-down industrial suburb. It is a social project, a residence based on sharing and integration. Here everyone can contribute and personalize the space through their own cultural awareness, thus providing assistance to the staff.

Together with the Chinese students, the WoodHouse Hotel hosts many kinds of clients. You will encounter: Italian workers (because of its strategic position), tourists from all over the world eager to visit such an “unconventional place“, and also many youngsters – from 16 to 22 years, coming mainly from Poland, Croatia and Czech Republic – participating in training programs promoted by international mobility projects.

The WoodHouse founders and their partners’ aim is to bring as much internationality as possible to the WoodHouse Hotel; in fact, as they explain: “We didn’t intend to create a new Chinatown area; therefore we’ve tried to avoid attracting exclusively young Chinese students to our Hotel”.

By speaking with Rebecca, Michela and Isacco (two Chinese youngsters that are living there on a permanent basis), the impression you get is that they are full of energies and ideas to keep on renovating their special space. They also plan many events to open the WoodHouse, to involve citizens to take part in their activities and promote new ideas in the area.

According to their experience, they have a piece of advice for all want-to-be entrepreneurs: “Never give up, even if you face challenges and obstacles on your path”.

As they say: “Adults tend to belittle young want-to-be entrepreneurs. Once you decide to start your own business, it can be hard, and sometimes you wonder if there is enough space for you in your society. However, it is definitely worth getting the chance! So roll up your sleeves and move on! You’ll learn from your mistakes and you’ll equip yourselves with those right tools and skills necessary to sustain your dreams and ambitions.”

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