Social centers (or social centres) are community spaces. They are buildings which are used for a range of disparate activities, which can be linked only by being not-for-profit. They might be organizing centers for local activities or they might provide support networks for minority groups such as prisoners, homeless and refugees. Often they provide a base for initiatives such as cafes, free shops, public computer labs,bikeshop, graffiti murals, legal collectives and free housing for travellers. The services are determined by both the needs of the community in which the social center is based and the skills which the participants have to offer.
Social centers tend to be in large buildings and thus can host activist meetings, concerts, bookshops, dance performances and art exhibitions. Social centers are common in many European cities, sometimes in squats, sometimes in rented buildings.
Also known as a free space, social centers may be designated "safe space" where specific forms of dialogue and activism are encouraged and protected from harassment, or they may be intended to serve as open space for community interaction among widely disparate groups without censorship (the term "free speech zone" is deprecated[by whom?]). There is a great deal of overlap between the two types.
Social centers that are open to the general public are also part of the general third place movement in community building. Third places which include small commercial or non-reclaimed urban spaces (or reclaimed from commercial activity towards cooperative use) such as community coffee houses may serve a similar function with or without an organizing focus besides localism.
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