It is not bricks and mortar that make a house a home door Susan Tredenick

Eind juni was onze Australische gastblogster Susan Tredenick op bezoek in de Olde Heem in Kloosterburen. Ze woonde er de workshop Hollandse Wijzen bij waarvoor ouderen uit Kloosterburen en Groningen stad een maand aan het werk gingen met fotograaf Peter van Beek. En Susan sprak in Kloosterburen met kunstenaar Anne Hilderink, initiatiefneemster en in de dagelijkse leiding van dorpscoöperatie Klooster en Buren. De foto-expositie Hollandse Wijzen is vrijdag 29 september a.s. te zien op het festival De Kunst van het ouder worden in de Groninger Forum Bibliotheek.  

The drive from Groningen to Kloosterburen took approximately 40 minutes; having not ventured further north before, I was pleasantly surprised with the scenery and could feel myself physically and mentally relaxing as I drove up through the peaceful countryside. There are plenty of things happening in this northern village and its local community cooperation project. I was curious to learn about the background story and to meet with some of the local residents.

Arriving at the Olde Heem residents home my first impression was of the starkness of the building that was set against a quaint village backdrop. Reminiscent of many an aged care home where I have spent my fair share of time, my initial reaction was that there would be nothing new to be seen. But the English idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ was ringing in my ears and with the innovative healthy ageing projects and media coverage that I had read involving this community I knew that there was a different story to be told.

The initial idea of the co-operative came about when the population of the community started dwindling. There was a genuine threat of the area becoming a ghost town, and later on Olde Heem was rejected by the Zonnehuisgroep care organisation. The next move for this community needed to be bold. It needed to bring everyone, regardless of age or ability, together and give them a sense of belonging and acknowledgement.

Olde Heem is now home to all. The aged, teenagers, locals and part-time visitors all share this home. The restaurant will open its doors to the community and growing food and the purchasing of local products is a given. Various activities are held in the adjoining church and the recent opening of a day-care centre in Olde Heem allows for a wonderful interaction between all ages of life. During my visit the photography project: Hollandse Wijzen was taking place. The project gives elderly people of different backgrounds and cultures the room to explore the world of art, culture and photography. They photograph a younger generation, take scenery or still live pictures as self-portrait and doing so, bring their own lives into view. Through the photos they make contact with each other giving a sense of understanding of other cultures and self-importance.

It is innovative projects like these being held at Kloosterburen that gives a sense of belonging, companionship and a voice to the residents of the area which will helps shape future initiatives.

So why do we marvel at such an initiative. Is it the boldness of such a large undertaking and the dreams of a group of people to turn their village, high up in the north, back into a self-sufficient, vibrant supportive community? Is it the idea of opening a nursing home to welcome everyone, regardless of age, support needed or place in society? Or could it be that we hope that this project is successful as it reminds us of how communities really should be, that is; joined and not separate. Separate groups of elderly, children, disabled, singles, and couples soon may no longer have a place in our society. Instead having communities that learn from another, offer different experiences, ideas and dreams that help shape and enrich our lives will be the new norm.

Kloosterburen, its projects and the future plans and hopes of the community gave me a sense of the passion and true commitment of everyone for this endeavour to be successful; a timely reminder for me that it is not bricks and mortar that make a house a home.

Susan Tredenick, juli 2017

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