Building neighbourhood cohesion in Turnhout

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - Published by Ragni Leifson
Mutual understanding and informal meeting spaces encourage informal care and voluntary assistance between diverse groups in a Belgian town.

The meeting place Merode Centre was opened with great fanfare on Sunday 2 July 2017 in the city of Turnhout in Belgium. The city is working together with In For Care to increase social cohesion and neighbourhood involvement.

In For Care is an Interreg project on informal care and voluntary assistance, and a cooperation between six different countries. The project will explore new cooperative ways in which the market, the public and the civil sector will provide answers to the social demands and strengthen informal networks through new technologies.

The area around Merode Centre represents a complex urban situation. Inhabitants include both a large group of young immigrants, as well as an elderly native population in need of care. It is crucial for every diversifying society to strengthen informal care and voluntary assistance between these groups.

To encourage volunteering and informal care in this area, there is a need for mutual understanding and spaces for informal encounters between these groups. The meeting place was planned and created together with residents and local businesses.

Testing new methods for recruiting volunteers

The opening also marks the creation of a test panel to define the challenges regarding informal care and volunteering in a diverse urban context. The City, along with other public actors, will actively search for and implement new methods for informal care and voluntary assistance, while aligning them with existing formal structures.

Right now, new methods for recruiting volunteers are being tested at the Merode Centre. These methods can be one-to-one conversations about people's role in the neighbourhood, to using "buurtsport" to connect with people from different backgrounds. "Buurtsport" means "neighbourhood sports", and is a way to give everyone the opportunity to participate. Buurtsport focuses on the pleasure of moving and meeting other people, playing down the competitive element of the sports being played.

"Buurtsport" is for everyone, but particularly for those who can't find a way to participate in the city's normal sport offerings. The buurtsports makes it less important what language you speak, how much money you have, or where you are from.

"Buurtmakerij", meaning "Making the neighbourhood together", is also one of the methods that are tested in In For Care. Through buurtmakerij the residents are supported to take small or large initiatives in the neighbourhood. Buurtmakerij wants to encourage ideas that bring the neighbourhood residents together.

Stimulating innovation in the public sector

It's not easy to recruit people for volunteering and to keep them interested. Methods like buurtsports and buurtmakerij could improve and evolve over the next years. New methods will also be shared between the In For Care partners, and other projects could give indications of which methods will be useful. In the future, these methods can be adapted to the local context in Turnhout.

Innovation in the public sector depends on changing mindsets first. New initiatives like In For Care can make this change a reality. Good practices developed and tested in this project will help accelerate a shift in the mindsets of citizens and politicians, and help create new policy initiatives.

We are still in the starting phaze, testing and implementing several new methodologies throughout the In For Care project. In Belgium, the shift from state regulated health care to society regulated health care is just getting started, with few concrete policies realized.

The policy makers are already involved in this process, and good practices from In For Care will make it easier to present and implement new policy initiatives on informal care and voluntary assistance. The end-users are also involved both in testing the new methodologies and through co-creation sessions throughout the project.