First Date – an online bilateral

20 May 2021 - Published by Deirdre Buist
As part of the Stronghouse project, partners Noordenveld and IGEMO recently connected in an online bilateral exchange – a first date. This virtual matchmaking was designed to investigate what more these partners have in common and to seek opportunities for intenser collaboration.


IGEMO is an inter-municipal organisation for 12 local administrations in the Mechelen region (between Antwerp and Brussels) and supports its municipalities in a wide range of policy domains and themes, including their Climate and Energy Action Plans. Evelien Impens is coordinator of IGEMO’s renovation coaches that focus on the sustainable retrofitting of private homeowners.

In the Municipality of Noordenveld, one of 12 municipalities in the Dutch province of Drenthe, Jaap Lobbezoo is Programme Manager for Sustainability and Roy Stavenga leads the project Energieke buurten (Energetic Neighbourhoods) which uses an integral approach to creating sustainable neighbourhoods and communities in Noordenveld.

Aims & commitments

Belgium currently works within the framework of Mayors’ Covenants. In the regional covenant applicable for IGEMO, the aim is for a 40% decrease of CO2 emissions by 2030 (in comparison to 2012). The Flemish government is also aiming for an energy label A for all homes by 2050. Contrary to the situation in Noordenveld, there is less focus on disconnecting homes from natural gas.

The Dutch governing authorities have committed to a Climate Agreement which states that a 49% decrease in CO2 emissions should be achieved by 2030, in relation to the 1990 statistics. Furthermore, the national goal is that all homes will be free of natural gas heating by 2050. The local authorities have a directing role in the energy transition.

Money talk

Both partners signal that homeowners’ generally approach energy renovation from a financial perspective and less from environmental considerations. It’s all about the money, costs and return on investment.

In Flanders there are many different subsidies available. Fluvius, a cooperation of 11 network suppliers, offers homeowners a grant for exterior wall insulation (30 euro per m2), for instance. The Flemish government bids a renovation premium linked to each house and awards another for homeowners whose Energy Performance Certificate jumps from F to A/ B within 5 years. The amount granted depends on how big the leap.

The energy netting scheme for the production of solar energy has been cancelled while this still exists in The Netherlands. The Municipality of Noordenveld itself does not offer financial support but informs homeowners of the existing financial possibilities. One popular measure is the Energiebespaarlening Drenthe, a loan scheme for energy savings with an interest rate from 0.5% (depending on the height of the borrowed amount). In addition, there are national subsidies for heat pumps and insulation. Both IGEMO and Noordenveld have set up an easily accessible energy platform to answer homeowners’ questions in terms of energy renovation and sustainability.



Matchmaking: Exchanging energy renovation practices with  Roy Stavenga, Evelien Impens & Jaap Lobbezoo


IGEMO has a broad experience in European subsidy projects, including the Interreg NSRSee2Do! project. This project involved visualizing energy loss by using thermographic scans of streets and houses as well as photovoltaic aerial images, to raise awareness and activate individual homeowners. Other aspects involved showing and promoting best practices and training thermo-scanners. In Noordenveld the Energiecoöperatie Noordseveld is doing the same, in close collaboration with the Municipality. Infrared scans are on offer and carried out by newly trained energy coaches and thermo-scanners, although this has been impacted by the pandemic restrictions.

Age matters

District renovations have yet to start in the municipalities around Mechelen. The neighbourhoods have been selected, based primarily on building uniformity and the presence/absence of insulation. These are mainly houses from the 1970s with a relatively older demographic that is not particularly motivated to renovate. Younger buyers in the area are more inclined to invest in energy retrofits – budget allowing – so in this case age does matter.    

Getting together

The Energieke buurten project in Noordenveld is a collaboration between the energy cooperative Noordseveld, the Municipality and a group of inhabitants. This project is an initiative of the energy cooperation and highly encouraged by the Municipality as it fits perfectly with their ambitions. Citizens have a central role: neighbours play an important part in getting people together and mobilizing them to join in. Besides sustainability, the Municipality also wants to unfold more opportunities in the public domain and include social cohesion in their community approach. In one of the neighbourhoods – Nord-west – flooding has become an issue following extreme downpours so the local authority is working closely with the inhabitants to tackle the issues and jointly design a climate and futureproof neighbourhood.


Both parties are searching for new ways to mobilize their citizens. In Noordenveld they organized a ‘plant-your-flag’ day so that people could literally mark problem areas or particular qualities in their neighbourhood. Inspired by the ‘District Safaris’ (Wijksafari’s) in Bruges, IGEMO  is considering participative workshops as a means to get people involved and activated. First step is getting to know each other and to take is from there in terms of sustainability and cohesion.  

The neighbours

This first bilateral proved very productive and several follow up arrangements have been made, including more extensive online dates. There is a definite ‘match’ between both partners as they recognize shared challenges and experiences. Speaking the same language can be an added advantage, particularly when visiting (as soon as ‘covid-ly’ possible) each other’s pilot areas.

Within the context of the Stronghouse Neighbourhood Approach and Customer Journey, Noordenveld and IGEMO care about what the neighbours think…and do!


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