Real Lives

Dutch intergenerational living reaps benefits for all

Gea Sijpkes, CEO, Humanitas Deventer

Humanitas Devente, is a Dutch retirement home with a difference, allowing students to live side by side with residents rent-free.  This innovative intergenerational programme reaps benefits for both elderly and young residents alike, as CEO Gea Sijpkes explains.

As in most countries, students in Holland have to borrow money for studying and living.  At Humanitas Deventer we offer rent free living in return for just 30 hours of meaningful contact time spent with the elderly residents each month.  Our goal is to make Humanitas Deventer the warmest and nicest place to live for the elderly.

It started with a vision to change the model of care because the existing one was becoming increasingly untenable. We didn’t know exactly what this would look but what we did know was, that whatever happened in the world around us, we as an organisation needed to have a strong and visible presence in the community, so both young and old would want to live here.

Our ethos has always been one of creating a loving, caring, creative environment that nurtures meaningful relationships.  We knew that this could not truly be achieved by simply hiring more staff, so that is where the idea of student living came in.

The program reaps benefits all those within the home.  Students bring life, positive energy and stories of parties which changes the whole dynamics of a traditional care setting.  In the words of one resident, “the students are bringing the outside world in”.  Equally elderly residents bring life experiences which the younger residents would not normally have exposure to, creating a very rich environment for growing up. “My son has become a very warm and social person,” said a parent of one of the students.

This warm and vibrant atmosphere makes it a great place to work for staff which can only benefit recruitment and retention.  The staff will sometimes ask the students to visit a resident who may be restless, to read a story together, do some shopping or to fix a broken television; and generally to spend time together and be a good neighbour.

Humanitas Deventer is an old organisation in an old building, and the ideas about housing and apartment dimensions have changed over the years. In an old building like Humanitas there are a some apartments that are not ideal for elderly housing. For example, some are very small or they are at the end of a very long corridor which requires a lot of walking. These are the apartments that are very good for student living and therefore, there is no actual cost in accommodating the students.

The benefits for the organisation are innumerable.  There is the positive influence on the atmosphere in the house; there is a lot of laughter; and it’s brought us closer to our vision of becoming a warm and loving house for the elderly.

Although there has been big financial benefits this is secondary to the huge social return on investment, for both the elderly who are distracted from their pain and disabilities, and for the young who develop very good interpersonal skills in a social environment.

As you can imagine the program has attracted much attention and has already been replicated by homes in Holland and Belgium.

Bringing together old and young is so much more than making savings; it’s about realising the benefits of intergenerational living; combatting loneliness and promoting good citizenship.


Edel Harris





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