To make sure the residents of the new Maanwijk neighbourhood quickly feel at home in their new neighbourhood and in Leusden, Heijmans teamed up with local wellness organisation Lariks. While Heijmans was completing the last parts of the neighbourhood, neighbourhood coach Mirjam Hagenaar and her colleague Judith Bootsman are already hard at work connecting people.
A new neighbourhood as a close-knit community: that's what Heijmans and the Leusden local council have in mind for Maanwijk. Right from the outset, they looked to achieve this via various interventions. By developing a diverse range of homes for various groups, from singles to young families and senior citizens. By designing the neighbourhood so the residents of the new homes can see each other and meet each other spontaneously in three small courtyards. By creating places where there is room to organise things yourself and to share things, such as communal gardens and a neighbourhood shed. By introducing a digital network in Leusden that makes more connections possible: neighbourhood app Hoplr.
Heijmans can now tick all of these boxes. The biggest challenge: breaking the ice between the new residents and between them and the rest of Leusden. One such ice-breaker is Mirjam Hagenaar, Maanwijk's neighbourhood coach, who works for the local wellness organisation Lariks Welzijn en Zorg. "My aim is to make people feel happy with each other." Today, Mirjam braves the rain to see how the neighbourhood shed is doing, this time accompanied by her team manager Judith Bootsman.
Mirjam makes her way through the puddles to this community building in the middle of the neighbourhood. Thankfully, she's not just brought an umbrella, but also a sunny disposition. "I want to put a letterbox in the community shed, so residents who are less digitally savvy can leave a note to get in touch with me. I want to be accessible to everyone," says Mirjam. "Everyone in Maanwijk can come to the community shed for packages that have been delivered or shared tools. I hope that residents will also tell each other about the letter box."
As a neighbourhood coach, Mirjam focuses on social cohesion in the neighbourhood. She collects Maanwijk residents' questions and wishes, tries to connect residents with each other and with what is going on right across Leusden. In addition to her occasional physical presence and the letter box, Mirjam sees Hoplr as an important tool to connect people in and beyond Maanwijk. Mirjam and Judith are really enthusiastic about this neighbourhood app: it makes it easy for residents to find each other via messages, chats, a calendar, neighbour list, neighbour help and a guide. Mirjam: "You can introduce yourself to each other, see everyone who lives here. And because you can display your hobbies on the app, you can find people with shared interests."
Judith adds: "Hoplr is a good addition to our work. One of our goals is to prevent loneliness, and this app helps people to make connections. Sometimes, it's just easier to take the first steps digitally, to ask for help or to start a conversation." Mirjam: "I can use Hoplr to encourage people to organise something together. Like a play activity for children or an outing to an event in Leusden. The app also makes it easy to see the activities being organised by local organisations, from neighbourhood associations to the Fort 33 pop venue. Hoplr connects people on different levels, from neighbourhood to village. All of this helps take us a step closer to a strong community."
Push in the right direction
Mirjam has heard that future Maanwijk residents mainly come from other parts of Leusden, with a small proportion of newcomers. "That's excellent, as these 'older and familiar' residents know a lot about the local area and what there is to do. That'll be very useful for any newcomers." It's Mirjam who provides the push to take the step from digital to face-to-face contact. "I understand that it's not easy for people to spontaneously take up a new activity. Take dynamic (senior) tennis; that's not something you go to just like that. I am there to help with the question: 'Who can I go there with?' Or 'what exactly is Dynamic Tennis?'" Mirjam is also aware that there are people who don't find it easy to approach others, due to past experiences. "And you have people who like to remain independent and don't want to seem dependent on others. They don't ask for help. But I can bring them into contact with others."
For example, Mirjam has paired a partially sighted woman with a retired woman with no family. "We went for a walk and there was an immediate click. Since then, they regularly go out together, in good and bad weather." Mirjam is keen to take people outside their own social circle, or Maanwijk residents to facilities in the rest of Leusden. "For example, the library and the Huiskamer van Leusden (Living Room of Leusden), where volunteers help residents with questions about the help they can get. Working for Lariks, I have a large network of partners, which comes in really handy in my job as neighbourhood coach."
Sheltering in one of the homes under construction, Judith talks about her ambitions at Lariks. Since the end of 2021, she has been team manager of the 'Samenleving' (society) [g1] team. This team of eight people, including Mirjam, work in and for the Leusden community. This varies from supporting volunteers or carers, providing training and workshops for vulnerable young people and their parents, or matching lonely elderly people with buddies so they can have coffee together. "I want to dedicate myself to a society where life is pleasant for everyone, where you can feel the safety of a village and at the same time can be who you are and find your own place," says Judith. "For Maanwijk, I hope that residents immediately feel safe and that they can always turn to someone, that they know they are not alone. A good neighbour is better than a distant friend, right?
This is one of the ways that Lariks is putting into action Leusden council's mission to minimise the number of residents ending up in the social support scheme (WMO) or in youth care, explains Judith. "You can see our work as prevention, helping people get back on track to a happy and healthy life, before they get into trouble. Mirjam and I will be happy when there's a basic social infrastructure in Maanwijk that is connected to all the facilities in the village."
"We use the strong sense of community that already exists in Leusden for this. And there is a lot of that," Judith says. Leusden may be ageing, but older people do most of the voluntary work. They invest their free time in all kinds of organisations, from meeting centres to neighbourhood associations. They also like to visit each other. "You can see this clearly in the 'Leusden voor Elkaar' (Leusden for everyone) consultations, where we as Lariks discuss the questions we get with other organisations. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, many residents continued to help each other. And now that the pandemic has eased for the time being, community life is back to full strength. You can see that from the sheer amount of help offered to accommodate fleeing Ukrainians. People in Leusden really look out for each other".
The showers move on and the sun breaks through the clouds. Work is done for today, both for the building site workers and for Mirjam and Judith. It won't be long before their laughter echoes through the site office again, as they continue to build together until Maanwijk is firmly established, both physically and socially.