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HGH Leiden is a care residence in the heart of Leiden that provides a home for 58 elderly people.

A meeting spot for the whole neighbourhood

It is Wednesday when we set foot through the entrance of Het Gouden Hart (The Golden Heart) in Leiden. It is pleasantly crowded. In the high hall, a group of elderly people sits around a wide table. A weekly coffee morning is organised here, where residents of the care residence and people from the neighbourhood are all welcome.

Rinus Caljouw, 85, a neighbourhood resident, and Theo de Jager, 95, a flamboyant resident, attend the weekly coffee mornings each Wednesday to share the latest news from inside and outside the building. They need not be deep conversations; social chit chat suits them both just fine.

Rinus owned a moving company. After a merger, he spent some time in India. He returned bursting with self-knowledge and concern for our world. Each month, Rinus puts his thoughts on paper in poetry form and shares them with the group. ‘If you are always there for others with all your heart, then you have understood what this life is all about,’ reads this month's wisdom. ‘People love to stick it on their refrigerator,’ says Rinus. As a local resident, he has integrated well into the community of the care residence and even celebrated his birthday there. In addition to family and neighbours, residents of the care home were invited as well.

Theo was a pilot. First, he flew fighter jets, then he did transports for the United Nations and then he was a test pilot. He lived in the United States, Sudan, Ghana, Senegal, Sweden and Portugal and ended up here two years ago when walking became difficult and he was in need of care. Now he chairs the client board of the care residence and is committed to the well-being of the residents and their comfort in the building. ‘Sometimes it's about small things that make life more pleasant for the residents, such as better cutlery or fixing loose stones at the entrance,’ Theo explains. The client council was also involved in the process of selecting the new site manager.

'Our coffee mornings are always fascinating,' says Theo, 'they break through our mutual differences. We don't always have much in common, but that doesn't prevent us from making it a pleasant morning together.' Rinus agrees. 'We sit next to someone different every week, so we always get to know new people.'

Militza Brugge is located in the Hanzepark near the Damse Vaart in Bruges and accommodates 120 elderly people.

Like a fish in the water

The shutters slide open gently. As we step into the pool area, it is pleasantly warm, and the sun falls on our faces through the floor-to-ceiling windows. As our attention wanders to the ceiling painting in which white clouds are set against a soft blue sky, a beautiful view of the Damse Vaart in Bruges unfolds before us.

Bernadette begins her daily swim. Elegantly but carefully, she moves through the water with her glasses on, trying to keep her hair dry. Every morning, she comes with some friends to the pool – her favourite place – ‘to stay in shape and healthy,’ she says. She is, after all, only 95. She regularly participates in the aqua gym, and she also finds the hot tub enjoyable. Moving does her good, Bernadette says, as ‘we sit enough during the day!’.

Her apartment is a gem: fresh flowers adorn the coffee table, antique vases perched on the cabinet, a large dresser with glass doors reveals her set of old China and a beautiful Tiffany lamp provides a warm atmosphere. Bernadette shows us another beautiful view from her terrace with glass see-through walls. She utters that the window is not quite clean, takes a chair and quickly begins to wipe down the glass.

Bernadette is a busy bee. At the care home, she participates in wine tastings, trips to markets and museums, walks and aperitif concerts. She is also always present at cocktail afternoons. Everyone brings their own bottle, after which they mix and shake in all colours and flavours. Moreover, there is also the creative space, where a group of sewing enthusiasts regularly go about their business. ‘I love that we have that space,' Bernadette says, ‘because we can organise all kinds of activities there, such as flower arranging classes.' Sometimes things can get a little quieter, too. In such moments, she heads to the reading lounge, not far from the bar, where books on Da Vinci, Raphael, Rome and current news magazines line the shelf.

‘What I like so much is that here we are free and have every opportunity to do things we find pleasurable. Everything is possible and nothing is forced, but I like participating in a lot of things. We have the space for it in this building and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it,’ Bernadette concludes.

Beechcare care home is located in Dartford and provides a home for 65 people, both the elderly and adults of younger age who need continuing care.

The fun and happy place where mom lives

We meet Emma in Dartford, where she resides at the Peter Gidney Neurological Centre, part of the Beechcare care home. She is in an electric wheelchair, which is both her lifeline and a symbol of her independence. Pink is her favourite colour, hamburgers are her favourite food and A-ha is her favourite band, but Emma's favourite person is Susie, her daughter.

Emma, who just turned 50, is bubbly and humorous and speaks in one-word sentences. She moves around in her electric wheelchair as if she were a Formula One driver preparing for a race. Emma enjoys participating in activities at the care home, such as quizzes or bingo. Every day, she rides around the ward where she resides and has developed friendships with the other residents. In addition, Emma occasionally takes trips around the neighbourhood and goes to the mall to buy clothes or to enjoy a nice lunch at the local pub.

Since she was admitted here in May 2021, Emma has come a long way. Initially, she had a manual wheelchair, but because she could not propel herself, she depended on others to get around. She was quiet and withdrawn and chose to stay in bed most days. She had a limited ability to express her needs, so she was often sad and found it difficult to express why she felt so down.

However, the physical therapy room offered her a new perspective. Through the holistic therapeutic approach that is committed to treating body, mind and soul, and with the encouragement and support of the care team, Emma began participating in physical therapy sessions several times a week. As a result, she developed a greater degree of independence in terms of her mobility, which also helped her regain a sense of personal independence and become more confident by the day.

She can now communicate her needs in short, one-word answers. This is a big step for her, given the huge turnaround she has made in three years. The centre has become a ‘home’ for Emma where she feels joy and independence and has regained her happy disposition.

Susie was only 4 years old when Emma was admitted. Although Susie was well supported by her grandfather Tim, Emma felt she had no part in her child's growing up. Thanks to the progress she has been able to make through therapy, Emma has now been able to build a strong bond with her daughter, who she sees three times a week. Susie now no longer sees the residential care centre as a hospital, but as a fun and happy place where mom lives.

Located in Oulu's city centre, Nonna Lumina provides a home for 110 elderly people.

A source of company

The sidewalk is covered with a layer of fresh snow as we walk to the Nonna Lumina building. This brand-new care facility in the heart of Oulu was only recently completed but is already filling up nicely. We are welcomed by 84-year-old Irja Huovinen, who was one of the first to arrive here last December.

Irja made a conscious decision to move to a care apartment. Independent living was becoming difficult, and she judged that she needed support. Her biggest concern was her social life: she wanted to move to a place where she could have a lot of contact with peers. She found that at Nonna Lumina.

When we ask about her favourite room, she doesn't have to think for long. Excited, she takes us to one of the three large and cosy communal living rooms. ‘Here we can do all kinds of activities, or just chat with each other. There is always a cheerful bustle. Here I feel at home and part of the community,’ Irja tells us. One can often find her in the living room playing board games, reading, watching TV, doing crafts, or taking exercise classes. ‘If I want company, I can always find it here. I enjoy exchanging news and spending time with others,’ Irja says.

After a tour of the living room, she takes us to her corner apartment on the eighth floor, which boasts a wide panoramic view. ‘I have the best view of Oulu,’ she says proudly. Then she talks about the facilities the care property offers, including a gym, a sauna and a terrace on the top floor. ‘I actually have everything I could wish for here. I have access to all the services I need. There is 24/7 support, I have lots of social contact and there is a choice of activities. Living here makes my life much easier and more pleasant.’

Militza Brugge is located in the Hanzepark near the Damse Vaart in Bruges and accommodates 120 elderly people.

One small step to great ease

For Hubert Schotte and Hilde Heyns, the restaurant is the place to be. ‘We consciously eat simple and healthy,’ Hilde explains. Hubert was a neuropsychiatrist and Hilde was a nurse for school children during her career. Health is a life motto for this couple.

Four years ago, when they were 83 and 81, they decided to move here from across the water. They could follow the construction of the care home from their living room. They were thus already familiar with the building when they became residents there themselves. ‘It's not quite like home,’ says Hubert, ‘but it was a conscious choice to come and live here. We find peace and freedom here and we have been able to stay in our familiar surroundings.’

The couple has several daily rituals. In the morning, Hubert prepares breakfast in their apartment. Then they do some shopping in the neighbourhood or make a trip to the city centre for a cup of coffee. They then have lunch in Militza Brugge's spacious and sunny restaurant, where they enjoy fresh food daily. ‘That's all it has to be,’ says Hilde, who used to be the cook at home. If Hubert could choose, vol-au-vent or red cabbage would be on the menu. For Hilde, it would be mussels.

Their cosy apartment feels like a familiar cocoon: there is furniture they brought from home and on the wall hangs a beautifully painted portrait of Hilde as a child alongside two large abstracts. A little further on the same wall hang garlands and beads of their grandchildren. They make a lot of time for them, too. Although friends and family are always welcome in the care home’s restaurant, Hubert prefers to go to dinner in town with the whole gang. This, for him, is pure enjoyment.

They are clearly comfortable in this generously proportioned space filled with plenty of light falling through the windows and overlooking a spacious outdoor terrace. ‘Sometimes I miss a garden,’ says Hubert, ‘but of course you can't have everything. We do have other things instead: shopping and walking spots nearby, the Hanzepark as your own garden, cafes and restaurants as your own kitchen, and theatres and museums as an extension of your living room.’

‘We are happy with our choice to live here,’ concludes Hilde, ‘we have a warm place to ourselves as well as the pleasant common areas in the building and we don't have to worry about anything else. A home brings with it responsibility and maintenance, and we don't have to worry about that now. It’s a good feeling.’

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