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The Babayagas’ house, an alternative to old people’s homes and home care
Article Type: News From: Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Volume 12, Issue 3
The Babayagas’ house, a name drawn from Slavic mythology is a solidarity self-management housing project of a community of female senior citizens. Imagined and developed by Thérèse Clerc since 1996, the house is designed as a place to live, that is a residence but also a place for activities and social interactions.
Thérèse explains that the idea originated in personal reasons:
[…] my mother has been bedridden for 5 years and I did not want my children to go through that. Considering the risks of being cared at home or being alone, I said to myself why not live with friends? After all, I had learnt self-management.
With 12 million people over 60 in France, the point of such social innovations is increasingly relevant. For the Babayagas, circumstances were decisive: “The association’s statutes were registered in 1999. Things were going slow then the 2003 heatwave and an article in Le Monde drew attention to our new collective”. A site for the construction of the house has been chosen in Montreuil, a few yards from the town hall.
The idea relies on four mainstays: self-management, solidarity, civic sense and ecology. Self-management “means do it yourself, with your own means. It means management without a director, without costly staff. We will pool our means, including our medical means. We will arrange our schedules”, Solidarity “materialises in very trivial movements such as helping someone to put a coat on, get out of a bathtub or cut a piece of meat; these movements are becoming difficult when the body is weakened”. Civic sense is the main selection criterion to be part of this community: all Baba Yagas have been committed women with a strong political awareness and a desire for social transformation (they have been part of feminist, political or association movements). Ecology inspires the construction, with photovoltaic panels and thick walls, but also ways of life with a social and intimate relationship ecology, not to mention, logically, the membership of an Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne (Association for the Support of Small Farming) for food supply. As for the organisation of the residence, Thérèse Clerc imagined 20 apartments of about 40 m2, enabling each person’s independence but combined with collective solidarity. Each woman takes her meals at home to avoid too much lack of privacy. An exterior mediator should help prevent any conflict. On the ground floor, a popular university should take place and a spa for 12 people should be built, creating two real social tools.
Other solidarity housing experiences have been experimented with for some time. In the twelfth century, in Belgium and in The Netherlands, Beguine convents were religious housing for women subjected to convent life without having taken vows. The Abbeyfield Society has developed in the UK since the 1960s and expanded in 16 countries since. Thérèse Clerc’s aim at 83 is to prove that old age is not a collapse, like General de Gaulle suggested, but a beautiful age: “To live long is a good thing but to age well is better!” she concludes with a radiant and optimistic smile on her lips.
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