Civic cooperatives – for the intergenerational cohesion in the community

Civic cooperatives – for the intergenerational cohesion in the community

“Bürger helfen Bürgern e.V.” (Citizens help citizens , registered charity), the civic cooperative Weingarten

by Heinz Schammert*

Weingarten is a municipality with about 10,500 inhabitants. Due to the village structure, often three, sometimes even four generations of a family live here in the same house or at least in the village, so that they can support each other. Unfortunately, even in Weingarten it is increasingly common that older people live alone or as a couple in their large houses because the children have moved away with their families. They want to stay, however, in their familiar neighbourhood and get along quite well in everyday life. But eventually strengths decline, and the loved and familiar garden or vineyard cannot be cultivated anymore. Often, they can no longer drive a car which makes it difficult to do the shopping or visit the doctor as there is a shortage of local public transportation. Additionally, there is an increase of acute or chronic illnesses among the inhabitants. Sometimes the partner develops dementia. In all these situations, people depend on help from outside.

Another problem is the loneliness. Often adult children are occupied with their jobs. Old friends and neighbours have died already. There are also many young families in the newly developed areas who have no support from their parents in the village. Most young mothers work and caring for a child can present a problem.
Fortunately, there are also many very fit pensioners in the village who are looking for a task or who would like to help out once in a while. Many older people whose physical strength has indeed diminished still want to be involved in the community. They may do so by passing on their vast life experience to future generations.

Support each other depending on need and life situation

The idea was to bring all these people together in a cooperative society in order to support each other according to need and life situation. We were stimulated by two senior citizens’ cooperatives in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Hence, we invited the staff of the local Nursing Home and Social Welfare Office, the district councillors and mayors, church parishioners and all interested citizens to develop a concept for an intergenerational support network that fits our community.
At these very popular meetings many new ideas emerged. An elderly gentleman, for instance, said he could keep house well alone, but could not climb a ladder because of his dizziness. If a light bulb has to be replaced or the curtains are to be washed he would need help. A young man said he would like to do auxiliary work in the garden. In exchange he would be glad if someone could some time visit his grandmother who is often alone. Because he is working he has little time. Another person had the idea: “I always pick up my grandchildren from kindergarten. Then I in turn could take another child home where the mother is ill in bed.” An old lady asked: “Who could take care of my cats when I go to the hospital?” A young woman immediately agreed to take care of that.
One big problem of our community is that many vineyards are lying idle, since the owners due to their age can no longer farm them and the young do not know how to do it. But if there are young people stepping in to do the work and the older people show them how to do it, would be a great contribution to the preservation of our village structure.
At the same time, however, there were also concerns that the civic cooperatives could become a rival to care services or craft enterprises. To avoid this, nursing activities were excluded from the assistance. It was also clarified that only manual labour is offered which doesn’t compete with the local craftsmen due to economic reasons.

Mayor and Municipal Council support project

The mayor and Municipal Council decided to support the project and fund a questionnaire to identify the nature and extent of support needed and services offered by all citizens of the community. 4,700 questionnaires were distributed to the households of which 15% were evaluated. This resulted in a large number of auxiliary offers. A small working group was formed, and a statute was drafted to provide the civic cooperative with a legal and organisational structure.
The current cooperative law and its procedural and auditing regulations forced us to choose the legal form of a registered association for the start-up phase. With appropriate development of the association the transformation into a registered cooperative is provided.

Two years between idea and inaugural meeting

It took little more than two years from the idea to the inauguration meeting, where we found solutions to the problems in almost monthly talks. It included taking out insurance for members of the civic cooperatives in order to be covered in the event of damage.
At the inaugural meeting in July 2013, there were 54 members. Meanwhile the association has grown to 172.
Once a member needs help he or she turns to the Civic Cooperative, if need be through a trusted person. In most cases this is done by telephone, rarely by e-mail or in person during office hours in the meeting centre. The office service selects from a list “Who offers what?” those members who want to provide the assistance. It must be considered that there is no entitlement to the provision of the assistance. When a member can offer the requested service, he or she will contact the person seeking help to clarify the details. Thereafter he or she is commissioned by the association to carry out the service. After completion, recipient and donor will sign a certificate of performance that shows duration and type of support. This document is the basis for the time credit or account.

Mutual help with time credit

At the Weingarten cooperative for instance, every hour performed through honorary commitment is credited to a time account, so that the honorary commitment does not find ideal recognition alone. If a member has “compiled” a time credit, the time account is accessible at any time to pay for the help received. With this form of compensation, the account holder incurs no losses as with other generally known account models. Hence, one hour will remain also one hour in the future.
These time credits can be donated to other members or be quested within the family. In case there is no last will, the time credit goes to the civic cooperative in accordance with the statutes. Due to organisational reasons membership in the civic cooperative Weingarten is only possible for Weingartener citizens. There is no disadvantage for someone leaving Wein­garten. The time account can be disbursed with the monetary equivalent. To safeguard this “case” each hour worked is deposited in monetary form in a separate, non-attachable account. The amounts are calculated as follows: If the service recipient does not have a time account, he must pay 8.40 euros per hour of serving, the billing will be monthly. The service provider would receive 6.80 euros per hour, if he would be paid for his work. The difference covers the expenses of the civic cooperative. Those may be telephone expenses, room rental for the meetings in the town centre, where all members gather for a variety of appointments and events, and the costs of a comprehensive insurance package.
This mutual help is provided by members who can afford the time and want to get involved in the social field besides their job or everyday life.

Diverse professional experiences

The diverse professional careers and experience of the members covers a wide range of help requests. Even with technical questions many helpers know the answer to the question, How does that work? In addition to the direct factual reference, explaining manuals and other modern technology is always an opportunity to meet with someone and there is still time for conversation.
In principle, members of the civic cooperative are not required to provide assistance. Members themselves decide in which way, to what extent and at what time they can and want to provide help. There are members who, due to their personal situation can only use benefits and those who initially only want to provide benefits. Thereby it is equally important whether someone provides help in the garden, fills in government applications, or executes a driving service.

Example: Help for a frail woman

An example to illustrate the work in the community cooperative: A frail woman lived alone on the first floor of her house in the centre of town. She could not descend the stairs so that she was trapped in her apartment. The two daughters live far away and are both very busy. They could not persuade their mother to move to a retirement home and therefore had a serious conflict. They could not provide the support their mother needed without giving up their jobs. A neighbour who was aware of this difficult situation, told the daughters about the civic cooperative. Relieved, they went there. The chairman of the cooperative visited the woman and explained the work to her. The lady became a member and from then on received help from a group of five women for two hours per day over a period of nine months. They took turns daily. The women cleaned up the apartment and ran errands, prepared a warm meal for her and kept her company. They also helped her to the bathroom. But when the woman needed more and more care, we informed the welfare office which took over the nursing activities. The five women from the civic cooperative, however, continued to provide support in the household until the sudden death of the woman.
These “services” are not easy. But they are enriching for both sides through the human relationship that arises and the enjoyment thereof.
As the example shows, there is close cooperation with the local welfare centre. The same goes for the resident nursing home. There is a regular exchange of information with the social station. If, the helper as part of his support activity perceives that the person supported by him is to become in need of care, the contact with the welfare centre will be established. In order to recognise such situations, free professionally supported training takes place annually for the helpers. At so-called helper meetings there is the opportunity to exchange views among each other. It is a very nice gathering of helpers otherwise deployed on one’s own. They get together at these meetings, talk about their experience, exchange views in the community and learn about the importance of solidarity. This forms cohesion and bonds to the community.

Cooperation with many other facilities

We also cooperate very closely with the family centre, which resulted from the shared use of the rooms in the meeting centre. In a “Local Alliance for People with Dementia”, everyone gets together. For example, young people have designed a sensory path from the old age home outside to the centre of the village.
In cooperation with other institutions, permanent events have been established, such as a monthly games afternoon. On the average, 14 to 16 people come together between 3 pm and 6 pm to talk and play with each other, with Scrabble being the “hit”. Members support other members against being alone by reading aloud, listening, having lunch together, going for a walk, going on excursions and accompanying to various events, church, theatre or cinema. Members, former teachers, offer German courses for refugees. In the meantime, other members look after their children. By donating time credits of individual members for the membership fee, refugees who have been admitted in the village will soon have the opportunity to join the civic cooperative and to contribute meaningfully to our village community. During the summer holidays, the civic cooperative offers a bicycle workshop for children as part of the community’s holiday care programme, for which there is always a lively reception.
All our activities reflect the idea of Raiffeisen, on which our citizens’ cooperative is based: “Many can do what is impossible for the individual.”     •

(Translation Current Concerns)

Our website uses cookies so that we can continually improve the page and provide you with an optimized visitor experience. If you continue reading this website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information regarding cookies can be found in the data protection note.

If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.​​​​​​​