Lismortel Co-housing Community in The Netherlands

But first Amsterdam
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Coming in from Copenhagen, heading straight for the Central area of old Amsterdam, it was a delight and a relief to be met by Lidewij’s lovely mum, Elise. Having connected with Lidewij in Leeds at the LICAC Cohousing Community where she also was visiting for the Conference at Leeds University, the intention to visit her in Rotterdam was thwarted due to the timing and her need to be in Hanover in Germany. However she suggested it might be possible to stay with her mother, Elise, and that is what happened.

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Climbing up in the lift to the guest room on sixth floor was no preparation for the stunning view out the window. Looking across the rooftops of much of old Amsterdam and down into the street below, across to the old church, which rang its bells every fifteen minutes, and even more fulsomely on the hour, it was breathtaking.
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Nearly four hundred years ago Rembrandt moved from his hometown of Leiden to Amsterdam to further develop the techniques involved in achieving his ambition to be an artist. He walked through these streets, over these squares, looked down these canals and heard these bells. As a non-indigenous woman with only a two hundred and fifty years since the white skinned boat-people from England landed on the shores of Australia, it was a much longer history and hard to fathom.

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There was so much to see and soak up here but first, a scheduled trip out to Eindhoven and then on to North Eindhoven and the community of Lismortel. Catching a train out of Amsterdam the next day and the first glimpses of the Netherlands country-side windmills and dykes and cows are, of course, scattered through the landscape.

2015-05-07 10.25.28 Windmill, cows from train

The Dutch country trains provide a service to the travellers who buy coffee and cakes – perhaps as much to lighten the heavy load of the friendly, walking, catering vendor as anything.

2015-05-07 10.46.44 Train service

Over the Amstel River and a train trip of two hours followed by a bus trip and then a walk to Lismortel …… …. the decision to leave the luggage in Amsterdam and the home of Elise was a very good one.

2015-05-07 11.01.59 Bridge over Amstel river

Walking in to the co-housing community was like walking into a suburban development built in the early 1980’s. (The group started forming in1977, construction completed in ’83). As their website says, “It’s so green, cosy and quiet.”

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2015-05-07 12.20.19 Entrance to Lismortel

2015-05-07 12.21.30. The Common Housejpg

Seeking Peter Bakker, the first things catching the eye was the few veggie boxes down the way. Then walking towards the group of children at the Community Meeting Room want to get directions but finding the Dutch-English barrier prevented any communication beyond smiles and gestures. Finding Peter Bakker’s address and the welcoming Peter, going inside into the six-household cluster’s common room where a range of relevant books were laid out and a light lunch would be served.

Screenshot Peter Bakker 2015-05-30 21.09.49

After a long conversation with Peter explaining how Lismortel works and where his motivation, interests and skills lie, he offered a tour through the community starting in the laundry. That is where they do some important waste management, collecting the more toxic and difficult articles for disposal such as batteries, chemicals and electrical bits and pieces are collected in boxes to be disposed of responsibly by the local government.
2015-05-07 14.13.22 Disposal of batteries, chemicals & electronic waste

A peek into an apartment gave a sense of the size and lay-out of the standardised homes of Lismortel.
2015-05-07 14.15.58 Inside an apartment
Then to the well-used bike shed where Peter explained that twelve or thirteen people share two cars and have a car-share agreement. There is room for a lot more take-up of the car sharing arrangement which can all be done online. He pulled up the software program he had developed to facilitate the car sharing.
2015-05-07 14.26.56 The bike shed
The Central Common House meeting place is equipped with a bar where drinks are ticked off and tallied and billed, a smallish kitchen which is suffice for their needs including drinks on Friday evening and the weekly Morning tea on Sundays.
2015-05-07 14.31.50 Common House  bar
Meetings are held here and movies often screened through the excellent data projector and AV equipment. The skylight had to have a specially designed cover constructed to black out the odd shaped ceiling windows.
2015-05-07 14.33.12 Skylight cover mechanism
On the walls are large framed photos of the original group and a reunion and other events. Peer pointed out several children who have now grown up and moved on and one who has come back to live there again.
2015-05-07 14.34.40 Group photos
The next stop was the cubby house and kids little wild area.
2015-05-07 14.41.09 The cubby
And then back into the community via the lonely bees hotel and the parkland adjacent with its wide lake and mature trees.
2015-05-07 14.46.03 Lonely bees hotel

2015-05-07 14.46.46 Adjacent parkland
The community has sixty households in all comprising one hundred and ten adults and children distributed over ten clusters. There are six households in Peter’s cluster. Each cluster has its own shared space in addition to the bigger meeting room for the whole community. The whole community meets three or four times a year.

The clusters meet every six to eight weeks, most dine together once a week and everyone has to cook at least once every seven weeks. Each cluster chooses its own members.

Each cluster also has to be responsible for setting up, running and packing down the central meeting space for the weekly Friday Bar and the Sunday (11.00 to 1.00) Morning Tea.

In Lismortel all households are renters and the housing company owns the properties. The big housing companies in Europe build for lower rent and the government assist with cheaper finance. These days people are ineligible if they’re earning more than €34,000 per year (I.e. $48,700.00 AUD).

The Dutch name for cohousing is “centraal wonen”: Central Housing
There are two organisations servicing the sector.
Federatie Gemeenschappelijk Wonen (FGW): Federation of LVCW and LVGO, associations, together representing about 200 Dutch intentional communities. The FGW is the Federation which is for Senior Co-housing, cooperative communities and also for all kinds of communities.
Landelijke Vereniging Centraal Wonen: Association of 60 Dutch intentional communities, mainly cohousing
The LVCW is the Dutch Co-housing organisation for the sixty or so co-housing communities.

Peter Bakker has been in the community for thirty-two years. He has a cat called Loki that has a big tree branch strategically placed to enable it to get in and out of his second-floor home very easily.

Peter is chair of the Netherlands Cohousing Association and coordinates networking the comprehensive website which Peter himself had a large hand in designing and constructing. The Fellowship for Cohousing.

The website is where people can advertise and other people can search. It provides consistent information about each community and assists people to find what they’re looking for. The website also promotes Communities Day supported by about sixty communities of the ten thousand thought to be in Europe. And it promotes the bi-annual Co-housing meeting.
Screenshot 2015-05-30 21.46.47
The website provides consistent information on the sixty cohousing communities in The Netherlands. Community Name, Location, Mission Statement, Community Description, Links, Establishment Status, Formation date and Establishment date, Visitors accepted, Open to New members, Website address and Map. A Visitor Process link and a Membership Process link with a Yes/No on whether the community is Open to new members. It also gives data on Population, Governance, Social Factors, Land and Buildings, Diet and Meals, Labour and Money and Community Affiliations. And that’s just the front page. It is a very rich resource.

There is potential to be explored there for other cohousing groups around the globe to consult with Peter to use this website construction, country by country, to help link cohousing communities internationally and help make the information about cohousing easy to access.

Regarding the harmony and participation in clusters? When applicants first come to be part of Silmortel they are asked to complete an Intention Declaration. Sometimes, things don’t work out and sometimes it is the best people choose to go because the cluster is just not satisfying them. Challenging the cluster and the individuals involved to find other options was a discussion point but Peter with his decades of experience, says the best thing to do in that case is not think too much about it. Sadly it seems there is no structured process or support for dealing with this outside of anything which might happen in the cluster.

The tour encompassed the geo thermal plant, abandoned due to some technical issues, prematurely as its turned out with the energy situation the way it is now. Sadly, they now use gas. There is apparently a lot of natural gas in the northern parts of the Netherlands. News that extensive fracking is now known to be the cause of the earthquakes being suffered in that area has leaked out and is raising alarm.

The community had to raise money initially and borrow more from the housing corporation to get their whole of Community Common House. This has been subsequently paid it off and now they own it.

When questioned how members made proposals for change, Peter explained; proposals are published in the (yellow) newspaper after which there is a meeting to brainstorm the issue which will precede the decision being made//modified. He added “sometimes there is further talking needed”. Have certainly heard that a few times in this trip.

Saying goodbye, walking back to the bus stop, retracing steps to Eindhoven and waiting for a train back to Amsterdam. SO many bikes at the Public Transport hub there.

Finally making it back to old Amsterdam, it was delicious to walk ‘home’ to Elise’s apartment block in the mild evening past the picturesque canals. Then up in the lift and a flight of stairs back to the little ‘eyrie’ on the sixth floor where the view to the gorgeous fading sunset and the church spire in the velvety blue dusk sky was exquisite.

2015-05-07 21.40.57 Sunset2015-05-07 21.39.31 Church tower at dusk

About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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