How can we bring our communities together and tackle loneliness?

In 2016 Generations Working Together visited Berlin, Germany to learn about intergenerational cohousing and the benefits this can have on generations. Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen (Network Agency Crossgenerational Living) is an organisation that brings the two generations together for intergenerational co-living. Dr Maximilian Vollmer took the time to tell us how intergenerational housing works in Berlin and how it can benefit both groups. This article is part of our winter campaign, Intergenerational Inspiration from abroad.

With a rise in population and an increase in rents and housing, Berlin needs to find creative solutions in order to keep being an affordable and attractive place to live. Its benefit is a large number of community organisations and residents that are keen to volunteer and create. One of the groups we met was Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen (Network Agency Crossgenerational Living). The group gives free advice and helps both tenants and owners. To find out how intergenerational housing can work, we spoke to Dr Maximilian Vollmer, Berlin based, who has significant experience in urban planning, sociology and housing policy.

Kate – “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What did you do/study before your current position?”

Max -“I studied spatial and environmental planning. Before I started my current work, I worked at a university in the field of urban planning and urban sociology, always with a focus on housing and housing policy.”

Kate -“What attracted you to working in this area?”

Max – “After working as a researcher, it was time for me to see how things worked in practice. I wanted to be part of this practice and influence housing policy somehow by supporting the development of cohousing and intergenerational housing.”

Kate- “What does your organisation do and what are its key goals?”

Max – “As the Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen (Network Agency Crossgenerational Living) we assist individuals and groups interested in intergenerational cohousing projects, either as owner-occupiers or as tenants. The agency understands itself as a consultant, mediator and facilitator. It provides basic information for projects that just started with an idea or are at a planning stage, as well as those already up and running.”

Kate -“In Berlin we have seen the growth of intergenerational housing, can you tell us why this is? Could this work well elsewhere?”

Max – “Like in many other large cities all around the world living in Berlin can be very isolated and anonymous. This can be a problem especially – but not only – for older people. That is why more and more people start thinking about alternative models of housing. Models which are defined by a stronger significance of community, sharing and mutual help. This especially works as an intergenerational exchange between people in different life situations.This could also work elsewhere in the world, under the condition that you have – depending on the model you choose – the space to build a project, maybe the funding, the advice how to do it or a cooperating housing company. And of course, you need groups wanting to live together. The forming of groups is a step that should not be underestimated. Intergenerational housing is a whole other culture of living. This is something every member of the group must consider and learn from.”

Kate -“What has been your highlight so far? Any other key projects you want to mention?”

Max – “There is not one specific highlight. It is always motivating when you see the groups growing together and becoming a cohousing group during the process of our consulting.”

Kate -“How important is the connecting generations together to your work and do you think this is important to our society?”

Max – “As I mentioned before I think that the exchange and the mutual help can be a way of preventing the isolation and anonymity in bigger cities. And of course, sharing and helping each other has also a financial benefit for the members. In times of rising prices and rents, this is an important factor as well.”

Kate – “One of our aims is to support grassroots projects to connect communities together what advice would you give to someone who is looking to bring a community together through an intergenerational project?”

Max – “Take enough time of building and forming your group or your community. People need time getting to know each other. Especially when people are new to cohousing, they have to get a good idea of the community life will look like and which special rules you have to establish and to follow. Doing activities together as a group before start to live together is a good way of preparing.”

Kate – “Which people, funders or resources have helped you start your work at your organisation?”

Max – “Our project – the Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen – is funded by the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing. This makes our advice free of charge for the interested people and groups. Furthermore building a network of people working in your field always helps.”

Kate -“What are your tips for getting volunteers involved in a local project?”

Max -“You have to figure out the common interests of different groups, people and organizations. If the people realize that they are all working for the same aim – in our case, for example, a pleasant neighbourhood – they can become more motivated to be part of the project.”

Kate -“We encourage sharing of ideas with other business, charities and community projects. Are there any projects local to you that may be of interest to us and our readers? Any particular German ones?”

Max – “I would encourage you to have a look at a brochure we published a few years ago. The brochure is German and English. You will find some interesting projects there”

For information about Netzwerkagentur GenerationenWohnen (Network Agency Crossgenerational Living) in Berlin please contact Dr Maximilian Vollmer

This article is part of our winter campaign, Intergenerational Inspiration from abroad. If you would like to share your story for the campaign or have a question, let us know by contacting Kate or through our tag #gwtinspiration

2nd February 2018