Loneliness is a significant challenge for many older people. As public and social housing providers, how can we create age-friendly environments that foster the active participation of older people in society? During our recent Ageing Topic Group meeting in Brussels, we headed to Maison Biloba Huis, an inspiring organisation dedicated to reducing the social isolation of older people.
Ageing in place
On entering Maison Biloba Huis, the first thing you notice is the lively and welcoming atmosphere. Based in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Biloba has developed alternative social housing adapted to older people’s needs and preferences. The main objective is to empower older residents to live independently while remaining within their familiar neighbourhood, close to their support networks.
Maison Biloba Huis offers fifteen accessible and affordable apartments for tenants aged 60 and over registered with the local housing provider, le Foyer Schaerbeekois. Every apartment has its own kitchen and bathroom. In addition, all tenants have access to communal spaces, including a community kitchen, a meditation room, and a gym.
Photos: Courtesy of Maison Biloba Huis
Building a community
Maison Biloba Huis is based on the values of solidarity and celebration of diversity. Central to Biloba’s philosophy is the belief that everybody is a decision-maker, charting their own path and pursuing their own dreams. Each resident becomes co-responsible for the house and is committed to mutual respect.
Maintaining connections with family and friends is extremely important. For those who may not have strong social bonds, Maison Biloba Huis offers numerous opportunities to meet people through the day centre activities. Currently, around 70 people attend the centre, which offers a varied programme of activities to boost creativity or simply a space to enjoy a coffee and a chat.
It was clear during our visit that here, everyone is encouraged to actively participate, share experiences, and engage with each other. Whether connecting with long-time friends or regaining confidence in group dynamics, the common space helps to strengthen the social contacts that are essential for well-being.
Connecting people with local services
In 2018, Maison Biloba Huis created the Citisen network. Citisen aims to help older residents in the district, as well as their close caregivers, to access suitable local health solutions. By promoting understanding of the resources available in the area, people are empowered to continue living independently in the comfort of their homes while maintaining a high quality of life.
With four meeting places and numerous workshops, the Citisen network ensures that important information is accessible to all, ranging from fall prevention to budget management. The district-based approach not only helps to reach isolated older people, but it promotes a fresh perspective on ‘care’ that combines social and health initiatives.
We thank the Maison Biloba Huis for welcoming our Ageing Topic Group and providing so many ideas that we can take back to our organisations! And thank you to our partner Housing Europe for connecting us.