At Hallingelille ecovillage there is a new project since a few months: this past January they started participating in the regional project “Cafe Ingeborg”. With this project the local municipality has provided activities for handicapped and dement people in the region for the past seven years. Some ecovillage members gathered around last year to see if they could participate in this project as a community, particularly for people with dementia. Now, several months after the first conversations with the municipality, the project is running with three 18 hour jobs for ecovillage members and is playfully referred to as “project dementia”. The participants are given meaningful tasks in a green and communal environment, this gives them a sense of purpose and belonging and takes them out of their care homes. At the same time it brings jobs and activity to the ecovillage. Starting today, community members Nils and Lars have a new idea for the project: they want to start every morning with singing traditional Danish childhood songs.
It is 8 o’clock on a Monday morning in Hallingelille ecovillage, Nils and Lars are seated at the table with their guitars practicing traditional Danish songs. Everyone at the breakfast table of the communal building is joining in and discussing which lyrics are the correct ones. Community member Niis arrives and starts the fire of the single, wood fired mass oven that heats the entire building with wood from their own forest. Slowly some elderly people from outside the ecovillage are starting to arrive, they are seated at the table and instantly start humming or singing along to the songs played. Everyone gets a little sparkle in their eyes from singing the familiar childhood tunes and it brings big smiles to our faces.
Nils, one of the community members working in this project, says the project really provides benefits for everyone involved. As we walk through their community forest together with former carpenter and now dementia patient Finn, Nils explains to me that it gives participants hope and sense of purpose. He recounts that the participants always leave with some fresh energy, possibly from being outside a lot and contributing to some simple but meaningful tasks. Finns wive has said many times that since Finn started participating she can communicate with him more easily then before. For the community it is also a benefit as the projects brings life and activity to the village every morning. A really big benefit is that the project offers three jobs for community members, which now have the luxury of working from home in a stress free, fun environment. The local newspaper already got a wind of the new project it and wrote an article praising the community and their contribution to supporting local dementia patients. The day the newspaper came Finn was particularly bright and elaborated that he really liked coming here and participating. The next day he even remembered it and asked why there were no pictures being taken of them today!
In the start-up phase they had really had to figure out what type of activities they could offer in the ecovillage for the different participants. The extend of dementia varies quit a bit between the participants. Some can still work relatively independently and help decide on the activities that are done. Others cannot even remember how to put on gloves or hold a brush and are just tagging along, fascinated with everything that happens. Nils tells me that Finn, who has been a carpenter all his life, now does not even know anymore at which end to hold a saw. This does not matter at Hallingelille, where every participant is helped and guided according to their needs. Everything happens in a slow, super relaxed tempo. This morning some outdoor benches need painting and recently cut willow branches need to be bundled. Other days they might help cleaning out the workshop or filling holes in the community roads.
The project Cafe Ingeborg has two other locations in the region, where also all types of handicapped people participate in a restaurant and some vegetable gardens in different pension homes. Everything is run by the municipality of Ringsted, they are also the employer of the three community members. The collaboration with Hallingelille was set up by a small council of ecovillage members together with the municipality. Together they explored the possibilities a community offers for providing dementia patients with activities. Next Monday they will have their first evaluation after the project has run for two months. It has taken some getting used to by other ecovillage members, now that all of a sudden there are people in the communal house every morning. The most tricky part of the project was to figure out how they could transport the participants to the ecovillage. Also, since the community members only get paid for the hours they spend with the participants, they sometimes find it difficult to prepare the activities properly as there is no time for this while the participants are here and need fulltime assistance.
Overall I think it is a good example of how the shared facilities of a community, as well as the access to communal forest and gardens can be used to make a social contribution to the wider region surrounding an ecovillage. On top of this, initiatives like this create livelihoods for the inhabitants of communities, offering them a stable income and spare time to work on their personal projects. For inhabitant Lars this is a nice side job next to his personal pottery business in the village. Project Ingeborg gives him the freedom to spent the rest of his time on in his workshop.
For all the benefits this project might give both to the participants who would otherwise spend their time behind tv in care taking homes and their partners who get some relief from caretaking, as well as for the community. Spare-time musicians Nils and Lars are right now both just enjoying singing childhood songs together next to the warm fire Niis has made, just as much as the participants of project dementia. Whether intended or not, the projects seems to bring hope and a sense of purpose to all involved.
Read more about the project (in Danish): https://cafeingeborg.ringsted.dk