Football club at the heart of a happy neighbourhood

‘More than a Club’ is the motto of the Spanish football club FC Barcelona. A club in the Netherlands that is certainly entitled to adopt this slogan is SV Helios in Deventer. The football club is the backbone of a successful campaign to build a healthier community. The question now is how to expand this social innovation to other neighbourhoods in the Netherlands?

Feeling at home at the club

Finn Brouwer is seldom to be found anywhere but at Helios. He helps to run the club’s sports programme three times a week, often cooks meals for local residents, accompanies elderly persons to fall prevention classes and is currently editing a series of short films for a grant application. He feels at home there. “The club finds things for me to do and then allows me to do them in my own way,” he says. “That makes me feel good about myself.” It’s a big change compared with five years ago. “I couldn’t fit in at school or at work and suffered from depression.”

Finn is proud of his personal development. “I was living under round-the-clock care. Now I’m married and living with my wife and only receive counselling for one hour a month.” He is also making the move from organised daytime activities to regular work, having been offered a job with the Solis Care Group under the ‘Basisbaan programme’; a scheme in which municipalities employ people with little chance of securing regular employment to do work in the community. “We’re currently reviewing what work I’m best suited for there.”

A changing district

Finn’s story of great personal growth is not unique to him, according to Grace Brok, a social entrepreneur and the chair of SV Helios. “Ten years ago, I sat down with local residents to discuss cooperation with schools, businesses and shops in the neighbourhood. I saw the possibilities, since we have a fantastic clubhouse and playing fields that are not used during the day or in summer. Those discussions led to Buurtgeluk, an initiative to organise various activities to promote exercise, health and participation.

"Hundreds of people in the community now routinely attend the activities, sometimes after being referred to us by their family doctor or other healthcare professionals. We encourage local residents to adopt a healthier lifestyle by providing information, organising physical activity and offering nutritious meals. They proceed at their own pace, one step at a time. With positive results. The participants take control of their lives again, regain their vitality and are able to continue living independently at home. This has a huge impact in terms of reducing healthcare costs.”

Anchoring success

One of the partners in Buurtgeluk is Saxion University of Applied Sciences, whose students gain practical experience and supervise activities in the project. “And at the GROZzerdam field lab (see text box) in Deventer, we are exploring ways of further deepening and strengthening the Buurtgeluk approach,” says Harmieke van Os, Associate Professor of Personalised Care at Saxion. “What are the factors that make Buurtgeluk a success? And how can we permanently anchor the initiative in the district?”

In the project Samen Slim Gezond [Smart Health Together], for example, researchers and students are investigating the feasibility of an app that can track the level of fitness of the participants and so help them to meet their targets. Van Os: “The combined data of all the participants would also give us information about the effectiveness of particular activities.”

Social impact

Saxion also wants to develop a social business case for Buurtgeluk, which could serve as a blueprint for similar initiatives elsewhere in the Netherlands. “We want to measure the project’s impact,” says Attila Németh, Professor of Modelling Societal Impact at Saxion. “When the social costs and benefits of Buurtgeluk have been identified, our research group can underpin the findings with a literature search and data. Once you have a clear picture of what you’re doing and why it works, you can ensure the continued success of an initiative and scale it up.”

Putting residents centre stage

Van Os hopes that the research will help to spread the Buurtgeluk philosophy throughout the Netherlands. An important requirement is that the real-world experiences of the residents take centre stage. They must not be impeded by the system world, by the partitions between organisations and different funding instruments. “The existing healthcare system is no longer sustainable, so we must find smarter solutions. Buurtgeluk is a concrete example of the paradigm shift from care to health. We’re delighted that our institution can help to accomplish that.”

From disease to health

GROZ is an initiative launched with the aim of creating a new balance in the Dutch healthcare system. The title is an anagram of ZORG, the Dutch word for care, and refers to the envisaged shift in the focus in healthcare towards health (Gezondheid) and away from disease (Ziekte). The actual innovations in healthcare are being developed in four field labs, called ‘GROZzerdammen’, in Eindhoven, Utrecht, the Northern Meuse Valley region and Deventer. With universities of applied sciences as knowledge partners, each field lab makes its own particular contribution to realising the central mission of the Dutch Top Sector Life Sciences and Health, which is that by 2040, people in the Netherlands will live at least five years longer in good health.