Expert article
Modifier 25 June 2021
by Martha Giannakopoulou

Coronavirus-Proof Community Building in Ghent

CORONAVIRUS-PROOF COMMUNITY BUILDING  How to connect people despite the current Covid-19 pandemic restrictions
Fanny at the recycling park
How to connect people despite the current Covid-19 pandemic restrictions?
Ghent Knapt Op is a pilot project that not only sets up a new financial system for renovating vulnerable citizens’ homes but also tests co-implementation and participatory approaches. In addition, it introduces the concept of co-design to participants as part of the renovation process while supporting them technically, financially and emotionally.

This process requires time and skills, but in the end, it facilitates beneficiaries' empowerment and ownership, contributing to their sense of 'a new home'. Neighbourhood participation and community engagement have been at the forefront of the project as Gent Knapt Op’s project scope is not only to renovate private houses but also to engage and activate a citizen network and create bonds with the community.

The Ghent Knapt Op initiative is in the midst of its renovation wave of improving housing conditions for almost 85 households. The importance of dignified, safe and secure housing has been starkly highlighted during last year’s Covid-19 pandemic, during which most Europeans have been ‘home-bound’, restricted to their apartments, flats or houses for large parts of the year. The pandemic has triggered reflection on the vital role of housing but also renewed understanding of the social support and assistance needed for vulnerable citizens during this time.

Social Support Objectives of Ghent Knapt Op:

  • Emotionally assist project participants through the renovation process
  • Refer them and link them to other municipal support and services
  • Extend their networks and link them with local groups and businesses
  • Link them with decision makers and policy makers
  • Improve their self-esteem by connecting them with their neighbourhood and community
  • Practice language skills

Bringing people together to eat, drink and do things has been a challenge. There is a great value in connecting people to the neighbourhoods. This time has been a challenge.– Bart Gabriel, Vzw SIVI

Building Community despite Coronavirus

The Ghent Knapt Op initiative had to deal with many challenges during the pandemic: renovation delays, backlogs in material delivery, difficulties with contract signing and barriers due to social assistance. This consequently created time delays, isolation and fear for many of the project participants during a time that was already stressful in society. Partners such as Bart and Fanny are providing meaningful and creative support to Ghent Knapt Op participants, helping them build a community despite the stress of living through a pandemic. The social support objectives of Ghent Knapt Op have remained a central part of the programming.

The pandemic pushed Ghent Knapt Op to become even more creative and innovative in order to deal with such extraordinary circumstances and find ways to do community building activities in a different way, ultimately achieving trust and providing support to the participants.

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