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The Babayagas’ house, an alternative to old people’s homes and home care

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par Rémy Lombard | 10.06.10

The Babayagas’ house, a name drawn from Slavic mythology, is a solidarity self-management housing project of a community of female senior citizens. Dreamt of, imagined and developed by Thérèse Clerc since 1996, the house is designed as a place to live, that is a residence but also a place for activities and social interactions.

The project’s genesis
As Thérèse Clerc explains, the idea originated in personal reasons: “my mother has been bedridden for 5 years and I did not want my children to go through that. Considering the risks of being cared at home or being alone, I said to myself why not live with friends? After all, I had learnt self-management.” With 12 million people over 60 in France, the point of such social innovations is increasingly relevant. For the Babayagas, circumstances were decisive: “The association’s statutes were registered in 1999. Things were going slow then the 2003 heatwave and an article in Le Monde drew attention to our new collective.” A site for the construction of the house has been chosen in Montreuil, a few yards from the town hall. The building permit is valid since the 24th of June and an invitation to tender should be submitted in October this year.

The house conception
It relies on four mainstays: self-management, solidarity, civic sense and ecology. Self-management “means do it yourself, with your own means. It means management without a director, without costly staff. We will pool our means, including our medical means. We will arrange our schedules,” Thérèse Clerc explains. Solidarity “materialises in very trivial movements such as helping someone to put a coat on, get out of a bathtub or cut a piece of meat; these movements are becoming difficult when the body is weakened.” Civic sense is the main selection criterion to be part of this community: all Baba Yagas have been committed women with a strong political awareness and a desire for social transformation (they have been part of feminist, political or association movements). Ecology inspires the construction, with photovoltaic panels and thick walls, but also ways of life, with a social and intimate relationship ecology, not to mention, logically, the membership of an AMAP (Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne: association for the support of small farming) for food supply.
As for the organisation of the residence, Thérèse Clerc imagined 20 apartments of about forty sq m, which enables to preserve each person’s independence and collective solidarity. Each woman takes her meals at home to avoid too much lack of privacy. An exterior mediator should help prevent any conflict. On the ground floor, a popular university should take place and a spa for 12 people should be built, creating two real social tools.

From utopia to models
Other solidarity housing experiences have been experimented. As early as the XIIth century, in Belgium and in the Netherlands, Beguine convents were religious housing for women subjected to convent life without having taken vows. These organisations remain topical, though secularised. For instance, the Abbeyfield Society developed since the 1960s in Great Britain and expanded in 16 countries since. The Baba Yagas’ house is an inspiration for other houses like in Saint-Priest. Deep down, Thérèse Clerc’s aim, at 83, is to prove that old age is not a collapse, like General de Gaulle suggested, but a beautiful age: “To live long is a good thing but to age well is better!” she concludes with a radiant and optimistic smile on her lips.

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Translated by Oona Bijasson

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Our feedback

Michael Hawley | 03.17.13 à 20.07

I heard of the Baba Yaga concept today on CBC radio. It caught my attention as this idea has been in my mind for the past couple of years. Perhaps as an awareness of where investment in housing could of should be going.
Although the ideas are for the aging women, I do not see why men or co-hab cannot take place as well. In my 60’s now, my approach to handling aging is to keep moving, part-time work, fitness, exercise, outdoor activiies and good helthy home made meals, organic food,local food, supporting farmer’s markets, home gardening, volunteer gardening, etc. Self managed home spaces to share with others is a great social and healthy way to enjoy aging and long living.

Keep up your good work

Good luck Michael

Janet Bardon | 03.20.13 à 18.43

I too heard of this concept on CBC radio. We had a beautiful Baba Yaga book when the children were small….anyhow, I love this idea and intend to pursue it with my friends. I can’t think of a better way to live!

| Saint John City Market Seniors | 08.11.13 à 18.44

[...] further information about this unique retirement option check out, Innov’ in the City, Baba Yaga on Youtube, Janet Torge’s Radical Rest Homes. Google+Filed Under: Community← [...]

Sue Oswald | 08.17.13 à 20.00

I read about this idea in a book ‘The Warmth of the Heart prevents your body from rusting by Marie de Hennezel (translated from the French) and think it makes so much sense. However, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with both men and women - surely everyone would have something to offer?

Barrett Biggs | 03.23.14 à 03.21

I agree with aforementioned concepts of relying on each other rather than on paid staff to take care of one another. Also that men would benefit from such an approach.

The Baba yaga concept resonates totally with me. After living in several intentional communities over the years, this seems like the perfect next step for those reaching their senior years who still want to experience fellowship and supportive sharing of various responsibilities and opportunities.

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