This project concerns social cohesion in the Dutch village of Nederwetten and its future development as a village. The Nederwetten village council advises the Mayor and Aldermen (the municipal executive) of the municipality of Nuenen on aspects concerning the quality of life in Nederwetten. Stimulated by the provincial government of North Brabant and in close cooperation with residents and the municipal authorities, the village council has developed an Integrated Village Development Plan proposing measures and actions to improve the quality of life in the village. The council established a social cohesion think-tank to address the social aspects of quality of life, as well as spatial improvements.
The think-tank has taken the initiative for a study into social cohesion in Nederwetten. The goals of the study were to: (1) examine the social cohesion in the village and the way social cohesion arises and (2) set up pilot projects that can contribute to social cohesion.
The main research question was therefore: In what ways can the development of activities and services contribute to maintaining and strengthening social cohesion in Nederwetten?
Social cohesion arises through a process of encounters
To answer the research question, we first conducted a literature study into the concept of ‘social cohesion’. Social cohesion can be seen as a process of encounters inducing positive emotions. When people come into contact with each other and support each other in pursuing a common interest, they can start to identify with each other, resulting in social cohesion.
High level of perceived social cohesion in Nederwetten
Based on the literature study, we conducted in-depth interviews with residents and key persons, followed by a survey amongst the village residents. The residents of Nederwetten are very satisfied with the social life in the village. Encounters are informal and people are approachable. Since there are few places for people to meet, social cohesion emerges mainly within societies and active resident groups. There is very little cooperation between them, however. The new multifunctional community centre called De Koppelaar is seen by many residents as offering good opportunities to meet each other and enhance cooperation. For the residents, high social cohesion can also lead to social dilemmas: they would like everybody to participate actively in village life, but also want to allow everyone their personal freedom.
Setting up four pilot projects
The results of the interviews and the survey were presented to the villagers during a discussion evening. The presentation was followed by group discussions on the subjects of ‘mobility’, ‘services’ and ‘activities’. This resulted in a large number of suggested activities and ideas for improvement. At a second discussion evening, a selection of ideas was further developed into four concrete pilot projects: (1) a local / call-up bus service, (2) leisure activities, (3) preparing meals together or for others, and (4) a groceries and odd-jobs service. The members of the think-tank each adopted one of the pilot projects, with the aim of developing it further with fellow villagers.
Conclusions and recommendations
Based on the literature study, in-depth interviews, survey and discussion evenings, we conclude that social cohesion is a process that requires on-going efforts by the residents of Nederwetten. If they want to maintain social cohesion in their village, they will have to be active and participate in village life. In setting up activities, it is important to pay attention not only to horizontal social cohesion (within residents’ groups), but also to vertical social cohesion (between residents’ groups and between residents and organizations working in the village). Although the residents of Nederwetten can do a lot themselves, they will in many cases have to seek cooperation with others, such as the municipal authorities, welfare organizations, housing corporations or societies and special interest groups.
Based on our research, we make the following recommendations:
- Develop activities aimed at integrating social networks, to alleviate the consequences for certain target groups of the low level of services and to strengthen the social cohesion within these target groups. Organizing activities that bring together different social networks in the village (e.g. the elderly and the working population) can help develop and implement new solutions. Examples are the groceries and odd-jobs service and activities aimed at multiple target groups. Societies can look for opportunities for cooperation within or outside the village. The new multifunctional community centre offers residents opportunities to meet (e.g. by hiring a room for activities) and can help groups to connect (e.g. different groups meeting through the centre’s open-door policy).
- Approach new residents proactively and keep them (as well as other residents) informed of village activities. To involve new residents, it would be a good idea to make one of the village organizations (like the village council) or a group of villagers (a welcoming committee) responsible for this.
- Prevent too close cohesion within groups by bringing different groups into contact with each other. The village council can play a mediating role by enabling groups (including those with conflicting points of view) to exchange views. Supporting exchanges and contacts between local societies can enable them to undertake joint activities.
- When organizing activities, aim for cooperation with various social networks and organizations to make the best possible use of the strength of weak ties. In realizing the four pilot projects and organizing other activities, it is important to seek cooperation with individuals, groups and organizations (within and outside the village) that can provide support through their knowledge and organizing capacities. Examples are the local welfare association Stichting Newest, local societies, local or regional welfare organizations and the municipal authorities. If these organizations want to contribute to the quality of life in Nederwetten and prepare the village for the future, they need to be supportive of the initiatives of the Nederwetten residents.
The creation of the new multifunctional community centre, De Koppelaar, and the new housing estate De Esrand are good examples of cooperation between residents, village organizations (the Nederwetten village council and Stichting Newest) and other actors, including the municipal government of Nuenen. The De Koppelaar community centre offers plenty of opportunities to strengthen the social cohesion. The implementation of the Integrated Village Development Plan, which led to the present study, is a good example of cooperation between the residents, represented by the village council, and the municipal authorities. We definitely recommend that this cooperation be continued and expanded.