In February 2021, I received a statement from the Fundus Basel association on the new vision for ageing policy "Growing older well and together in Basel-Stadt". Fundus association? What kind of organization is that? My curiosity was piqued and I sought contact with this contact point. So on a cold Tuesday morning in March, I went to Hammerstrasse 160 to find out more about Fundus. I was warmly welcomed by Nicole Tschäppät, the manager.

Hammerstrasse 160 is not difficult to find, but you have to be very careful not to miss the inner courtyard with its various studios. Fundus Basel has recently moved into a studio there and now has an official address. A large room with two computers, a comfortable table with chairs and the usual office cupboards furnish the space. A bicycle trailer and a large stand with a wide range of brochures and flyers from various organizations and their services are conspicuous. It's obvious: a networker is at work here!

Nicole Tschäppät explains that she earned her professional spurs in neighborhood work thanks to her training as a sociocultural animator. In 2017, she was managing a neighbourhood project in Hirzbrunnen when experts from three organizations asked her what the situation was like for senior citizens of the fourth age in Schoren. But how do you reach senior citizens? How can senior citizens be brought out of their loneliness? What needs do they actually have?

In response to my question, Ms Tschäppät explained that she had therefore invited many organizations to a network meeting to discuss how hard-to-reach senior citizens could be reached more effectively. As a first measure, Nicole Tschäppät and the network launched the "Independent in old age" event series in 2018, which addresses various issues relating to old age and takes place in the neighborhood. However, she realized that there are older people who would like to attend an event but are physically too weak, too tired or too old to make the journey. In short, she organized a pick-up service for the second series of events in 2019. And the series of events was a success.

The association was formed in 2019 Fundus BaselNicole Tschäppät tells me, as a concrete result of her ageing work in the project, the feedback from the organizations and observations, surveys and analyses. She herself is employed by 60% as managing director. The board and helpers work on a voluntary basis. Ms. Tschäppät does two hours of grassroots work twice a week. In concrete terms, this means that she always stands with her bicycle trailer, chairs, a folding table and a flyer stand in the same neuralgic places near two shopping centers and simply says "grüezi" to passers-by and signals her willingness to talk. She gains the trust of people, some of whom ask curiously what she is doing there. This leads to conversations and Nicole Tschäppät can recognize where there are problems. For example, she provides advice on financial problems, social isolation or health issues and arranges accompaniment for those seeking help: for a visit to the hairdresser, for a trip to the office, for shopping or simply for a walk.

And what about the volunteers? I ask.

Around 15 volunteers have already taken on some kind of task. Some tasks are completed after one appointment, others become tandems that last for a long time. It is important to know the person seeking help and the volunteer well in order to be able to combine them carefully. Ms. Tschäppät talks enthusiastically about the 20-year-old woman who takes great pleasure in looking after a 93-year-old. The 20-year-old now has a "grandmother" and the 93-year-old is happy to have a "granddaughter". These two women function completely independently as a tandem. This arrangement began when the young woman went shopping for the old lady during the first lockdown.

Nicole Tschäppät also refers to a tandem consisting of an 80-year-old widower and a 91-year-old lady. He is fit and caringly accompanies her to various appointments every week. 

Ms. Tschäppät emphasizes that sustainability is important, i.e. such a couple should be able to travel together for a longer period of time so that trust grows. The chemistry between the two people must be absolutely right.

The sphere of activity of Fundus Basel is currently limited to the Hirzbrunnen district, which is a mixed district in terms of nationalities. What about people with a migration background?

Ms. Tschäppät is accompanied by a Turkish interpreter for three hours a week. It is very helpful to have someone at her side who knows the culture and language of Turkish residents. Mobile geriatric work also means ringing every doorbell in a street where a Turkish name is written. This is hard work, but incredibly rewarding. Many very good conversations result from this and some senior citizens realize that they can and may seek low-threshold help.

When it comes to other languages or nationalities, in Nicole Tschäppät's experience, the senior citizens in Hirzbrunnen are mainly those with a Spanish or Italian background. Nicole Tschäppät's knowledge of Italian is sufficient for communication. And for more detailed support, she is so well connected that she can refer those seeking help directly to GGG Migration, the Red Cross of Basel or another institution, for example.

When asked about Seniors@Work, Ms Tschäppät explains that "her" senior citizens probably have no (more) energy and are not (any longer) reliable enough to take on a paid job. Her clients are already of an advanced age. However, it would of course be great if Fundus Basel could find volunteer helpers, possibly even via Seniors@Work. Unfortunately, the clientele of Fundus Basel often do not pay fees for accompanying people. But as is so often the case in volunteer work: you do without cash, but are given priceless social contacts, get to know great people and experience projects and life situations that you would never have experienced otherwise. Volunteering is never a one-way street.

At the very end, Nicole Tschäppät reflects on the fact that a child's social space gradually expands, but the window gradually closes again as they get older. In our city, there is open child and youth work (OKJA), which does exactly the same thing. Fundus Basel simply for the young. Nothing exists for the older generation. That's why she hopes - and I hope with her - that Fundus Basel can be put on a financially secure footing (it is still very uncertain!). And that the perimeter of its activities is also extended to other districts.

It's time to say goodbye. I am impressed by Ms. Tschäppät's commitment and fire. And I personally believe that such bottom-up projects are much more sustainable than top-down measures.

Many thanks to the Fundus Basel association and all the best to Nicole Tschäppät!

Beatrice Isler

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