Contemplating a caring society together? Challenge accepted!

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Who will take care of you? Perhaps you are taking care of someone else? And what will your life be like in later life? These essential questions can get lost in the complexity of our healthcare system. The ‘DeMensPlek’ caravan sets out to get the conversation started on this. The striking yellow cart with a blue and white parasol is sometimes seen at a community centre and at other times can be found in a park. A group of caregivers, consisting of artists from Minerva Art Academy and healthcare professionals, make contact with passers-by. Together with the Hanze, they are researching the care network and living with dementia.   

Photo: Marcel Jurian de Jong

What art brings to healthcare 

The DeMensPlek caravan started in 2018 as a research initiative of the Image in Context research group of the Hanze. This ‘seed project’ united artists, caregivers and healthcare professionals to contemplate how art can benefit healthcare issues. Professor Anke Coumans explains: "A group of artists, known as the 'Makers Collective', created a book which bundled stories about the rules and feelings associated with living with dementia. When we finished the book, we wanted to go into the neighbourhood to collect and share even more stories." 

Sharing stories 

In 2023, this came to pass: the project was continued and the DeMensPlek caravan went into Groningen neighbourhoods. Artist Jedidja Smalbil laughs: "Sometimes people think we sell ice cream, but it soon becomes clear that we want to have an open conversation about healthcare. Our encounters can lead to something bigger, but they don't necessarily have to. We talk about all kinds of aspects of care and share stories through podcasts, drawings and letters. We make healthcare more personal this way, instead of just looking at money or practical matters. This method opens the way for real stories." 
Anke adds: "We need to take care of people with dementia, but, above all, we should remember that we are all human. The person is still there, with or without the label 'dementia'. Art helps us to look at things in new ways, instead of just looking for solutions or research results. Jedidja gives an example: "Two friends, both widowed, passed by our cart. They live far apart but keep in touch by calling each other three times a week. They didn't fully realise that this is also a form of caring for each other. I hope they take this thought away from the conversation and share it with other people, such as a neighbour or someone at the grocery shop." Anke adds: "The cart can be hired in places where it is needed. In this way, we are building a community that cares about each other." 

New ways of living 

DeMensPlek is affiliated with the ‘Zo Willen Wij Wonen’ Foundation, a collaboration between all kinds of initiatives that want to realise new ways of living for the elderly. "The question of how you want to live in later life affects every person. Whether you are an elderly person or a child who has concerns about the living situation of their parents," says Wouter van der Kolk. He is a project leader at DeMensPlek and also chairman of Zo Willen Wij Wonen. "The working method of DeMensPlek enriches the ideas and plans for the initiatives associated with our foundation, which is wonderful to see! DeMensPlek brings people's stories to the surface through art. We collect these stories on our platform, to help other people with their living and housing questions." Jedidja adds: "Hopefully in the future we will have ten carts, so that we can create an open conversation about care much more often and we know exactly what is going on in a community." 

Challenge accepted  

The great challenges of our time cannot wait. We need to act now to create a world worth living in and a sustainable future. And that is also possible in the North. Our region is bursting with opportunities: a strong SME as the engine of a powerful economy, innovative start-ups, and a strong knowledge network. Hanze connects, supports and drives positive change. We are here for everyone who wants to learn and make a difference to the world around them.

Will you take on the challenge with us?

Fields of interest

  • Sports and Health