In February 2021, I received the statement from the Fundus Basel association on the new vision for age policy "Growing old well and together in Basel-Stadt". Fundus association? What kind of organization is that? My curiosity was aroused and I sought contact with this contact point. On a cold Tuesday morning in March, I drove to Hammerstrasse 160 to find out more about Fundus. I was greeted in the friendliest way by Nicole Tschäppät, the managing director.

Finding Hammerstrasse 160 is not difficult, but you have to be very attentive not to miss the inner courtyard with its various studios. Fund Basel has recently rented a studio there and therefore has an official address. A large room with two computers, a comfortable table with chairs and the usual office cabinets fill the room. Noticeable: a bicycle trailer and a large stand with various brochures and flyers from various organizations and their offers. It is obvious: here is a networker at work!

Nicole Tschäppät says that she earned her professional spurs in community work, due to her training as a socio-cultural animator. In 2017, she was leading a community project in Hirzbrunnen when experts from three organizations asked her what the situation was like for senior citizens in their fourth year of life in Schoren. But how do you reach senior citizens? How can you get senior citizens out of loneliness? What kind of needs do they actually have?

In response to my question, Ms. Tschäppät explained that she had therefore invited many organizations to a network meeting at which they discussed how to better reach hard-to-reach senior citizens. As a first measure, Nicole Tschäppät and the network launched the "Independent in Old Age" series of events in 2018, which addresses various age-related issues and takes place in the neighborhood. However, she noticed that there are older people who would like to come to an event but are physically too weak, too tired, too old to make the journey. In short: for the second series of events in 2019, she organized a pick-up service. And the series of events was a success.

In 2019, the association was formed Fund Basel, Nicole Tschäppät tells me, as a concrete result of her work with older people in the project, the feedback from the organizations and observations, surveys and analyses. She herself is employed as managing director at 60%. The board and helpers work on a voluntary basis. Ms. Tschäppät does grassroots work twice a week for two hours. In concrete terms, this means that she stands with her bike trailer, chairs, a folding table and a flyer stand in the same key locations near two shopping centers and simply says "grüezi" to passers-by and signals that she is willing to talk. She gains the trust of people, who sometimes ask curiously what she is doing. This leads to conversations and Nicole Tschäppät can recognize where there are problems. For example, she triages financial problems, social isolation or health-related issues and she arranges company 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 task. Some tasks are completed after one appointment, others become tandems that continue 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 tells 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," the 93-year-old is happy to have a "granddaughter." These two women function completely autonomously 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 stresses that sustainability is important, ie 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 has to be absolutely right.

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

Mrs Tschäppät is accompanied by a Turkish interpreter for three hours a week. It is very helpful to have someone at your side who knows the culture and language of Turkish residents. Mobile work with the elderly also means ringing the doorbell of every street where there is a Turkish name written on it. This is hard work, but it is incredibly rewarding. Many very good conversations arise from this and many senior citizens realize that they can and should seek low-threshold help.

When it comes to other languages or nationalities, Nicole Tschäppät's experience shows that the senior citizens at Hirzbrunnen are mainly from Spanish or Italian backgrounds. 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.

When asked about Seniors@Work, Ms Tschäppät explains that “her” senior citizens probably have no energy (anymore) and are not (anymore) reliable enough to take on a paid job. Her clients are already of an advanced age. However, it would of course be great if Fund Basel could find volunteers, possibly even via Seniors@Work. Unfortunately, the clientele of Fund Basel often do not pay fees for accompanying people. But as is often the case with volunteer work, you forego cash, but are given priceless social contacts, meet great people and experience projects and life situations that you would never have experienced otherwise. Volunteer work 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 that the window gradually closes again as they grow older. In our city, there is the Open Child and Youth Work (OKJA), which does exactly the same as Fund Basel does, just for the young. Nothing exists for the older generation. That is why she hopes – and I with her – that Fund Basel can be put on a financially secure footing (it is still very uncertain!). And that the perimeter of their work is also expanded to other districts.

It's time to say goodbye. I am impressed by Ms Tschäppät's commitment and enthusiasm. 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 Nicole Tschäppät, all the best!

Beatrice Isler

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