Social, local and together: The Impact of Sport research group collaborates with living lab

How can you literally and figuratively get people moving, thereby strengthening social cohesion in a neighbourhood? Two researchers from the Impact of Sport research group collaborate with a living lab in a community centre in the Bouwlust neighbourhood in The Hague. Wednesday 22 September saw the celebratory reopening of the new community centre. ‘Our motto is social, local and together.’

‘The aim of our research is to use sport to bring about more connection and cohesion in the neighbourhood. We set it up with The Municipality of The Hague and a number of wellness organisations. What’s new is that it is set up for, by and together with the neighbourhood’s residents. No ivory tower, but self management and empowerment’, says Madelief Bertens, who along with Karlijn Sporrel leads the research group’s work.

Logical

The Bouwlust in The Hague is characterised by a relatively low level of social cohesion. Residents from different cultural or ethnic groups don’t, or barely, integrate with other population groups. ‘That’s kind of logical’, says Karlijn. ‘People who have the same language and culture are attracted to one another. But it is difficult for someone who is not part of the same group to connect.’

A sense of belonging

Research conducted by the Municipal Health Service and The Municipality of The Hague shows that not much sport takes place in the neighbourhood. Madelief: ‘Besides the fact that doing sport has health benefits, it also enables one to meet other people. You gain a greater understanding of one another. By walking or running together you start sharing something. This leads to a greater connection and bond, and ultimately an enhanced sense of belonging. Strong social cohesion basically leads to an improved quality of life.’

Sports community centre

The sports community centre Bouwlust/Vrederust has recently been set up in the existing neighbourhood community centre. Sport and movement activities have been added to the library and wellness programme. The Municipality of The Hague, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Mooi foundation and the community sports coach all work together to get the Bouwlust residents moving more.

Round table

The researchers from THUAS meet there twice a week. Madelief: ‘We sneak into these people’s environment. What are their needs and desires in terms of social cohesion and sport?’ Both researchers sit down with the residents. Karlijn: ‘The barriers to sport are often self-evident, This is what we study. There are also cultural obstacles, for example practising sport in public or outdoors can be a barrier for some women.’

Drawing together

By actively listening to the residents both researchers hope to gain an insight into how practising sport in the neighbourhood can be encouraged. Karlijn: ‘This goes beyond just talking. We hope our findings will lead to action. Students from THUAS join us in finding a way to break through. We started out with children’s activities. We started drawing together, and have now built up a good relationship with mothers in the community.’

Neighbourhood party

On Wednesday 22 September the community centre celebrated its opening. The building has been fully renovated by The Municipality of The Hague and houses a new library, the new community centre and a renovated space for the wellness organisation Mooi Welzijn. The celebration involved sport, games and music. ‘We had lots of fun together’, said the researchers. ‘And that’s what it’s all about: social, local and together.’

See: the atmosphere at the Bouwlust Community Centre opening.