Case 7 from Germany Freie Scholle (Free Land), Bielefeld by qpv40869



Case 7 from Germany: Freie Scholle (Free Land), Bielefeld

I.    Matters to be highlighted as best practice
Holistic approach to co-operative “decent living”. Democratic membership
rights. Education, training and information of members, advice for the aged on
housing and other matters

II.   Portrait of the co-operative society

Name of Co-operative:         Freie Scholle, Bielefeld
Type of Co-operative:         Housing co-operative society of tenants
Year of Formation:            1911
Address:                      Jöllenbecker Straße 123, D – 33613 Bielefeld
Tel.:                         +49 (0) 521 9888 0
Person to contact:            Thomas Möller, Michael Seibt

Number of members:            7,240
Number of dwellings:          5,006

Decision-making bodies:      Meeting of delegates elected in 11 voting dis-
                             Board of directors
                             Supervisory committee
Extended self-administration: Members’ councils in 11 voting districts,
                             Section meetings,
                             House meetings.

Affiliation to federations
and other organisations:
• Auditing Federation of housing co-operatives, Nordrhein-Westphalen, VdW
• Marketing initiative of German housing co-operatives,
• Association “Living in Co-operatives” e.V.

III. Description of the case
Up until today, restructuring of a city together with its inhabitants is not a nor-
mal routine process. The housing co-operative society Freie Scholle in Bielefeld,
which manages 5,006 dwellings, has developed a broad range of services around
housing, practices consequent member participation in restructuring their living
quarters at Albert-Schweitzer road for several years with great success.
Background information
The origins of the Freie Scholle co-operative society Bielefeld date back to 1911,
when a workers’ sports club was refused to use a gym. 23 members of the
sportsclub decided to form a co-operative and to build their own gym. One year
later, the number of members had reached 400 and the co-operators started to
build their first houses next to the gym and in 1914 their first settlement (Nied-
About 230 of the houses of Freie Scholle were built between 1950 and 1970 in
the inner city of Bielefeld. Most of the 3,000 dwellings were 3-room apartments
with up to 60 m2 surface. In the end of the 1990s there was an increasing de-
mand for barrier-free flats. Furthermore, the equipment of the apartments no
longer met the needs of modern dwellings. Therefore, in 1998, the co-operative
society launched a comprehensive programme of modernisation.
Decent living in Freie Scholle
The overriding goal of the business policy of Freie Scholle and at the same time
of the restructuring programme of the settlement “Albert Schweitzer Straße”
was the concept of “decent living” in the Freie Scholle. It was developed by the
co-operative society in the middle of the 1990s.
The aim of this concept is to arrange the flats and the surrounding amenities in a
sustainable way so that the needs of all age groups can be met and that lasting
neighbourhoods can be promoted and enhanced. This is based on the Freie
Scholle philosophy. In view of the fact that all members are full collective own-
ers of the co-operative society, Freie Scholle is obliged to promote their interests
in a co-operative way. At the same time the co-operative society has to keep in
mind that its economic viability as an enterprise has to be ensured without reser-
vation at all times.
Decent housing is characterised by the age structure of the society’s members.
37 percent of its members are up to 45 years old, 17 percent are between 46 and
60 years old and 46 percent are above 60 years. Due to demographic change, the
ageing process of the membership of Freie Scholle will advance. Reduced pres-
sure on the housing market does not only require to improve the quality of the
dwellings continuously but also to build up a comprehensive offer of accompa-
nying services.

Freie Scholle puts its concept of decent living into practice by adjusting and
modernising the apartments, but also by new construction. The co-operative so-
ciety optimises its housing stock in such a way that members can remain in
“their” settlement even if their living conditions change, e.g. by starting to raise
a family or by death of the partner. While the co-operative society uses its old
housing stock mainly for adjustment, it practices full renovation of dwellings
built in the 1950s to combine small flats with larger ones suitable for families,
where this is possible and reasonable. Its new construction supplements this ac-
tivity of Freie Scholle. By demolishing buildings which are no longer economi-
cally viable and reconstruction, Freie Scholle can meet demand for barrier-free
and family suited apartments and at the same time adjust the quality of its dwell-
ings to the higher standards prevailing in the housing market.
The co-operative society places great emphasis on improving the infrastructure
of its settlements. By establishing two neighbourhood centres in the course of
new construction as well as modernisation, the security of the elderly among the
inhabitants could be improved and the neighbourhood structures could be
strengthened. In 2005, Freie Scholle won the first price of “Werkstatt-
Wettbewerbs-Quartier” (workshop-living-quarter-competition) of the Bertels-
mann-Foundation and “Kurative Altenhilfe” (care for the elderly) for their con-
cept of the neighbourhood centre Meinolf-Straße.
An important element of decent housing is to offer support services related to
housing. In view of the age structure of membership, advice for senior citizens
plays a key role among the services offered.
The advisers visit the members and identify the individual need for advice, bring
the required measures for adjustment of the dwellings on the way, organise
helpers and seek solutions for financing such services. These advisory measures
are supplemented by a mobile social services team of the neighbourhood assis-
tance association. Its helpers can be called upon to cope with meeting day-to-
day needs. In addition, the neighbourhood assistance association has a stock of
devices and technical aids which can be borrowed temporarily free of charge. It
also offers some guest apartments.
Furthermore, the association operates meeting places in the settlements of the
co-operative society where persons of all generations can meet. The pro-
grammes of these meeting places are organised by the inhabitants themselves on
an honorary basis. This allows to make sure that the meeting places satisfy the
needs of the respective settlement. These measures are important contributions
to members’ satisfaction and contribute to form sustainable neighbourhoods in
the settlement.
As an offer of services to young and old members equally, Freie Scholle has es-
tablished a House-Service-Company. The main task of this company is to pro-
vide winter and cleaning services in the settlements. It also offers a range of
other services related to dwelling. From 2009 a House-Media-Company will

provide cable TV in the flats, other technological aids and the development of
multi-media services.
On the spot, teams of staff of Freie Scholle contribute greatly to member/tenant
satisfaction. In each settlement there is a consierge for minor repairs, an adviser
on housing matters and a social worker specialised on advice to the elderly, who
can be addressed by the members. This allows to solve problems or conflicts at
short notice and in mutual understanding in order to find lasting solutions.
From modernisation to reconstruction in Albert-Schweitzer-Straße
The concept of decent living offers the salient points for restructuring the hous-
ing project Albert-Schweitzer-Straße. At the beginning, measures were restricted
to modernisation of flats. In addition to insulation, energy-saving devices and
improvement of equipment, the co-operative society restructured small flats in
the basement and turned them into larger units suited for families. Three-room
apartments in the upper stories were converted into two-room apartments with
barrier free bathrooms suited for handicapped persons. In addition, elevators
were installed at the outside of the buildings. Yet, the original design and con-
struction of the buildings made it impossible to convert apartments into barrier-
free housing.
In 2000 it came out that the City Government of Bielefeld was interested to re-
vive old plans of expanding the Albert-Schweitzer-Straße into a dual carriage
highway. These plans met with massive citizens’ resistance and the co-operative
society suspended its modernisation programme. At the same time, the co-
operative society organised a campaign protesting against plans to make the Al-
bert-Schweitzer-Straße a major road with a traffic volume of approx. 12,500
cars per day. When the citizens’ protests stopped the road extension project and
the City of Bielefeld changed its plans, the members of the co-operative society
decided not to go ahead with their modernisation programme but rather demol-
ish the remaining houses and to replace them by barrier-free new construction.
This decision was preceded by extensive discussions of the alternatives “con-
tinue modernisation” or “demolition and new construction” in tenants’ meetings
of the houses concerned as well as in the tenants’ council of the settlement being
the highest decision-making body in the self-administration system. The deci-
sive argument against modernisation and in favour of reconstruction was that the
latter made it possible to turn all apartments into barrier-free space. In addition,
Freie Scholle gave all future tenants the right to have a say in the planning of
their apartments. A project team conducted a survey and asked members to ex-
press their wishes in individual interviews. The results of the survey were care-
fully analysed and members’ needs were taken into consideration. This allowed
to offer an apartment to the respective member which was tailor-made for the
individual housing needs.
In this way, a total of 50 co-operative apartments were built. Due to member
participation in planning, the dwellings corresponded to members’ requirements

but met at the same time the standards of the Bielefeld housing market, so that
their long-term use was ascertained.
In 2006 Freie Scholle expanded the restructuring programme of the settlement to
“City Restructuring Association”. At present 11 new dwellings are planned to-
gether with the members and future occupants to supplement the existing houses.
From 2008, more supplementary new construction of a total of 74 barrier-free
apartments will follow. Restructuring of the site will be completed by erecting
an additional neighbourhood centre. In this centre, flats with home care will be
contained as well as service points for persons suffering from dementia and
other facilities for the neighbourhood. Freie Scholle co-operative society plans
to acquire the site of Albert-Schweitzer-Straße from the City of Bielefeld in or-
der to be able to improve the quality of life in this settlement even further to-
gether with inhabitants.
To sum up: It can be stated that members’ satisfaction with their housing condi-
tions as well as their identification with their settlement has increased signifi-
cantly over the past years. Without doubt, these positive effects have been sup-
ported by the joint campaign of inhabitants and the co-operative administration
for preserving the settlement in its present form and against expansion of a road
through the living quarters.
In addition, planning of new construction together with the inhabitants has had
the effect that members felt that their capacity of joint owners of their co-
operative society was taken into serious consideration. They started to perceive
living in a co-operative apartment as their personal matter. In this way, Freie
Scholle co-operative society has come a good step closer to reaching its goals of
decent living and of maintaining sustainable neighbourhood structures.

Special features of Freie Scholle co-operative society – a diversified offer of
services to members
            Continuous growth of the unit for social management
1988        Formation of a branch for advising elderly members
1989        Formation of a savings institution as part of Freie Scholle Services
1990        Formation of Freie Scholle Neighbourhood Help
1996        Introduction of extended self-administration
1999        Formation of Freie Scholle Foundation
2002        Formation of House Service Ltd.
2007        Formation of House Media Ltd.

IV. Best Practice regarding the application of co-operative
Promotion of members’ economic, social and cultural interests
Freie Scholle co-operative society applies a holistic approach to member promo-
tion. It provides a wide range of services covering members’ needs with regard
to housing and beyond, offering all members a chance for “decent living”. The
aim is that members feel to be in effect promoted, identify themselves with their
co-operative society and are ready to participate actively in its programmes.
Education, training and information of members, office-bearers, employees
and the general public
Freie Scholle co-operative society is a pioneer in offering advice to elderly
members regarding their housing problems, enabling old and handicapped
members to remain in their apartments as long as possible with the assistance of
professional support services.
Elected office-bearers and tenants’ representatives in each of the settlements are
offered seminars for further training. Communication among members is en-
hanced by organising meeting points in each settlement.

To top