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Mr. De Wit had hardly even opened the door before he started enthusing: “The other day a former pupil stood on my doorstep, he brought a bottle of wine with him. I love to hear about what they have been up to. Whether they’ve become carpenters or lawyers, it doesn’t matter to me. Everyone is the same.”

When you hear Mr. de Wit talking, it’s only the wrinkles on his face and the walker next to his comfy chair that betray that he is already quite old. “I am now 93. I still have a fixed routine every day. Even though I’ve been retired for quite some time now.” He shrugs his shoulders and starts the next anecdote. Mr. de Wit’s mind is still full of stories.

These stories form the backdrop to Lichterbij, a project by urban poet Jessica Bartels and designer Elke Veltman. Bartels went for coffee with residents of the Wilgenhof home for senior citizens in the Schalmstraat. She then turned many of the stories that she heard into poems. Veltman chose a strophe and made lampshades with this printed on them. She then hung these in the Rochus neighborhood, the White village and the Sintjoriskwartier in Eindhoven, the three neighborhoods surrounding the Wilgenhof. You can refer to the whole poem on the activities page of the Wilgenhof website by scanning a QR code on the lamppost.” This is how I wanted to bring the neighborhood into contact with the senior citizens who live in the Wilgenhof. I myself come from this neighborhood and I heard so many things that I never even knew anything about. These are wonderful stories that I wanted to share. I also want to show that a lot of things still happen in that kind of place. I want to do away with the stigma that an old people’s home typically has.

© Elke Veltman

Lichterbij is just one of the many projects that can be seen at the Wilgenhof during DDW. Costume designer Joost van Wijmen will be staying at Vitalis Wilgenhof to explore the statement ‘Mijn lichaam is (g)een object’ (My body is (not) an object) with the residents and give them guided tours. Here is the full program.

Overcoming stigma

Mr. de Wit has always also worked hard to break down barriers. From 1947 onward he taught at the de Laak primary school in Eindhoven. That’s where he later became the principal in 1966. A catholic school with exclusively catholic children, because that was how things were done back then. The building was shared with a school for the ‘rich’. But there was no mutual contact. “At our school there were children who didn’t come from well-off homes. They had no money to go on a school trip. Philips got out its wallet at the Philips schools. We had a good priest who made sure that every child could come along. Later on I introduced a savings scheme.”

Bouwjaar Blitz means literally Blitz Year of build, a reference to WW2. When Mr. De Wit originally moved to the Wilgenhof residential complex in the Schalmstraat, he was not happy. He admits that he, too, had an image of a care home. “That’s not for me, is it? But I have changed my opinion. I’m having a great time here and there’s plenty to do.” Mr. de Wit suddenly remembers something from his youth: “During the war I cycled all the way from the Schalmstraat to Leende, over those dirt roads. A family acquaintance had a sow that had just had piglets. She would give the Germans one less piglet if we came to pick one up quickly. When we got there, the piglet was inside a big wooden box which was tied to my bike. Father then said to me: ‘ride on up ahead’ – he wasn’t such a hero. When I cycled on, I understood why. That piglet squealed the whole way home. Luckily I didn’t meet any Germans along the way.”

When the young Mr. De Wit came home, he couldn’t get off his bike. “That crate was too big. I cycled in circles until my mother noticed me. They all made delicious things from that pig, black pudding too.” De Wit stares ahead for a moment. “I was born in the Schalmstraat and now I’m back living here,” he picks up the thread again. “For me, the circle is complete.”

Location: residence Wilgenhof, Schalmstraat 2.

The Dutch Design Week is the largest design festival in Northern Europe. Each year, we pick out ten designers from a huge selection that we consider to be this year’s Hidden Gems. You can read all about their stories there.

This series was created in collaboration with Dutch Design Daily and curator Katja Lucas from DDW. Would you like to visit the DDW hidden gems yourself? Every day, Brandstore Eindhoven/VVV is organizing a bicycle tour along the selected designers. More info can be found here.


Veltman bezig in de wijk © Elke Veltman