In the wooded park of Espace Saint-Julien, Michel, 87, walks quickly, his newspaper pinched under his arm. He takes the time to stop and launches, catchy: “It’s paradise here. We see children, teenagers, young people. We are fine. »
This hyperactive senior, nicknamed by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren “Papi TGV”, confides the reasons for his arrival in Saint-Julien this summer: “It was the moment. I lost my wife eight years ago and her death left a huge void. You know, we are not made to live alone…”
Looking like a small old-fashioned village, in the heart of downtown Laval: since September 2022, Espace Saint-Julien has been home to a blended family of one unprecedented kind. At the origin of the project, local Catholics wishing to build a space where young people and the elderly can meet under the same roof, around common values: benevolence, service to others, faith and peace… The team succeeds in acquire the site of a former hospital in the heart of Laval. After six years of fundraising and major work, the first seniors will settle in the summer of 2022. Since then, the place has been taking shape little by little to succeed in its bet: that of “breaking the solitudes”.
“The rise of intergenerational housing is recent, barely a decade, observes Guy Tapie, teacher-researcher in sociology at the National School of Architecture. The movement was launched by social landlords, anxious to break the individualism created by the advent of individual housing. From now on, generational diversity tends to replace the ideal of social diversity in innovative projects. According to this specialist in the relationship between architecture and society, the rise of intergenerational projects corresponds to the addition of two phenomena: the aging of the population and the strong expectation of baby boomers to live an active retirement, fully integrated into society. .
Seduced by the character of the place, the senior residents of Espace Saint-Julien – all independent, this is the condition for entering – have an average age of 86 years. Jacqueline who, before moving there, lived alone in her apartment in Laval, says: “Here we don’t have time to get bored: we can go see the little ones in the crèche, we play games after noon, there are meal evenings with the young girls from the roommate…”
“Yes, you shouldn’t come too old to Saint-Julien if you want to take full advantage of it,” agrees another resident, white hair, dressed in a red vest. This 80-year-old former banker, also named Jacqueline, came to settle during the summer with her companion. She is one of the residents who are involved in helping with homework with primary school students in the city on Wednesday afternoons. “I didn’t have any children, it’s nice for me to be able to create links with some of them. Jacqueline unfolds the journey that led her to Saint-Julien: after her husband’s heart attack in 2020, she had to sell her house. Difficulties begin: “There is age, budget, disability… It’s not easy to find a suitable home. The retiree ended up hearing about Saint-Julien from her niece and settled in quickly: the proximity to the city center and the human dimension of the project convinced her.
In fact, the moments of encounter between the generations are numerous. Mornings in the crèche reading stories to the children, dinners with female students sharing accommodation on the site, visits by high school students from the Notre-Dame de Pontmain boarding school or afternoons with school children helping with homework. “For relationships to be woven, you have to find a balance between a formal organization of these times, without making them too codified moments”, analyzes Marie Rollet, forty-something brunette, engineer in mechanical engineering, now invested full time in Saint -Julian.
Bonds are forged at each person’s pace. “Not everyone is so involved. We encourage joint activities but we also deeply respect the freedom of residents,” explains Marie Rollet. Renaud, a retired fighter pilot, is one of those who greatly benefit from these moments with young people. “I found it difficult to leave my big cold house in which I lived alone. But now I’m having fun here. My grandchildren live far away, I found others, ”he jokes, finishing a game of board games with two schoolgirls.
“In intergenerational homes, not everyone will necessarily have intense relationships, but the sharing of common places already arouses reciprocal consideration between generations – unlike retirement homes which organize a life apart from the world” , deciphers the sociologist Guy Tapie.
The premises of Saint-Julien, in a chic and warm style, borrow all the codes of a family home, from the soft sofas to the library provided. “It’s really benevolence that characterizes this house,” breathes France, who is delighted with her next tutoring session: “It’s okay, they’re CE1s, it’s not too overwhelming. I have good leftovers. She affirms it without flinching: in Saint-Julien, you age less quickly.