Caring for both the Earth and the elderly
EGInA – European Grant International Academy – based in Foligno, a town midway between Rome and Florence in Italy’s central rural Umbria region, is implementing an innovative project that tackles the loneliness, isolation, and emotional well-being of elderly people while also encouraging a greener approach to the environment.
Although still at a pilot stage and involving just 40 elderly people in the small town of Bevagna, the project was sufficiently intriguing and promising to make it one of the more highly assessed in the European Training Foundation’s Green Skills Award 2023. Sempre-Verdi did not make the top 10, but deserves wider attention, the ETF believes.
Participants were recruited via word of mouth and through a scientific committee of elder professionals in green activities who tested all the project activities and materials.
Sempre-Verdi revolves around what it calls its ‘AgriBox’ – a toolkit that provides both physical elements of 'hardware' (seeds, soils and other materials to be used in applied activities) and also a ‘softer’ approach revolving around social aims and the sharing of activities (such as offering social activities alongside learning how to prune olive trees in the most environmentally sound way).
Bianca Bisiach, Project Manager at EGInA, says the project was designed around what was to be found in a very rural area: competences related to the care of the earth; how to care for the landscape, both aesthetically and agriculturally; how to participate in the creation of a positive environment and put some design thinking into the landscape.
“It is a small project with no massive impact, but experience after experience, we are developing a methodology that is constantly tested step after step by involving the elderly in the green care and design aspects, but all with high-school and university students involved in its delivery,” she says.
The project is quite simple. It does not touch big policy creation, but relates to the behaviour of individuals, for example seed-bombing activities, how to create boxes containing worms in order to create a healthy green compost, and others, such as how to care for an olive tree.
“It is a kind of transversal project that is an ongoing experiment. Ideally in this box we shall keep on adding inputs. For example, this year the project participated in the Social Hackathon Umbria, where teams have to develop digital tools to enhance social well-being. Quite unexpectedly they won the hackathon by developing a platform that would help caregivers for the elderly to have a range of activities that could be done inside retirement homes. It was developed during the hackathon and now we are starting its testing phase.”
Bianca says that it is still too early to develop targets for reducing isolation and its negative impacts, adding that as the project draws to a close and detailed analysis is undertaken, these will emerge. Once project managers have a better idea of what works and how, they plan to encourage others to adopt a model that can both address human and environmental well-being.
EGInA works with European programmes, such as Erasmus, to implement projects with regional partners.
The Sempre-Verdi project was designed by Tommaso Fusco of the University of Perugia (UniPG), in partnership with Latvia’s Riga Technical University and the University of Kassel, Witzenhausen as part of the European Academy for the Culture of Landscape PETRARCA.
Sempre-Verdi is based on the principles found in another European social venture, SWEDA – Sustainable Well-Being Entrepreneurship for Diversification in Agriculture – a Master’s programme that focuses on improving the well-being of humans and animals in a greener landscape.
The project is delivered by EGInA via the Centro Sociale di Capro in Umbria and supported by local Italian bank Cassa di Risparmio di Perugia.