Local aid: Border of the Zurich city district 7 - Hottingen, the field of activity of the Foundation Alter in Hottingen

Brea­king the cycle of isolation

Engagement in der Nachbarschaft

Local and perso­nal: the Alter in Hottin­gen foun­da­tion has a local impact and a speci­fic focus. It is dedi­ca­ted to supporting the older genera­tion in the Zurich neigh­bour­hood of Hottin­gen. Chair of the board of trus­tees Alfred Gilgen talks about the chal­len­ges the foun­da­tion has had to face and how it has reori­en­ted itself.

Tell us a little bit about your foundation’s event­ful history.

There was a bit of back and forth about the right area to focus on. I joined the foun­da­tion in 2004. In the years that follo­wed, we thought about the right direc­tion for the foun­da­tion. Since 2005, we have been commit­ted to impro­ving the gene­ral quality of life for the older popu­la­tion in Hottin­gen. We devo­ted a lot of enthu­si­asm and energy to the question of how best to achieve this.

Was that an easy task?

Not parti­cu­larly. It was a very unsett­led time. We worked very hard looking for good projects and came up with a short­list of suita­ble ones. We wanted to either run them oursel­ves or find a chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­tion that already focu­sed on the older genera­tion and was prepa­red to carry out a project.

What kind of projects were they?

One of the projects was Café Santé, for example. We wanted to offer older resi­dents of Hottin­gen the oppor­tu­nity to drop by for coffee, tea and cake at a speci­fic time. They would also have the oppor­tu­nity to get simple answers to their health questi­ons. We were looking for an orga­ni­sa­tion with the right skills to help carry out the project.

But you didn’t find one?

No, sadly not. So we went back to the drawing board. We asked oursel­ves what was already on offer for older people in the neigh­bour­hood. We wanted to create an inven­tory. In 2013, this became a book: In Hottin­gen älter werden(‘Getting older in Hottin­gen’). We were very plea­sed with the result, which was chiefly put toge­ther by the board of trus­tees. Of course, much of what is in the book is no longer up to date, and we are toying with the idea of turning it into an inter­ac­tive online version.

What speci­fic projects has the charity been invol­ved in?

A project we are very proud to be invol­ved in is Nach­bar­schafts­hilfe Hottin­gen (‘Hottin­gen Neigh­bour­hood Support’). It acts as an inter­me­di­ary between older resi­dents and volun­te­ers and offers a variety of services like help with house­hold chores, garde­ning and reading aloud. Nach­bar­schafts­hilfe Hottin­gen offers a well-deve­lo­ped range of services. The Univer­sity of Zurich conduc­ted a study on it, which was funded by us.

What were the results?

The uncom­for­ta­ble results were the most helpful – for example, the fact that a lot of people with needs in the neigh­bour­hood were unaware of the orga­ni­sa­tion, and that people are very reluc­tant when it comes to accep­t­ing help. It’s hard for older people to break out of their isola­tion. They become wary and inse­cure in social inter­ac­tions, which makes them even more reser­ved. Brea­king the cycle of isola­tion is hard.

«It is diffi­cult for older people to get out of isolation.»

Alfred Gilgen

Could more neigh­bour­hood support be offered?

There was a project aimed at incre­a­sing the amount of neigh­bour­hood support, but it’s curr­ently on hold. The refor­med church in Zurich is under­go­ing a reor­ga­ni­sa­tion. It’s still unclear what will happen to the neigh­bour­hood support, which was closely linked with the Hottin­gen church commu­nity prior to the reor­ga­ni­sa­tion. But we are ready and willing to get invol­ved where we can.

What might that look like?

In 2016, we clearly estab­lished oursel­ves as a pure funding orga­ni­sa­tion. This reflects the time avail­able to the board of trus­tees and the funds avail­able to the foun­da­tion. We give out around 100,000 to 200,000 francs a year. This is not cove­red by the return on the foundation’s assets, howe­ver, so we have to dip into our capi­tal or gene­rate new donations.

How did the foun­da­tion first start?

At the end of the 1960s, there was a shor­tage of avail­able places in care homes in Hottin­gen. So in 1971, the refor­med church in Hottin­gen formed the Alters­heim Hottin­gen (‘Hottin­gen care home’) foun­da­tion. The aim was to create their own care home and run it themselves.

Did they succeed?

The idea never came to frui­tion. The board of trus­tees reali­sed they didn’t have suffi­ci­ent capa­city or the right exper­tise. So in the second half of the 1970s, the commit­tee deci­ded to help fund an expan­sion of the Alters­zen­trum Hottin­gen care centre instead. At the time, Diako­nie Neumün­ster, which owns the Alters­zen­trum Hottin­gen, was buil­ding the ‘Sonnen­blick’ care home.

And the foun­da­tion was involved?

It cove­red part of the construc­tion costs. In return, the church was given a limi­ted right to reserve places in the care home for neigh­bour­hood residents.

Did the system work?

The foun­da­tion never had to exer­cise its right. So we agreed with repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of Diako­nie Neumün­ster that they would pay back the contri­bu­tion to the construc­tion costs, minus a non-repay­a­ble contri­bu­tion. This gave us the oppor­tu­nity to launch new projects to improve the stan­dard of living and accom­mo­da­tion for older people in Hottin­gen outside the context of a care home.

How did this reori­en­ta­tion fit with the charity’s purpose?

The new focus and reori­en­ta­tion took place in 2005. With the appro­val of the super­vi­sory autho­rity, we expan­ded the charity’s purpose from focu­sing exclu­si­vely on a care home.

StiftungSchweiz is committed to enabling a modern philanthropy that unites and excites people and has maximum impact with minimal time and effort.

Follow StiftungSchweiz on

The Philanthropist by subscribtion
Benefit now!