A new form of living in France: expect to hear more of the expression Béguinage if you’re looking at French property brochures
In December 2013, the first béguinage will open in France. Three more of them are due to follow suit in quick succession, including one in Quimper, Brittany. It is a new form of collective residence for retired people.
The French word béguinage goes back to the Middle Ages, when it was used to describe communities of pious women in Flanders and the Low Countries. Their members included both religious and lay women, but who lived independently of one another and of all religious hierarchical forms.
“Times have changed since then, however,” says Thierry Prédignac, the founder of Vivre en Béguinage. “The dangers of the era we live in threaten our soul more than they threaten our body.” The idea for this new way of living for elderly people was the brainchild of this former head of a company that specialised in fund-raising for religious and community-based bodies in Perpignan. “It’s an alternative to retirement homes,” he explains. “Béguinage allows for a prolonging of independent living thanks to interdependence, with each one keeping an eye on the other.” The binding factor of this community, he says is the Christian faith.
“Our aim also is to be accessible to as many as possible. That means the pooling of certain services allowing to make savings,” says the promoter, adding that béguinage is an open sub-community and can also become a place of welcome thanks to communal elements: a foyer, small refectory, bedroom. In fact, one of the platforms of the concept is to propose to the various diocese and religious congregations to rehabilitate buildings or to occupy lands that they no longer use.
It was in this very spirit that the first project was launched in the cloister of Saint Francis of Assisi, which was bought from the Diocese of Perpignan. The project received a lot of media attention.
“We got a lot of calls from all over France,” says Prédignac. “One of them, from a group in Quimper seemed serious to us. We contacted them, then we met the bishop to see if any land was available, and that’s how we found this 3,600m2 (0.75 acres) site in Terre Noire in Brittany.
“Our work is to set up the project but it’s not us who have the finances to keep it going. It comes either from owner-residents or from from outside investors who let out the units. We want prices to stay at normal market values. That means that we are targeting the middle classes with monthly rentals of between €400 and €700. Our project is also limited to 20 apartments. Experience has shown that that’s the maximum amount for a semi-communal way of life. A residents’ association will be created. The principal is self-management, so it’s the association which will define the services that the residents want to share. They will remain masters of their lives and of their project.”