From criticism to deeds. Why they decided to found Diaconia in Svitavy and build a dignified home for the elderly

000142_59_001287A story is told: Thirty years ago, when Diaconia resumed its activities, new schools and centres were created as if out of nowhere, thanks to the decisions and enthusiasm of the members of the Evangelical Church. It is different today, though not quite. Even in the 21st century, new Diaconia centres are being created out of scratch.

But in this case, it is not really out of scratch. Rather on a perfectly levelled building plot. Originally there used to be a derelict farm, which was later demolished. We are near Svitavy, in the Vendolí village. The place has a beautiful view of the local fields and forest. There is a grocery store next door. And if everything goes according to plan, a new community home for the elderly will be built here in a relatively short time. Under the leadership of Diaconia Svitavy – which is a complete novelty within the diaconal family. It came into existence a few years ago in the Svitavy church, the parish of which is the home of the Keller couple. Filip is an evangelical pastor, his wife Květa is a lawyer.

Together with others, they went to visit old and sick members of the local evangelical community. Often to hospitals for long-term patients, known by the Czech acronym LDN. When they exchanged their impressions of those places, they agreed that they did not feel good about such an environment – as if the human dignity was suffering there. Other members of the parish community saw it similarly. „But it never occurred to us that we could do something about it,“ says Květa Kellerová. „It was more of a shared criticism.“

Then there was the trip to Nosislav near Brno. The Brno Diaconia, together with the local evangelicals, built a small sheltered housing for the elderly, designed to imitate a common household. It is in sight of the parish office, approximately in the centre of the village. There is a vineyard nearby. Visitors from Svitavy were thrilled by the tour.

000146_50_001334And when another of the many visits to the hospital for long-term patients in Svitavy took place in April 2018, where one of the members of the parish community lay only because there was no place for him in a more dignified environment, it was a turning point. „If they managed it in Nosislav, we can do it too,“ Květa Kellerová recalls the moment when the decision was made that the criticism must be followed by actions. Preparatory work has begun, which in today’s context means mainly negotiating and negotiating and negotiating… and negotiating.

„We didn’t want it to be just a matter for a small group of enthusiasts,“ says Květa Kellerová. First, the idea of ​​building a new home for the elderly needed to win church members. His board of directors (elders) clearly supported the proposal and commissioned a working team to negotiate. And the team went to the headquarters of Diaconia, equipped with a strong argument that the Pardubice region, where Svitavy is located, is the last of the Czech regions where the Diaconia does not operate, and now has a unique opportunity to change that. After considering various options, it was decided that the elderly home project in Vendolí would be backed directly by the diaconal headquarters.

And then the city was approached and then the region. Květa Kellerová, together with the work team, invited all social service providers in the city to present the intention of their new home. Especially to dispel the possible impression that a solo church project is being created, without regard to everyone else. The city was asked for support. Successfully.

It sounds simple an000145_50_001321d it can be described in a few lines. However, it stands for many, many hours of thinking, counting, preparations, patient explanations – a volume of work by which an individual would be easily overwhelmed. Team workers are needed. Květa Kellerová mentions one important name in this context – Jiří Brýdl. Emeritus Senator, Mayor of Svitavy, Regional Representative and current member of the elders of the Svitavy Evangelical Church. Thanks to his professional experience, he represents a credible authority in negotiations with various institutions. It is also thanks to him that good relations with the region could have been established, so that today the future home in Vendolí is already included in the so-called regional network of social service providers, which is extremely important for its future financing.

000142_59_001287Architect Radim Oblouk was originally only supposed to consult on the design of the new home. However, the cooperation in the team made him so enthusiastic that today he is its busiest member. He designed the entire building based on the inspiration of elderly homes in Graz and Leoben. The most important is the interior layout of the home, which consists of open common living spaces. They can be accessed directly from the rooms for residents. This creates two „households“ with ten to eleven members.

When the proposal was completed, another round of negotiations took place directly in the village of Vendolí, which offered its land for the project; a senior home is in its long-term plan. However, the council looked at its final form with mixed feelings. „We knew it wouldn’t be easy,“ says Květa Kellerová. In the neat village, they take pride in their houses with traditional gabled roofs. The architect tried to meet this, at least in part, but today’s demands on buildings with energy efficiency expectations require different layouts. Some deputies were not happy about it. Another round of explanations and negotiations took place, which lasted from September to December last year. In the end, however, the project gained majority support in the council.

But it is far from done. The architect started to redesign the home to meet the passive standard, i.e., to have zero energy consumption. That is one of the conditions for obtaining a European subsidy, which would cover up to 85 % of construction costs. This means another complication – applying for a new building permit, among other things. And then having the construction completed by the end of 2023, which is a very tight deadline. „No matter how many times we discuss it over, it always turns out that it would be a terrible pity not to try it. Even though we take a considerable risk with this,“ says Květa Kellerová, who is ready to become the director of the future elderly home.

Adam Šůra