Young people take the plunge
Up to now, there was nowhere in Brussels where you could dip into a pond or an open-air swimming pool. Now, however, this is possible. Some twenty young apprentice builders from working class neighbourhoods in Cureghem (in Anderlecht, Brussels) have constructed a water sports centre on the edge of the Neerpede ponds. It is a project that has seen the light of day thanks to the Albert Desmed Fund, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation.
Given the name ‘Build for Water’, this innovative project is being led by the Centre de Référence pour la Construction (CDR Construction) in Brussels, an association that raises awareness about and provides training in durable building skills. For some of the technical aspects the association works with FIX, a social economy enterprise that conducts renovation projects in the schools and public buildings of Brussels. There is a three-fold objective: to mobilise young people and initiate them into building skills and issues of water management and enable them to discover water sports.
Philippe Van Ginderdeuren, the coordinator of CDR Construction, commented "This project is perfectly in line with the ambitions of the Albert Desmed Fund: it is enabling some twenty young people – girls and boys, most of whom are members of SAFA, a neighbourhood association in Cureghem – to understand how the circular economy can preserve water resources and how to build in an innovative manner that has no negative impact on the environment. And at the end of the project, we hope to be able to persuade them to take a closer interest in the initiative, by getting them to take advantage of what they have created because they can swim in the pond!”
Nothing is wasted
The pond in question is the Mayfair, one of the rare ponds in the capital to be proud of, because it has water of a quality to permit swimming and water sports in Brussels. “It’s not a real pond”, explains Philippe Van Ginderdeuren however, showing us the thin trickle of water that flows into the pond, which is actually the Neerpedebeek, a modest stream that creates a water cycle. This cycle is carefully respected by the creators of the water sports centre, whose 50 m² surface includes changing rooms, showers, toilets, an infirmary and the technical centre. The used shower water returned to the pond will be of high quality after filtering and the sediment will be re-used as fertilizer. The toilets will be dry, with urine and excrement transformed into fertilizer. Most of the materials used, such as the white panels that cover the basic wood in the water sports centre, have been recuperated from the towers of the decommissioned World Trade Center, near Brussels North Station.
The project is completely self-sufficient in water. Students studying for a Master’s degree in bio-engineering at the ULB completed the project’s technical component. They will also monitor the quality of the water and the impact on the local flora and fauna of using the sports centre. In spring 2021, solar panels will enable the modest electricity expenditure to be covered.
Proud and enthusiastic youngsters
Beneath his mask, we can sense the pride of the CDR Construction manager: the realisation of an innovative project, completed according to schedule and scrupulously respecting the environment. It is also the fruit of a partnership between local actors: neighbourhood associations, a social economy enterprise and the Commune of Anderlecht, with CDR Construction as coordinator. And all of that in the heart of a protected natural area that attracts numerous young sportsmen and women, the young hopefuls of Sporting d’Anderlecht, joggers and those who like the other physical activities on offer nearby.
It’s midday and time for a break: Aymen (aged 14) leaves the site with one of his friends. He cannot hide his enthusiasm “I decided to take part in this project because I have always loved DIY. But here, it’s serious work. I’ve learned so many things, from safety measures on site to how to handle tools, the drill, the electric drill and all the others. Making sure that the angles are correct. I can really see myself working in the building trade later on. But, in the meantime, each time that I come to the ponds, I shall say to myself “I helped build that.” And I’m really proud of that!”
Philippe Van Ginderdeuren is happy too: "We have rarely seen such motivated, attentive and disciplined youngsters. In fact, at the beginning of the internship, we thought that they didn’t have mobile phones or smart phones. But of course, everyone had one, but no-one was using it. They weren’t interested. They were totally involved in an adult activity and it gave them a sense of worth and value.”
Little pond, big ambitions
The Commune of Anderlecht supports this project and intends to open the centre to other activities such as water polo and paddle. Of course, the little Mayfair pond will never be a competitor to that of Hofstade or the lakes of Eau d’Heure. In Neerpede, it will be a question of ‘look before we leap’ and, in any case, for reasons of regenerating the water, it will only accept a group of fifteen people per hour.
Each year, CDR Construction trains 1,400 youngsters in a specialisation and FIX provides two years’ training to non-qualified job seekers, so if the initiators of this project have given a few youngsters in Brussels a taste for working in one of the building trades, they will have achieved a double whammy. On the one hand they have succeeded in completing a project in the circular economy and, on the other hand, they will have helped to put youngsters with little education on the road to a job in a sector where there is a shortage of labour. And what is more, the first open-air swimming spot in the capital of Europe will have been inaugurated.
The Albert Desmed Fund
Managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Albert Desmed Fund supports projects that aim to raise awareness about ecological problems and promote behaviour that is more respectful of conserving a quality environment, particularly in relation to issues of water conservation. Since January 2020, the Fund has supported two projects for a total of 186,850 euros.