Valérie Kaufmann: “So the neighbourhood lives”

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
BAT - Valérie Kaufmann

Valérie Kaufman speaks her mind. As she says of herself : « I dot the Is and cross the Ts. » In truth, she has no choice. Without this blend of energy and generosity, of strength and kindness, she would hardly be able to carry out the project for which she has fought for 15 years: making the district of Bon Secours a lively, active, sharing community.

Born in a family rooted in Senlis for five generations, Valérie grew up with this neighborhood. Her parents were among the first residents to move in there, as soon as the first buildings were completed, back in 1966. Bon Secours, like the Val d’Aunette (a similarly urbanised district at the other end of Senlis), embodied at the time a new breed of urban planning, based on the construction of social housing that was more comfortable and better designed than the hasty buildings of the previous decade : four or five-story tall buildings with balconys, parking lots and greenery, making spacious and modern accommodation available to numerous families.

But once the initial excitement and the solidarity of the first tenants had waned, these neighbourhoods have not always aged so well. The promises of congenial, community spirited living borne by this concept of collective housing have not always been kept. People who lived there, essentially factory workers and middle- to low-ranking employees, were struck more severely than others by the economic downturns and restructurings of decades past. Valérie Kaufman is an example of that: the plastics factory in which she worked shut down; she lost her job. Had to find something else to do for a living. Back to step one. Started all over again a training course to be certified as a child caregiver, and has worked as a daytime nanny ever since.

So the choice was simple: let things go their way, or take hardships head-on and patiently weave a new network of mutual acquaintance and solidarity in order for the neighbourhood to live on. Valérie Kaufman is not a woman who capitulates in front of adversity: so she gathered herself up and created in 2002 the association « Joie de vivre à Bon Secours ». 30 members at the outset, 300 today, no other agenda than « laughing, feeling good ». In other words: creating for the neighbourhood’s residents opportunities of being together, getting out of their homes, sharing experiences that will later become shared memories, welcoming newcomers, watching out for older folks to not become isolated, as they are too often prone to after the death of their partner. The programme is made of simple things: neighbourhood dinners, garage sales, raffles, excursions, trips – one event each month, and all the small gestures and attentions of everyday life.

Of course, a small club of residents, as active as it may be, is not enough to change the life of a neighbourhood. And Valérie Kaufman knows all too well the list of limitations she is facing : the aging of the local population ; the reciprocal mistrust between Bon Secours 1 and Bon Secours 2, the two main housing estates in the area, built five years apart from one another, whose residents barely mingle with one another, thus slowing down the exchange of services and the sharing of ressources which could benefit both parties.

Nonetheless, you have to move on, and find in the half-full glass reasons to fight on rather than complain about the glass being half-empty. Of the fifteen years of the association’s existence, Valérie Kaufman remembers a lot of strong moments, but if she had to cite just one, it would be the emotion of that 80 year-old grandmother who, after a life of dedication to her children and grandchildren, saw the ocean for the first time on an excursion organised by the association.

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