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Düsseldorf-Hell-Ga "Centre for families and generations"

(North-Rhine Westphalia)

Empty church turned into neighbourhood centre for everybody

An initiative of committed mothers develops a popular meeting point out of empty parish rooms for all generations. They prove that it is possible to revive a derelict site and to provide a residential area with new perspectives. The typical "grass-roots project" does not only encourage to participate but also activates potentials within the neighbourhood in terms of acting on one’s own responsibility and living together in solidarity. (WS 240)


The southern borough Garath-Hellerhof with approx. 25,000 inhabitants was created in the 70s, when the city was expanded. It is largely characterised by large settlement structures of that time but there are also areas with single family houses. Garath is characterised by a high share of population sections with low income and migratory background, a high share of elderly people and large families. For financial reasons, the parish rooms of the Protestant church were closed in 2001 leaving a gap within the social infrastructure.

Project description

The discussions about the imminent closure of the church have resulted in a women's initiative supporting a social urban district centre. It took over the parish rooms on its own. The initial operation of the centre for mothers was based on a high degree of voluntary commitment of citizens. The scope of tasks increased over time. The open thematic conception provided scope for ideas and projects developed by all parties interested within the urban district. By receiving space and advice, users are supported in launching self-organised activities. Offers created on this basis include an open café also serving lunch, a second-hand shop, flexible child care facilities and computer courses.

During the start-up period, supporting families for example through advice provided by midwifes, child care etc. was first of all understood as a basic service attracting and binding users to the centre. By cooperating with multipliers such as migrant associations or "Zentraum 50 plus", a computer dating service for people over 50, more groups were addressed. The open meeting place with café and lunch is a central place for different generations to get together. Various projects and features are furthermore offered addressing various generations. Festivals and open events bring people of all ages and cultures together.

The following factors have contributed to the success of the project:

an executive committee with comprehensive professional, communicative and social competences,
a core project management of committed women running the project full-time and highly professionally,
volunteers encouraged and bound by promoting their competences and by fostering a system of appreciating voluntary work in symbolic and financial terms.
The "project motor" concept forms the basis of the Hell-Ga district centre. District inhabitants are supported in implementing own project ideas. The "project motor team’s" openness for project development processes combined with curiosity, eagerness to experiment and talent for organisation are a success factor of the project strategy. The "project motor" offers initial infrastructures, creates networks, supports organisational activities and initial steps of implementation. Offers and projects may be organised as voluntary initiatives, develop further through course fees and even provide job perspectives. In doing so, they are commercially independent. If surpluses are made within these projects, they are paid to the volunteers involved in the form of expense allowances. In this way, responsible action is supported and gives incentives for participation to financially weak residents.

In order to develop the urban district centre further, the Hell-Ga association received a subsidy of 720,000 euros for investment and start-up from the funding programme "Initiative ergreifen" (Taking initiative) of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia. Own resources of 190,000 euros required will be financed via donations, own initiatives and a grant by the city government of Düsseldorf.

Hell-Ga acts based on the "give-and-take" principle. People who cannot pay for a service with money may "pay" by participating in a project, e.g.gardening, supporting district festivals etc.

Project chronology

2001Church closed
2004Mütterzentrum Hell-Ga e. V. (Hell-Ga centre for mothers) founded
2007Started as Experimental Housing and Urban Development project
2009Further rooms taken over for use
2010Free spaces expanded and designed


  • To use empty church rooms for other purposes
  • To help people to help themselves (project motor)
  • To encourage people to develop individual competences
  • To create free spaces for joint activities
  • To combine honorary posts and rewarding

Types of measures

  • Self-governed community facility including child care and senior citizen’s meeting point etc.
  • Café also serving lunch
  • Strengthening identification with the neighbourhood
  • Expanding local networks
  • Joint festivals
  • Presenting the neighbourhood on the internet
  • Music school offers, medical advice, language courses and other urban district services


By turning an abandoned parish centre into an urban district-oriented centre, the project presents exemplary solutions how initiatives by citizens may be more successful than traditional social infrastructure service providers. Under the leadership of committed women, a public-private partnership was created which developed new, commercially independent social infrastucture services for the residents of the urban district. In networking actively, the project's sponsoring organisation has also assumed the tasks of an urban district management. This mental attitude of a "grass-roots project" was supported by various small innovative approaches, e.g. the project motor. It functions according to the concept “helping people to help themselves”, which is to activate voluntary work, and was awarded by the “startsocial” initiative. A newly conceived, tried and tested electronic locking system enabled new ways of access control and thus of using rooms provided for manifold purposes in a self-dependent and -organised way.


  • BBSR website concerning the ExWoSt field of research „Innovationen für familien- und altengerechte Stadtquartiere“ (Innovations for urban areas suitable for families and elderly people) (in German)
  • BMVBS / BBSR (ed.): Urban neighbourhoods for young and old - a challenge for the future. Results of the ExWoSt field of research "Innovationen für familien- und altengerechte Stadtquartiere" (Innovations for urban areas suitable for families and elderly people). Werkstatt: Praxis Issue 71, Bonn 2011 (Abstract in English, long version in German)
  • BMVBS (ed.): Stadtquartiere für Jung und Alt. Bilanz im Forschungsfeld "Innovationen für familien- und altengerechte Stadtquartiere" (Urban neighbourhoods for young and old. Results of the field of research "Innovations for urban areas suitable for families and elderly people"), Berlin 2010 BMVBS / BBR (ed.): Urban neighbourhoods for young and old, Bonn, September 2007

Further information

The projekt site ist to be found at postal code: 40595 - town: Düsseldorf - street: Ricarda-Huch-Straße 3a.

Poject site on Google-Maps: Düsseldorf - Hell-Ga

Last update: 23.01.2017

Additional Information


  • Hell-Ga e. V., Ricarda-Huch-Straße 3a, 40595 Düsseldorf, phone: +49(0)211/ 6007336, email:, web:
  • Local protestant parish
  • LEG NRW (German real estate company)
  • District clubs (sports club, rifle club etc.)

Record inserted on 16.05.2012 by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) within the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR).

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