The Colonies of Benevolence have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List on July 26. With this, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee recognises the exceptional and universal value of these agricultural colonies aimed at poverty alleviation in Veenhuizen, Frederiksoord-Wilhelminaoord and the Belgian colony of Wortel. Together they form one transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Colonies of Benevolence were founded in 1818 as a citizens’ initiative in the then Kingdom of the Netherlands. At the time, one in three households in cities lived in poverty. These agricultural colonies were designed to fight poverty by elevating people by working the land, education and training. The Colonies of Benevolence are the earliest and largest domestic poverty relief agricultural colonies in the world. They remained operational until social legislation was implemented in 1918.
Exceptional scenery and story
The landscape of the Colonies of Benevolence was designed in an orderly and symmetrical way to instil rational and productive behaviour in its residents, in order to become self-reliant. You can still experience this structure in the Colonies when you look at the monumental lanes, waterways, fields and buildings. The history remains current because it is an inspiration for art, books and entrepreneurs. In addition, one in sixteen Dutch people has an ancestor in one of these colonies. The visitor centres provide an introduction and educational programs about the area. Together, these visitor centres previously received the European Heritage Label.
Raising the flag in celebration
Cees Bijl, deputy of the province of Drenthe and chairman of the steering committee that prepared the nomination: “Since 2012, the province of Drenthe, the province of Antwerp, the relevant municipalities, heritage organisations and many residents of the areas in the Netherlands and Flanders have worked together to demonstrate the worldwide uniqueness of the Colonies of Benevolence. The recognition as UNESCO World Heritage Site is the crowning glory of their work. It is also a relevant addition to the World Heritage List because fighting poverty remains a global topic. We are very proud to be amongst sites like the Wadden Sea and the Taj Mahal. Time to raise the flag in celebration.”
Protect and promote
The Colonies of Benevolence are the eleventh World Heritage Site in the Netherlands. Being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site comes with obligations, which are overseen by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The parties involved will continue to commit themselves to protecting, preserving and promoting this World Heritage to the public. Dutch and Flemish partners are working in collaboration on this.