‘Colonies of Benevolence’ is a transnational application including seven sub-sites in Belgium and the Netherlands, established in the 19th century to reduce poverty through social employment in new agricultural settlements. They were created as a social experiment in what was then the Kingdom of the Netherlands with borders resulting from the Congress of Vienna, at a time when Europe was extremely impoverished. The colonies were established either as ‘free’ - for families who received the chance to run small farms, or ‘unfree’ - as large collective structures for vagrants and orphans. Their original functioning was suspended.
The Colonies of Benevolence pioneered a new public private approach based on investments in agriculture on barren land, providing access to education and employment, and preserving ‘peace and order' in society on the one hand, but also “false assumptions about the make-ability and productivity of people and land” on the other. The 175 years of their history reveal the long evolution in European thought concerning socially marginalised people and their scarcely recognised rights as full members of society, enshrined now in the Charter of Fundamental rights.