Het Domijn

On the outskirts of Weesp, a wonderful site of 6,5 hectares is hidden in the green. An oasis of craftmanship, arts and culture, that after negotiation was transformed in 2013 from squat to collective ownership. Despite the site being deemed safe for the long-term, there’s still more than enough that can be done. On the organisational level it remains a challenge to keep everyone involved as well as the maintenance of the old buildings costing lots of time and money.
Irène Lesparre
Annelies Verhelst, Ivo Schmetz
Christina Waller
About 6 minutes

Co-operation Het Domijn U.A.(1) in Weesp

The 6,5 hectares of site and property of a former locomotive factory in Weesp, that was owned by the government since the mid 1930’s, is squatted in 1989. The squatters stem from the cultural sector, mainly the theatre scene.
After everyone had occupied a space in one of the large property buildings, the dragging in of wood-burning stoves, cars, trailers and tents to bring the newly captured free space to life.

While the squatters founded Stichting Internationale Evenementen (SIE, Insitute for International Events) to qualify for electricity usage and to vocalise themselves to the outside world, some tensions begun to rise between the government and the municipality of Weesp about the ownership of the area. The squatters were permitted to stay for the time being, as long as they gave a cultural use to the site.

As the users are dissatisfied about the hierarchal structure of the institute, the association Het Domijn (the Domain) was founded.

From institute to union
As the users are dissatisfied about the hierarchal structure of the institute, the association Het Domijn (the Domain) was founded. A new structure and organisational form, guaranteeing everyone in member meetings a say regarding the use of the site.
To enforce the right to exist, the board, which was led by the chair, chooses to negotiate with the government. The result being that the government recognised the squatter’s association had built up rights and in February of 2004 they are offered a 10-year leasehold contract for the property buildings along with the ground around them. The contract went in with retroactive effect from 2003.

Still work to do
The number of users substantially rose, but the members unanimously came to the conclusion that everyone must pay a fee for each square meter, in order to accumulate a fund for maintenance and abandoned buildings. Everyone buckled up in order to install and/or replace power, water and gas. By order of the fire department, fire-resistant partition walls are built between the different workspaces and studio’s that had come to exist.

In terms of management things aren’t going very smoothly. After the intense years of negotiation, the chair left and the members let go of maintaining structure. There are hijackers who want to take over the building. Not only the municipality of Weesp, but also project developers who see opportunity due to the lack of organisational determination by the association.


At the end of 2005 a new chair steps up to puts things in order and manages by the motto managing is anticipation. This chair motivates the members of the board and the association to think about the future (after the leasehold contract). As the members wish to remain in charge of the future, the opportunity of purchasing the site and buildings is investigated. It is necessary though to act more outwardly towards the outside world as unseen goes unloved. Everyone must contribute in terms of ideas, work and adhere to the created payment requirements in order to have the necessary financial means.

After a handful of candidates fell through, a group of loyal advisors in the legal, financial and organisational field steadily forms. They actively contribute to making the goal, the purchase of the site, possible.
It takes years to develop plans, write up (financial) rapports and hold consultation rounds at council and commission meetings in the city hall. In addition, work is put in to build up value beyond the gates of the site, in the society to which Het Domijn is also a part of.
The hiding behind the gates outside of society, the us-them thinking process, must change into actively showing who we are, what we do and why we make choices that don’t align with the established norm and ideas. In short, to show that society can be arranged in a different way than we may know.

The bank doesn’t want to supply a loan to an association. They want a legal entity with more of a business background.

The purchase
Eventually, the Triodosbank is prepared to supply a mortgage loan for the purchase. But it comes along with some ‘as long as’ remarks. The bank doesn’t want to supply a loan to an association, for example. They want a legal entity with more of a business background.
During the general member meetings (ALV), the options (NV, BV, union with/without a bond fund, association of owners or co-operation) are elaborated on in detail by a professor of the Nyenrode Business University. All legal entities that have a board which has the main say in matters, are dropped. Having an association of owners is also dropped as each owner would then be responsible for having their own mortgage. That would be too complicated and for most members getting a mortgage is not a possibility. Also, the idea that everyone would then be able to resell their workplace causes resistance. It would mean that the workplaces could become more and more expensive to purchase and that Het Domijn would become inaccessible for young creatives. Almost unanimously, a co-operation as the legal entity is voted for.
A co-operation has a collective goal and the members have shared input like in an association. The difference being that the co-operation can have a profit motive whereas the association cannot.
After this decision, a period of several months follows where the constitution is put into a concept. Line by line, word for word, the constitution is explained and written out in busy ALV’s that sometimes take place even three times a week. Hard work is put in to ensure that everyone resonates with the text.(2)


Another ‘as long as’ that the bank states is that Het Domijn must have more of its own capital. For this reason, each member must pay a deposit of a year. Everyone agrees, even though for many this means that they must take out a loan from somewhere. If the purchase is gone through with a rent raise of 40% will have to be implemented. A significant increase, but still, everyone agrees to follow through.

Outside of own capital the bank also demands a buffer of a ton to cover costs for primary maintenance of the property. In order for this to happen, certificates are issued at 2.5% interest. The agreement is for ten years, with each year a tenth of the certificates being drawn and paid back, so after ten years everything will be paid back to the certificate holders. Het Domijn has such a vast number of sympathisers that within three weeks, 2,5-ton worth of certificates are sold.


After the strenuous years of decision-making and required specialised knowledge, followed relief. Stress is of the past time, and the future is deemed secure. Time to think about a structure – within which all members can participate – finally. Commissions are created that focus on maintenance/renovation, nature, events, sustainability, exploitation opportunities, etc.

The being more active towards the outside world is put on hold as the members are occupied by work on the site and buildings. First, the roofs are renewed and sewage is installed. The most prominent building of the site – that has the logo of Het Domijn – has its foundation renewed as well as isolation installed on the base. Then new windows and window frames are to be placed. Snapping poplar trees are cut down and new trees are planted straight away, taking into account versatility and more food for the animals (and humans). The almost 2000 acquired solar panels are now able to provide the power supply.

Besides all the joint work, members must also find ways to earn money. A great advantage of a place like Het Domijn is that there are many different crafts and disciplines available, meaning people can complement each other. Machines and tools are shared and spaces between people are entered for whatever is necessary. An excess of material for one can be treasure for another.


Despite the beauty of the site and the successful collaborations there is often discussion about the same members taking the lead and the difficulty that finding qualified managers requires. How do you organise involvement without it feeling as though it’s an obligation? Often a commission is started with enthusiasm but eventually attention and consistency are lost.
The individual independence and the wellbeing of the group sometimes cause for clashes. How do you achieve a dynamic balance? Individuality is necessary for change and adjustment, and the collective is necessary to stand strong. It’s a constant process where different generations and individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and disciplines must learn to understand and appreciate one another, so they can complement each other over and over again.


Foot notes:

(1) U.A. staat voor Uitgesloten van Aansprakelijkheid, or excluded from liability, meaning members are not responsible for debts of the co-operation.
(2) For elaborate history of Het Domijn from 1917 until 2015 see website

Facts & figures
Facts & figuresHet Domijn
Bloemendalerweg 51, 1352 KB Weesp
Gekraakt in 1990, vanaf 2003 10 jaar erfpacht, sinds 2013 aangekocht
Coöperatieve association