Veldzicht lies in the historic Ommerschans area of the Netherlands. Situated between the villages of Witharen and Balkbrug, this is a place with a rich history. The first signs of human civilisation in the area can be traced back over 3,500 years. A unique ceremonial bronze sword (which can be admired at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden) was discovered here and is testament to the fact that this area already occupied an important position within the surrounding land at that time.

Later, an important route between what is now Germany and Groningen ran straight through this area: the only road that could be used by two-axle wagons and carts to avoid getting stuck in the surrounding marshland. It is therefore not surprising that the Dutch government decided to take over the area for defence purposes, building a fortress here in 1628. This was known as the Ommerschans and gave its name to the surrounding region, a name that is still in use today.

The unfree beggars’ colony

The unfree beggars’ colonyA couple of centuries later the purpose shifted from a military to a social one when an (unfree) beggars’ colony was established on the foundations of the old fort by the Society of Humanitarianism. The aim of this typically Dutch institution was to re-educate the destitute, under slight coercion, and transform them into successful citizens. Every man, woman and child put to work at Ommerschans was to be taught an occupation and to learn to be industrious and derive satisfaction from their work. The aim was to give the poor a second chance in life: an equal chance to escape poverty and play a meaningful role in society.

One poor individual who managed to make a successful career for himself thanks to the colony system was a Mr Van Nispen, who became the deputy manager of Ommerschans. He arrived in the colony as an impoverished orphan. Having worked his way up, he was eventually granted ownership of one of its most prestigious farms, laying the first stone himself when a new granary was built. Sadly, this farm no longer exists today, although the granary – including the stone he laid – is still standing and forms part of what is now known as Veldzichthoeve.

Veldzicht State Educational HomeUnfortunately, the causes of poverty proved to be more complex than simply a lack of opportunities and work. In practice, the beggars’ colonies were costing more to run than the Society of Humanitarianism could afford. One colony after another was closed down and Ommerschans was handed back to the Dutch government, which had new plans for the area: the site would now become a State Educational Home and be used to educate delinquent boys, with the aim of turning them into respectable citizens. However, as a beggars’ colony, Ommerschans had acquired a bad name in the surrounding region.

The decision was taken to build the new institution slightly to the north of the former colony and to give it a new name. This was found in the form of another building situated in what is now part of the village of Balkbrug. ‘Veldzicht’ was adopted as the name of the new institution, while the original Veldzicht was rechristened ‘Huize de Beuk’, which now also forms part of the current Veldzicht site.

In the summer of 1894 Veldzicht officially opened its doors as a State Educational Home for boys and was part of the Ministry of Justice.

It also incorporated all the grounds of the former beggars’ colony and put these to use in its re-education programme: in addition to their general learning, the boys were kept busy with activities such as gardening and farming. Later, they were also given the chance to receive training in specific crafts.

Over the period when Veldzicht had the status of a forensic psychiatric centre the main part of the Ommerschans site was maintained by Veldzicht, an activity that served as a form of occupational therapy. Ommerschans and Veldzicht have therefore become intertwined over the years.

Veldzicht State Mental HospitalIn 1930 the State Educational Home for boys closed its doors. Veldzicht was transformed into an institution for criminals receiving compulsory treatment. Such treatment was a measure laid down in the 1928 Psychopath Act, which introduced the concept of the hospital order (terbeschikkingstelling van de regering (TBR)). Such orders were intended for “the psychopath not of sound mind”. To implement this measure, a new state mental hospital was required – Veldzicht – where persons placed under a hospital order could be detained. Veldzicht therefore became the first State Mental Hospital for Psychopaths in 1933.

Initially, hospital orders focused on detention rather than treatment. However, after the war there was a change of approach. Psychiatric and psychological treatments were developed and gradually put into practice in such institutions. In 1951 the Penal System (Framework) Act came into force, laying down the rights and obligations of prisoners in law.

As a response to the criticism directed at the TBR over the years, in 1988 a new hospital order known as the terbeschikkingstelling (TBS) took the place of the TBR. The Psychopath Acts were replaced by a temporary system governing the legal position of persons under a hospital order. In 1997 the Hospital Orders (Framework) Act came into force.

The term ‘TBS clinic’ is no longer used in the field of mental healthcare and we now refer to such an institution as a ‘forensic psychiatric centre’ (FPC).

In 2013 the Veldzicht Forensic Psychiatric Centre faced the prospect of closure, due to contraction in the hospital order sector. This threat was averted and since 1 January 2016 Veldzicht has been operating as a Centre for Transcultural Psychiatry, offering services including psychiatric assistance to people from non-Western backgrounds