Image from Greencook

The idea

The consumers’ schools (Ecole de consommateurs) are a comprehensive tool mixing training, prevention and insertion convivial workshops to help adults families better manage their monthly household budget, better know their rights and duties and empower them in their dailylife. The school workshops cover different practical sectorial issues that are collectively constructed, appropriated and shared: ENERGY: how to analyze an energy bill/ lower down energy expenditure? HOUSING: how to better know insurance/renting rules and systems? FOOD: how to avoid marketing traps and cook at a better price? MONEY: how to deal with banks/ credit system? HEALTH: how to choose the right medicine/doctor? (…)

The starting point

The consumers schools were born in the late 1980’s in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region (North of France) as an answer for local authorties’ will to reconsider the economic responsibility and role of the consumer. The Regional Council for Consumption started specific trainings for local inhabitants and coined them “écoles de consommateurs” as a convivial meeting yet with sectorial professionals so as to better tackle daily household’s related issues. From an experimental trial, the methodology gained ground through growing partnerships with local social services to enlarge the audience and specifically reach the most deprived families. Today, more than 90 groups are active in 50 different northern French towns. In the late 1990’s Wallonia decided to develop similar schools; the former Wallon Ministry of Health and Social affairs launched in 2001 a call for proposal that benefited to a hundred projects. Today, these schools and other tailored workshops/groups on the dailylife remain a core part of the local social cohesion policy in Wallonia starting from permanent education groups, youth houses, social neighborouhood services and other local associations.

How does it work?

Usually the schools’ sessions gather around 10 up to 15 persons and one animator (eventually one invited professionnal) to foster interpersonal exchanges. During 2h30, the group discusses one specific issue and how to apply it to one’s domestic life with very critical and practical case examples and illustrations. Ex: Accessing a job with the local Job Agency/ knowing the public health insurance system/catching marketing traps for better food balance/ adopting critical consumption… The format of the session is coconstructed with the group:

  1. Sharing the existing knowledge within the group: what does everyone know about the suject? What are the main questions?
  2. Getting precisions from one invited local professional (i.e. banker, mediator, insurer, dietetician…).
  3. Leading everyone in the group to question his/her own behaviours and see how one’s could find the adequate answers through his/her personal experiences and the present professional views
  4. Summarizing collectively the outputs of the sessions and find ways to share the material with every participants’ relatives (at home/ during forums/ exhibitions)

Ex: in Plombières the Energy workshop was divided first on a theoretical exchange on heating/ electricity and general information then the participants were asked to guess the consumption of different household devices. One core part of the "Consumers' schools" is to remain accessible and to provide interactive tools to enable exchanges


The registration to the School is free of charge. It is open to all citizens in France while in Belgium, depending on the cities some consumers’ schools are targeting underpriviledged people registered in the CPAS (social action public center).

In Belgium (B) and France (F), the partnership model is key:

  • The local authorities: Region/Departments and towns (F)/ towns (B)
    • Among them, the specific energy/housing councellors may be directly associated
  • The local social services: CPAS- social action center (B)/ CAF-Family allocation Fund (F)/ALE- Local Employment Agency (B)/ EMS (B)-Socio-medical institutions
  • Local cohesion and permanent education associations
  • Public/ private professionals and trainers

Goals for targeted households

  • better know one’s rights and duties around housing/employment/health
  • get concrete results in personal dailylife management
  • better identify the different local stakeholders and access the right persons for enquiries
  • grow personal confidence to express oneself
  • learn to share knowledge to one’s relatives
  • avoid over-indebtedness
  • develop personal or collective projects

Main challenges

  • Partnerships with local social services are precious to ensure the life expency of the different projects.
  • A continuous training of the animators is necessary to avoid top-down approach and ensure horizontal dialogue; this is not a passive school rather it is based on a consumer-actor pedagogy. The Observatory of credit and over-indebtedness also provided specific trainings for the animators of the Seraing’s group.

Future perspectives

Different consumers’ schools in Belgium have decided to rename themselves; in Seraing it became “Support group for indebtedness prevention” (Groupe de soutien à la prévention de l’endettement) while in Plombières, the “School” appellation was erased to only keep “Consumer action workshops”. In Belgium, the schools tend to be rebuilt in more specific focused support groups: energy support groups/ savings groups/ diet and culinary groups.

Examples in the Local Social Cohesion Plans in Wallonia

Processus in Plombières The Consumer’action workshops started with open sessions on different key topics:

During the evaluation proccess of the PCS, the coordination team realized that the participants of these sessions were already familiar to the topics and were coming mostly to validate their knowledge; they didn’t reach the people who mostly needed the trainings. The multipolar team started a specific partnership with 3 local services to give their users prior access to these workshops: the ALE (Local Agency for Employment) / the CPAS (Social action public center) and the staff of the local hospital and rest home. Today the workshops gather around 20 registered users of these services. From 3 workshops a year, the PCS coordinator wants to develop these sessions and enlarge the topics with 6 up to 9 workshops a year.

Online Database: Access to the DATABASE of all Actions in Wallonia Here 59515 Dour Mise en place d'une école des consommateurs Contact person: Marjorie VANHOVE 065/65.10.19 pcsdour.marjorie à 58771 Plombières Ouverture d'une école des consommateurs Contact person: Julien CHARLIER 087 33 96 64 pcsplombieres à

Other valuable ressources

Consumers’ schools tacckling food wastage among underpriviledged families: Nord-Pas-de-Calais website: First evaluation of the Consumers’ schools in Wallonia: 2002 and 2003 Consumers’ school in Plombières: Observatory of credit and over-indebtedness: |Online tool and advice around over-indebtedness: