Summer 2017

Adults with autism to benefit from affordable housing scheme

Work is under way at Melody Road in Wandsworth on a supported housing scheme for autistic adults, designed and managed by Churchill Hui for Optivo / LB Wandsworth. Sensitive planning has been key for this user group, to enable them to live independently in their adapted homes.

Client: Optivo (for Wandsworth Council)
Contractor: William Lacey Group
Architect: Churchill Hui
Employer’s Agent: Churchill Hui
Contract Sum: £1.9m

The scheme responds to Wandsworth Council’s overall policy in relation to the provision of care and support services for people with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities: to reduce the number of care home places and increase supported living. Nine flats have been designated for housing plus communal facilities, and an office for a care worker with overnight provision.

The site in Wandsworth is situated between two local authority housing schemes and was used primarily as a car park before works commenced. One of the first challenges was to maximise the site available whilst retaining some car park spaces, soft landscaped areas and meeting planning and building control.

Churchill Hui has designed several housing schemes for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities, but this user group presents its own unique characteristics. Placing adults with autism in unsuitable housing can be seriously detrimental, whereas sensitive design improves quality of life, well-being and even health. The right setting grants independence and secures tenure but there are many design considerations, some of which may contradict standard practice. The housing also needs to be durable and affordable to run and maintain.

As both Architect and EA, we liaised with Adult Social Services, Housing Officers, Local Authority occupational therapists and our client to refine the design. We fulfilled as many conditions as possible within budget and within the constraints of Building Regulations. Strong negotiating and decision-making skills were key, particularly when balancing empathy with practicality. To make the flats safe, durable and comforting, provisions included:

  • a telecare system in every flat and communal facilities
  • regulated water pressure and temperature (residents may inadvertently tamper with water appliances or burn themselves)
  • flood detectors (water can be a fascination and in turn lead to flooding)
  • muted/contrasting colours (e.g. for paintwork) suited to visual impairment to help with navigation around the building
  • windows within internal fire doors to allow visibility (residents are empowered to invite people to share their space, or choose to enter a room)
  • reduced noise for doorbells and ventilation (noise levels can cause discomfort or be a distraction)
  • eradication of sharp edges where practically possible.

As recently as 40 years ago, there was no specialist accommodation or support for adults with autism in the UK*. Churchill Hui are pleased to be involved in improving this situation via well-designed supported housing and look forward to developing the scheme with Optivo, Wandsworth and William Lacey this year.

* ‘Living in the community: Housing Design for Adults with Autism‘ by Andrew Brand, as supplied by the client.

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