Architects give up their time for free to help raise money for homeless

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The Independent Online

The coldest months might be behind us, but life is far from cosy for those living on the streets or in bad quality housing across the UK. And while we may be officially out of recession, Michael Coogan, director general of The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has said that it will be still be a “challenging year for many borrowers” whose finances will inevitably be squeezed if and when interest rates rise, leading to repossession in some cases.

It’s a frightening thought for all and a nasty reality for many, but, this month, a fundraising initiative, run annually by the housing charity Shelter and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), will aim to raise money for Shelter’s work with those left homeless or poorly housed in this country. Now in its 14th Year Architect in the House has raised over £1 million for Shelter, including over £100,000 in 2009 - when housing repossessions reached a 14 year high in wake of the economic crisis.

Each year, the initiative sees architects nationwide give up their time for free to offer hour-long consultations to members of the public in return for a £40 suggested donation to Shelter. The scheme provides homeowners with an opportunity to discuss changes to their home with a RIBA chartered architect and make improvements that add both value and space to the property. “Architects play a key role in any successful home improvement venture, ensuring your project is well designed and thought through,” says George Clarke, architect and presenter of Channel 4’s Home Show and forthcoming series, Restoration Man. “Only an architect can give you the big picture, offering insights in to the latest trends in property design and advising on everything from finding builders to choosing fixtures and fittings.”

Such a consultation made a huge difference to Simon Drew, who last year made a £40 plus donation to Shelter and was matched through Architect in the House to Zoe Lewis Architects in Reading. He wanted to add a new master bedroom, with en suite bathroom to his 1970s house in Bracknell, Berkshire, where he’s lived for 25 years, in order to add value to the property when he comes to sell it.

Following his consultation with Zoe, Simon engaged her to prepare drawings for an extension to his house and successfully obtained planning permission. Zoe is now preparing plans for submission to the local authority for Building Regulations. The proposed extension is novel in that it will be built over in part over an existing double garage and slightly forward, with the entire structure supported on a steel frame.

The plan finally agreed with Zoe was totally different from the initial ideas that Simon had conceived of initially, and he believes that her input will greatly add to overall success of the project. Architect in the House “is a great way to get people to use an architect,” says Simon, “so many people get put off using a professional because they are terrified of the price.” But an architect can really make a difference in the outcome of your home improvement, adding more long-term value to the property – even if the project is a small one. An architect, says Simon, “can give you advice on design and layout, and can really interpret what you want to do. You want somebody who can actually create ideas for you and also anticipate the technical problems that need to be overcome.”

The scheme, which officially launches on Monday 19 April 2010, “has helped over 50,000 homeowners maximize their property’s potential,” says Ruth Reed, President of the RIBA. “It is a great way for the profession to give something back to those in desperate housing need.”

Those who register for the scheme at will be matched with architects in early July with consultations taking place any time up to the end of November. Meanwhile, Shelter can expect to raise more valuable funds to help those still living in poor conditions across the country, and, says Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, “with more than a million children in England living in overcrowded accommodation, our help is need now more than ever.”

Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website