News Nov 2022

More than a building; how thoughtful design and construction can contribute to creating safe and comforting hospices and homelessness shelters

A blog by Christopher Long, a summer volunteer for CRASH going into his third year studying law at the University of Cambridge. In this blog Christopher shares the insights he has gained into CRASH’s projects and how this relates to new research in design and construction.

During my time volunteering for CRASH, I have seen that CRASH facilitates the creation of holistic and modern spaces. Rather than only working to create sound buildings, CRASH and their 36 generous corporate patrons go above and beyond.  Through clever design, high-quality products and expert construction, a project with CRASH will enhance the essential work of hospices and homelessness shelters creating a space that is more than just a building.

This modern understanding that the built environment is more than just a matter of physical safety but also deeply impacts our mental well-being is encapsulated in the theory of ‘cognitive architecture’. Justin Hollander, Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy at Tufts University, has recently published research concluding that designers and contractors have a “responsibility to design a built environment that increases well-being”. He concludes that “we are deeply influenced by our surroundings”.

This is something CRASH and their Patrons understand well. Recent projects for hospices include creating a light and airy dining area for patients at Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice and supporting Ashgate Hospicecare transform shared bays that lacked privacy to nine spacious individual bedrooms. To deliver on the basic construction of these projects in themselves demands a high level of technical expertise and expensive products. However, as Kate Heaps (CEO of Greenwich & Bexley Community Hospice) makes clear, what really makes the “difference” is that the extension has improved the “mood” of the building making it “considerably brighter” and allowing easy access to outdoor space and other communal areas. Indeed, Alison Ward-Foster (Partnerships Manager at Ashgate Hospicecare) emphasised that the key aspect of the improvements that her patients were most grateful for was having a “beautiful private space”. It is these intangible differences that clever design and thoughtful construction can make to a building which is what makes the work that CRASH does with its Corporate Patron’s truly transformative.

Those relying on hospices and homelessness shelters often are already faced with challenging health issues, including mental health issues. It is therefore essential that the buildings themselves do not contribute to this but instead can facilitate safe and comforting use of the services provided. Data from the WHO suggests that inadequate daylighting can increase the probability of depression by 60% and Pable, McLane and Trujillo’s recent work ‘Homelessness and the Built Environment’ highlights that design for persons experiencing homelessness which incorporates “warm colours, thoughtful lighting and useful signage can send the message that someone cares”. As Sofia Barbosa said of the “transformative” redevelopment of a community home run by Emmaus South Lambeth, CRASH and their Patron’s created a “bright and spacious home and community building that will help many people rebuild their lives”. The generosity of corporate patrons like British Gypsum, Dulux Trade, Geberit and Kilnbridge in the Emmaus South Lambeth project can make a building more than just a building. The quality and thought behind the products supplied, whether it be paint, bathroom supplies or other construction materials elevates the project and provides a space in which living can be done better.

Although my time volunteering with CRASH has come to an end, I am left struck by the way in which the targeted projects that CRASH and their corporate patrons so thoughtful engage in can radically alter the living conditions for those in hospices and homelessness shelters. Professor Hollander’s research has found that “we have an automatic (non-conscious) response to shapes, patterns and colours…our minds are like icebergs, we are only aware of less than 5% of our response to our environment”. CRASH and their patrons ensure that hospices and homelessness charities can deliver quality projects that are far more than just buildings, they are designed and built with an appreciation for the mental impact of our built environment.

It is finally worth noting what a special charity CRASH is. CRASH is much like an iceberg too; although only made up of five full time staff there is much below the water. Through the team’s tireless work, they facilitate transformative construction projects for hospices and homelessness shelters of a number and of an ambition far beyond a team of such a size. Thoughtful design, quality products, expert construction and careful project management mean that a project with CRASH will produce something far more than just a building, it can create a space that enhances the important work pursued by the hospice or homelessness charity.

Feeling inspired to support CRASH?

Please get involved with our Christmas card appeal by donating to help homelessness people, and children and adults receiving hospice care.

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