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Simon Open Door

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The RIAI (Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland) & the Simon Communities of Ireland have once again joined forces for a special fundraising initiative called "Simon Open Door" - whereby participating RIAI Architects around Ireland will open their offices on Saturday 12th April 2008, to give members of the public an hour's consultation with an architect in return for a donation to Simon of €75.  All of this money goes to the Simon Community.

This is the fourth year of the Open Door initiative and since 2005 they have raised nearly €90,000. Over €38,000 was raised last year alone with 545 people visiting RIAI architects. The RIAI this year hope to raise at least €50,000 for Simon whilst providing expert professional advice to members of the public who are planning a building project.

The deadline for appointments is tomorrow, April 9th and the consultations will take place this coming Saturday, April 12th.

Kathryn Meghen - Architect registered with RIAI
Patrick Burke - CEO Simon Communities of Ireland

How did this project initially come about?
As Simon doesn't receive 100% funding from the government, they often rely on the generosity of the public and from corporations. Companies can provide considerable funding, but often require something in return. As there is a clear connection between architects and the notion of designing houses, and homeless people, this was seen as a great opportunity by both sides, to come together and work in partnership.

How much are you hoping to raise this year?
To date as many as 600 bookings have been made, so the campaign are hoping to raise roughly 50-60,000. This would be a significant improvement on previous years.

What does the money go towards and how much of a difference does it make?
Where money is donated locally, it stays locally. Funding goes towards outreach services, soup runs, emergency accommodation, transitional homes- a full spectrum of services for homeless people. There are also services provided for the service users who are suffering with mental illnesses. Essentially Simon tries to design its services around its users.
The difference the money makes is black and white. It's the difference between people sleeping on the streets and having a roof over their heads, be it for one night or many. Services in Cork are at present turning 20 people away each week- potentially the Open Door campaign could end this.

How many people are homeless in Ireland at present?
Determining the number of people who are homeless at any given point is logistically a difficult task. Official government figures are based on the last Housing Needs Assessment, undertaken in 2005. This shows that 2,399 households were categorised as homeless in 2005, with 1,725 households living in unfit accommodation, 4,112 in overcrowded accommodation and 3,375 involuntarily sharing. This only reflects a snapshot of the situation on one night and does not reflect the experiences of many more families that are impacted by homelessness throughout the year. The definition of homelessness used is also subject to interpretation by the local authorities that undertake this assessment, and different authorities apply it in different ways. As we worked with 3,346 people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in 2006, we believe that the figure may be more significant than that officially recorded.

What the Simon community does:
The Simon Communities of Ireland is the National Affiliation of Simon Communities in Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Midlands & South East. In 2006, Communities in the North West and Mid West were added, meaning, Simon now covers every local authority area in the State.

The Simon Communities of Ireland have a vision of society where no one is homeless i.e., no one is without a home for longer than is an emergency and everyone will receive support that will allow them to progress out of homelessness. Throughout the country they deliver a range of activities based on a continuum of care approach including outreach, day centres, emergency shelter, addiction support, transitional accommodation, long term supported housing, resettlement, prevention services and training and employment services.

How has this project caught on?
This is the fourth year of the campaign- initially 60/70 architects got involved but this year there are as more than 170 architects nationwide participating in every county - except Longford. This may change as architects are signing up all the time. As well as supporting a great cause, this project gives architects the chance to meet members of their own communities.

What can members of the public gain from this experience?
Although they won't walk away from their hour-long consultation with blueprints for new designs, they will get a new perspective, maybe some new ideas and suggestions as to how they could improve their home. In the current property market, people are more likely to do this than move as there is so much uncertainty.

Participating architects can give general advice on:
. Architect's fees and services
. Information on building costs including VAT
. Discussion on building materials likely to be used
. Planning requirements or Exempted Development from Planning
. The documents that will be used for planning; tenders; and
building contracts
Due to the time constraints inherent in an hour long consultation, it won't be possible to receive specific planning advice or an actual design from the Architect.
Kathryn says that the more preparatory work done prior to the consultation, the more people will get out of it.
What should people bring to their consultation?

The Architect will need to know specific requirements so, if possible, please bring:
. Ordnance Survey Map; or Lease Map; or Site Location Map
. Photos of the elevations of your house (front and rear) and
adjoining houses
. General Site Dimensions and the approximate area for the
proposed development (especially important if you want to have
building work done in back and side gardens)
. Rough idea of your budget (it should include VAT, fees, furniture
and landscaping if applicable)
. Brief description of what you want i.e. do you want an extra
bathroom in your extension; a new garage; an additional
bedroom etc; special facilities for those with disabilities?
. Has the dwelling obtained planning permission or been previously
extended.The more information you bring with you the more you will get out of your consultation.

Who should avail of this service?
Prospective buyers can avail of the service to check feasibility of potential purchases. If you bring property brochures etc along to the consultation, the architect can discuss future potential of the property or problems if the case may be.

People who are intending to build their own home can visit with an architect to get fresh ideas or suggestions on building an environmentally sustainable house, an aesthetically interesting house or perhaps how to maximize space in a small new-build.
People who wish to extent their homes and are seeking suggestions on how best to do this in an economical and design effective manner. Space is at a premium at present and people are keen to extend rather than move- architects can suggest how you could achieve a second bathroom/attic conversion etc.
Those living in apartments could get storage suggestions in order to maximize their smaller living spaces.

Can adapting to a "greener" home add to the value of the property?
All homes will soon be subject to energy ratings and sustainable building regulations. This will influence the sale of second hand homes more and more in the years to come.
There are an estimated 5,500 homeless people in Ireland although the Simon Community says that these figures are based on homeless people who have contacted local authorities only, therefore the real figure is higher.

Top five tips be for people wishing to avail of this service:

 Be open-minded - and unrestrained in your thinking. Listen to your architect's ideas; they are experts and might see possibilities you haven't considered.

2. Be prepared - bring scale plans or photographs of your home or site, know which way is north.

3. Be forward-thinking- consider what your changing family will need from your home as you get older. This is called designing for a "Lifetime Home."

4. Be green- your architect can advise you on environmentally friendly ideas for your design plans. Thinking green can help you save money and the environment

5. Be realistic- an hour is a short amount of time. Prioritise what you want to cover.

 "Given recent changes in the housing market people are looking at options other than moving to meet the changing needs of their families - whether it's the open plan kitchen you always dreamed of or an additional family room, a home office or even that large bedroom with a walk in wardrobe an RIAI architect brings vision and imagination to projects of all shapes and sizes"
                                               Sean O' Laoire, President of the RIAI

Following are more tips to help you get the most from your consultation:

1. Be clear- getting your project right at the start will save you money in the long term. If you don't understand something, ask the architect to draw you a 3-D sketch to help you visualise the plans.

2. Be practical- tell the architect about your dream home, but also about your budget.

3. Be aware- your architect can give you both design and technical advice about planning applications rules and procedures and compliance with building and fire regulations!

4. Be relaxed - don't be intimidated- your architect is there to help. Ask what's possible, how long will it take, how much will it cost etc

Be assured the architect you are speaking to is held to the highest standards -
20 Questions to ask yourself before you get started on your project:

1. Describe your current home
What do you like about it?
What's missing?
What don t you like?
2. Do you want to change the space you have?
3. Do you want to build a new home?
4. Why do you want to build a house or ad to or renovate your current home?
5. What is your lifestyle?
Are you at home a great deal?
Do you work at home?
Do you entertain often?
How much time do you spend in the living areas, bedroom, kitchen, utility space, etc?
6. How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your home?
7. If you are thinking of extending, what functions/activities will be housed in a new space?
8. What kind of spaces do you need, eg. bedrooms, bigger kitchen, family room, bathrooms, etc?
9. How many of those spaces do you think you need?
10. What do you think the extension/renovation/new home should look like?
11. What do you envisage in your new home that your present home lacks?
12. How much can you realistically afford to spend? In your budget you should include VAT, and Architects Fess plus VAT. Do you wish to include decoration, furniture and
fittings, landscaping or special facilities?
13. How soon would you like to be settled into your new home or extension? Are there rigid time restraints?
14. If you are thinking of building a home, do you have a site selected?
15. Do you have strong ideas about design? What are your design preferences?
16. Who will be the primary contact with the architect, contractor, and others involved in designing and building your project? (It is good to have one point of contact to prevent confusion and mixed messages)
17. What design qualities are you looking for from your architect?
18. Is there anyone in the family with a disability, or do you envisage staying in the house for a long time so that the mobility problems of aging may need to be addressed.
19. Is sustainable development and increased energy efficiency of importance to you?
20. How much disruption in your life can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home?

For more information check out Tel: 0818 300151