A decent place to live is a right not a nice to have

Julie Christie-Webb joined our board earlier this year. She brings diverse skills from a not for profit sector career in local, UK-wide and international charities, most of which includes lead responsibility for income generation. To kick off Trustees Week, we wanted to hear her thoughts on all things AzuKo.

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and what drives you…

I’m passionate about enabling the voices of those least likely to be heard, at the margins of society, those with little or no political or economic power. These people are the very ones who can change the world, who can educate the rest of us about kindness, equality and justice.

I believe we need to work towards a fairer world and I have dedicated my career to the voluntary and community sector. I am a trustee, a community activist and a charity professional. I have travelled extensively around India, southeast Asia and Latin America which has given me an insight into the lives of others. I live in Camden, north London with my husband and our sole remaining hen, Diana Dors, who is now 10 years old. She’s a survivor!

  • What made you want to become a trustee of AzuKo?

I wanted to join AzuKo because of the charity’s community-led design mission and the way in which people are truly at the heart of the work. The focus on children and play, and women stepping up to take control of the design of their living spaces and the built environment around them, really resonated with me.

I feel AzuKo and small, highly specialist charities like it, can make a significant lasting difference to people’s lives because they are able to build meaningful relationships with communities, and become part of the family.
  • When you have your ‘trustee hat’ on, what does your role entail?

I am the trustee with fundraising responsibility and oversight. I support the Director and board’s thinking about fundraising at strategic level and provide a specialist review of applications and campaigns. I can also spot opportunities and comment on trends in fundraising as they apply to AzuKo.

  • Why is AzuKo’s work important?

Because it matters that people live in decent housing that meets their needs and those of their family. A decent place to live is a right not a nice to have. AzuKo plays an important role in modelling community-led practice and in demonstrating the profound value of involving people, especially women and children, in co-designing housing and shared public space.

  • Tell us about one of AzuKo’s achievements that you’re most proud of?

JAAGO playspace in Bangladesh - play is frequently neglected as a priority in urban spaces and yet it’s fundamental to children’s social, physical and emotional development, and it provides a pivotal shared community space where dwellings may be cramped and overcrowded.

We’re also training women to build for safety in areas of Bangladesh at risk of floods, storms and tremors. The workshops offer low-cost techniques to strengthen their homes and build resilience. We’ve got some exciting plans this December to broadcast live from the field - connecting our supporters and communities - and raise vital funds for our training programme.

  • What are the biggest challenges facing small charities working in international development, today?

Undoubtedly securing sustainable funding and being heard above the noise of the big NGOs that tend to dominate the international development agenda. The recent scandals of sexual misconduct can tar every NGO as untrustworthy and exploitative so small charities have to work harder to prove their integrity to communities, supporters and the general public.

  • Share one of your favourite moments of working with AzuKo?

The bringing together of interested practitioners and supporters to share in the development of community-led design, and enabling these people to become advocates for the charity, its beneficiaries and our methodology. AzuKo’s recent Designing Regenerative Spaces event was an outstanding example of the power of this kind of gathering.

  • How would you like to see AzuKo’s work develop over the next five years?

I would love to see AzuKo go from strength to strength in terms of influence, resource and scope. As the small and mighty charity we are now, we are pioneering indepth community-led design practice and thinking at international development level and in the UK. I look forward to us being more influential with others in the charity, state and corporate sectors. Sustainable funding is a challenge for all nonprofits and I would love to see us diversifying and increasing our income base and staff team so we can support more communities living at the margins.

I believe co-design/co-production is a powerful approach that we could promote in non-design fields in international development, placing communities at the heart of change that they initiate and control.
  • What do you feel trusteeship adds to your personal and professional development?

It helps me to have a wider, more informed understanding of the world I live in and share with others. It gives me a sense of meaning knowing that my participation as a trustee impacts lives on the other side of the globe. It has certainly developed my leadership and strategic thinking skills and broadened my professional network.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about becoming a trustee what would it be?

Being a trustee is a challenge, of that there is no question, but on the flip side it provides great growth opportunities. I’ve been a trustee of several charities and I can honestly say that they have all offered me a new way of engaging with the world that makes me feel more accountable and responsible as a human being sharing this earth with millions of others. If you can offer your time, experience and skills to enable people to live more fulfilling lives, then do it. Every single one of us can make a difference.

Right now we’re looking for an individual with international development experience to join our board. If this sounds like you, check out the role description and how to apply.

Health meets home

Our Director, Jo was invited to join the podcast Health Meets Home, hosted by doctor, author and property enthusiast Dr Lafina Diamandis. Health Meets Home dives into the fascinating relationship between health, housing and why the places we live influence our behaviour, physical and mental health. The podcast features some of the nation's leading experts on health and housing and discusses the latest innovations being developed to meet the changing needs of our population.

<< Listen to the episode

Alongside our friend Amos Goldreich, we discuss:

  • The effects of design and architecture on health

  • Why people hold the answers to the challenges they face

  • Social housing, lighting and perception of space

  • How co-working could be a viable solution for homelessness

  • What architects can do about the postcode lottery impact on health

Read about how we’re designing to improve health and wellbeing with women in Bangladesh.

Ponchomi's story - building for safety

Ponchomi previously lived in a mud house. It was a one-room dwelling with thick walls made of a simple mixture of earth and water. Monsoon rains and floods eroded her home, so she had to constantly repair it. She often checked for snakes which like to burrow in the warm earth – a neighbour had died from such a bite. Her outbuilding was barely standing; the bamboo having rotted from rising damp and termite attack.

She dreamed of a house where she could feel safe with her children, a building that would withstand the elements. As a day labourer, her husband didn’t earn enough money to buy the bricks they needed, so they were about to borrow money from a loan shark.

Ponchomi heard about our ‘build for safety’ workshops, which offered an alternative and joined the training in 2018. This year we returned to see what difference it has made. Her family now live in a secure bamboo-frame house. The posts are raised above the damp earth on kaatla (pad foundations), the material is treated to resist termites, cross bracing reinforces the structure and stops it from twisting during storms and seismic activity, the corrugated iron sheet roof is securely tied back into the structure and steel bolts strengthen the primary building joints.

My house is much stronger now. It will last longer. These are small improvements but they make a big difference.
— Ponchomi

She invited us in for tea and proudly showed us all the improvements they’ve made. They only borrowed a small sum, and they’ve already paid it back. She’s now dreaming of an extension; a second room for when her children grow up. She feels confident she’ll again be able to use the techniques she learned.

Ponchomi is happy to share her skills. She’s now an advocate in her village for what can be achieved with bamboo, which is often seen as a ‘poor man’s’ material.

Help us train more women to build for safety in Bangladesh. Donate to our training programme.

Visit our project page for more information.

Author: J. Ashbridge