Housing

Rumar dreams of a better way

Today Rumar is cooking cauliflower and potato mash with rice and greens. At 22 years old she is responsible for preparing and cooking meals for her family of five. Like many women in her village in Dinajpur, Bangladesh, she faces real challenges in the home.

Her kitchen is only 3.4 sqm and is built on a raised earthen plinth which she protects from the driving rain as best she can. Without walls and a leaky roof, things are difficult in the monsoon.

An open kitchen
Earthen stove
During rainy season the kitchen floods. The roof needs to be repaired so I cook under an umbrella… I have to make sure water doesn’t get into the stove or the fire goes out.

Rumar makes and repairs her stove using a mix of earth and water. She worries about the open flames when her children are near and shows us burns she’s suffered from cooking this way. Her kitchen has flooded numerous times and burnt to the ground a few years ago due to a fire that escalated. There is no electricity or piped water supply.

Interview
We share a tubewell with our neighbours, so I carry the pots and pans outside to clean them after we eat. I store them in the house, otherwise the rats and dogs would come.

Her family can afford to buy a small amount of jute sticks and wood to fuel the stove every month, but when this runs out Rumar gathers leaves and twigs to keep it going. This wet material produces a lot of smoke. She cooks on a small stool, at least for now she is not in too much discomfort.

 
Plan of the homestead

Plan of the homestead

 

Rumar’s village is in one of the poorest regions of the country. Saving for home improvements is a struggle but she dreams of a better way - a kitchen that is safe and comfortable, a space that doesn’t fill the air with black smoke, a space she would enjoy cooking in.

In rural Bangladesh women spend much of their day in the home and within the kitchen, yet they are often not involved in its design. Their perspective is crucial. Kitchens are dark, cramped, unhygienic and poorly ventilated, contributing to chronic and acute health effects including lung cancer and diarrhoeal disease. They are leftover spaces despite the fact they are used from morning till night.

We are working with women like Rumar to co-design solutions that will improve their health and wellbeing. We believe Rumar holds the answers to the challenges she faces.

Help us empower these women to be design leaders in their communities. Donate to Heart of the home >>

Author: J Ashbridge

Design is meeting needs

We recently attended a ‘design quality’ conference for the built environment. One workshop titled, ‘Winning the hearts and minds’ was subtitled, ‘Engaging the community to obtain a YIMBY instead of a NIMBY (not in my back yard),’ or ‘How to assure you get your design through planning without local opposition’.

There is a disconnect in that thinking that says quality design is not a result of quality engagement, but rather, engagement is simply a tool to gain people’s favour (and that we already know what quality design is, so why would we need to learn from those who live and work in the context we’re designing for?)

What our project with Emmaus St Albans shows is that quality engagement at the outset of the design process is vital for a design that eventually does what it’s supposed to do - meet users needs.

In 2014 we began working with homelessness charity Emmaus UK in collaboration with Ryder and CRASH. We led a participatory design process to define the brief for an expansion of their building in St Albans. This building is responsible for housing, training and employing 33 formerly homeless people.

Emmaus UK supported over 700 homeless men and women in 2017, known as companions. In the same year the social enterprise arm of Emmaus UK - their shops - recycled or reused 3,302 tonnes of items. The shops are central to the charity’s success. They provide opportunities for companions to rehabilitate, learn and grow, while supporting the financial sustainability of the charity.

We gained insight into the experience and needs of those using the building - the companions, staff, leadership and trustees through a range of human-centred research methods including co-design workshops, participatory photography and in-depth interviews.

As a result of the engagement a consensus was reached to expand the storage and shop floor space, something that came as a surprise to then Chief Executive, Tony Ferrier, who believed the companions would have chosen first to expand their own leisure space.

Companion
Companions

We evaluated the project at the end of 2018, nearly 18 months after the building opened in its new form. Since the completion of the expansion, “profitability went up 23%”. Tony believes this is a result of simply having more items to sell. The expanded space and storage has allowed staff to better look after and store items, creating an improved experience for them and for customers.

The St Albans location has added resiliency to the greater Emmaus Hertfordshire branches. One staff member shares,

It’s taken a bit of pressure off. We have another shop that isn’t doing quite as well. It still means that we’re keeping steady. [It’s] a safety net.

Our early design workshops revealed that there was a fundamental issue with loading furniture and other goods into the shop. There were between 7 and 10 tonnes of furniture going through the front door each year, which caused “havoc” one companion described.

It’s made a vast improvement on the shop. I could remember one time we were having to lug an item, trying to stack it in there and trying to lift [sofas, king sized beds and stuff like that] past customers without hitting them... trying to get it through that front door, which is not exactly the biggest.
Companion

Friction with customers before the extension led to tense altercations. This friction was aggravated by the physical and psychological state the companions may be in at any particular time. One companion shared, “a lot of people that come in here they suffer from anxiety, depression… not able to talk to people. When I first moved in here, I had really bad anxiety”.

What we heard in our evaluation is that the new space has gone a long way to address the range of needs for the range of users. As a result of the building “you’re not banging around so much, you’re not trying to dodge customers” and “we don’t have customers diving on us before the furniture’s even been put up”.

Since construction, companions and staff have noticed a range of positive outcomes. Aside from, “it has made life a lot easier” the expanded space has ultimately resulted in:

  • Increased safety in the management of stock coming into and out of the shop - greater ease of working

  • More opportunities for companions to work and grow

  • Fewer mistakes, particularly around merchandising - greater confidence working on the shop floor

  • Reduced friction between companions and customers

  • A greater sense of place and belonging in the building

  • More professional layout of goods

These outcomes came to be because we facilitated a participatory discussion, reaching a consensus which served everyone - financial sustainability and dynamism for the organisation, an expanded and coherent shopping experience for customers and physical and psychological security for companions.

To learn more visit the project page >>

 

Author: N. Ardaiz

Break a habit, reach a goal

On #GivingTuesday, the global day of giving, we’re launching our winter campaign: #BreakToMake

We’re asking people to give it up to raise money for AzuKo. Every £1 you donate will enable vulnerable women in Bangladesh to attend essential ‘build for safety’ training. It costs £19 for one woman to join. We’re aiming to raise £475 to train 25 women in January 2019.

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign! You raised £656, which will enable 34 women to attend our training.

This is just the start - we aim to train 120 women in 2019. We’d love your continued support.

Find out more >>

Earthen plaster testing