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Recently qualified architect wins Habinteg 2020 Prize essay competition

Recently qualified architect, Kathryn Thomas, is the winner of the Habinteg 2020 Prize essay £2,500 cash prize and she credits her mum as the inspiration for her essay.

“The main reason I entered is that my mum has multiple sclerosis,” said Kathryn, “and it’s been heart-breaking to see how she’s treated.

“You phone up places and ask ‘are you accessible?’ They say yes, and you get there and they’re not. It’s a massive frustration, this misunderstanding of what accessible is.”

The competition

The competition was open to academic and non-academic entrants, including disabled people and students, who were asked to submit essays that considered what the next 50 years might bring in the realm of accessibility.

Kathryn’s essay calls for a re-evaluation of town planning, greater emphasis on inclusion and accessibility, and for an evaluation of national policy to ensure accessible housing is delivered in all new developments.

She also argues for dedicated legislation to secure built environment designs that would better include people with profound and multiple learning difficulties, autism and dementia.

As winner, Kathryn has the opportunity to take up a week-long placement with Habinteg’s specialist access team, the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) who support clients to create and manage built environments that everyone can use, and train the next generation of inclusive design specialists.

Top down approach

Kathryn was announced winner during Habinteg’s virtual 50th anniversary event, recently. She told the event’s close to 100 guests that change has to start at the top and must include education.

“All of us are doing our best to live with the issues related to disability and we can do everything we can, but it’s not enough unless we get government to change it, council’s to change their attitude and take a top down approach,” she said.

“I don’t think we teach children what disability is so how are adults meant to understand it?”

The event was attended by parliamentarians and accessible housing advocates Lord Jamie Borwick and Baroness Celia Thomas of Winchester, both Members of House of Lords, and #ForAccessibleHomes supporter and winner of the 2018 Britain’s Got Talent TV show, comedian Lee Ridley AKA Lost Voice Guy.

Lord Borwick led the judging panel for the essay prize. Speaking about the essay, he said: “Kathryn’s essay stood out from the crowd for the judges as it took a broad view of the notion of impairment, taking into account the needs of neuro-diverse people as well as the more commonly discussed topic of physical disability.”

He added: “We must ensure that the many places that are inhospitable to large numbers of disabled people in the built environment, not least the majority of homes that are already built, are truly accessible and inclusive."

Runners-up

Two £500 runner-up prizes went to Westminster University student Clare Bond and Catalina Morales Maya of Oxford Brookes University.

Catalina’s essay focused on the impact of ageing and the progress of technology on our collective needs over the next 50 years. Meanwhile Clare’s describes her essay as an immediate manifesto for change within the architecture and the wider construction industry.

Habinteg’s interactive 50th event included a video from the Housing Minister, The Rt. Hon Chris Pincher MP.

Numerous tenants also featured in the celebration including six Habinteg Lockdown Angels, tenants from around the country who have gone above and beyond to help people in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insight Group member and disability campaigner Delores Taylor and blogger, campaigner and Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 influencer Kerry Thompson also spoke at the event.

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