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Dromore
Northern Ireland
BT25 1AY

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Helping Hands Autism Resource Centre

Specialist ASD resource centre supporting East Belfast.

Sensory colour and lighting activity space. Interaction and stimulation area | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast
One of REQA’s best attributes is the collective desire and ability to get alongside Clients to understand their specific aspirations and brief.  Very often, a project is driven by costs, value for money and speed of delivery. However, behind all these components, it is essential to get a glimpse of what makes a Client tick.
 
Helping Hands were one such Client where passion, dedication and lively enthusiasm were evident at the forefront of everything they did.  The charity organisation was formed in 2008 by a group of parents with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help and support families who found themselves in similar circumstances.
 
It was overwhelmingly apparent that they were a warm, gracious community who loved, supported and journeyed with each other through the highs and lows of each individual’s situation.
Reception Area | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast
Dining and activity space | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast

The existing features - large floor area, high ceiling & natural lighting - allowed this space to transform into the dining room primarily yet flexible to meet other uses. 

To fully understand what the building needed to be for the children, REQA invested in specific research and learning.

To help further their work, Helping Hands managed to acquire a disused community building at Millar’s Lane, Dundonald next door to Longstone Special School.  The original premises comprised of disused spaces - reception area, large assembly hall, kitchen, toilet, a variety of office space and various storerooms.
 
The brief was to convert the existing somewhat tired building into a warm, relaxed, safe and welcoming facility. Spaces were reconfigured to meet the needs of the children and accommodate new state-of-the-art equipment in the specialist centre.
 
In the early stages of the project, we dedicated time to investigate the vital design considerations that would fulfil the needs and operations the group required.  As details, plans and specifications evolved, we defined the specification to elements such as the finishes, patterns and colours which are vital to achieving success within an ASD environment.
Dining and activity space | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast
Fresh and improved kitchen fit out | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast

The bespoke kitchen is important for hosting large community gatherings.

We worked with the sensory equipment installer to ensure coordination of aspects of sensitive requirements of the children who would be using the facility. The main assembly space was designed to be flexible with an interactive floor and wall introduced. Just off the hall, there is both an arts and crafts/role-playing room and a newly fitted kitchen with wheelchair facilities. The new kitchen is designed in such a way to facilitate group classes where staff will teach the children life skills.
 
Within the other parts of the building, there is a high-tech specialist sensory zone and games room.  On the first floor, another reconfigured open plan room that is used for a variety of activities such as computer classes/IT training or teaching seminars.
 
In meeting the initial brief, a warm, open, centrally located reception facility was incorporated off a newly integrated entrance lobby with a new welcome counter, soft seating and information wall.  This space led into the large double-height main hall that will be the hub and focus of the daily operations within the building.
REQA were totally professional in every way to completing this project. They took into consideration the needs of the children and families who had disabilities.
Children's learning and activity space. Interaction and stimulation area | REQA Architect Design | Adaptive Reuse project - refurbishment of existing building | Helping Hands Autism Centre Belfast

The group activity room is designed with flexibility that offers multiple uses.

The renovation had transformed the rundown, worn-out building into a vibrant hive of activity. The centre is now home to newly formed women’s groups, support sessions, social groups, parent and toddler groups, and the opportunity for birthday party rentals.
 
Many people were in attendance at the opening ceremony, including leading political representatives who had championed and supported the hard work of the Helping Hands community.  The new facility was unveiled and presented as a safe space for children and support for parents.

Data

Project

Creation of ASD specialist community space

Location

Millers Lane, Dundonald, Belfast

Scale

472 m²

Status

Complete

Typology

Community
Adaptive Reuse

Photography / Imagery

REQA

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