New centre for Sense charity designed for a multi-sensory experience

Glenn Howells Architects (www.glennhowells.co.uk) and national deafblind charity Sense have won planning permission for a pioneering new £14m centre called TouchBase for disabled people and the wider community in Birmingham.

The purpose-built facility for Sense – an organisation that supports and campaigns for children and adults who are deafblind or have sensory impairments – has been designed specifically to cater for those the charity supports. Widened corridors can be navigated through differing floor surfaces and ‘sensory’ gardens contribute to a complex experienced in revolutionary new ways. Glenn Howells Architects worked closely with deafblind collaborators (TouchBase Champions) to create the perfect building for the end users, producing 3D physical models to convey the proposed layout inside and key features of the site.

Designed as four interlinked ‘suites’, the centre is arranged around a series of outdoor gardens that serve as public, semi-private and private spaces – these areas have been created in partnership with Coe Design Landscape Architecture. The sensory gardens will reconnect the users to the landscape through smell, touch and light, while also shielding the sensitive ground-floor spaces from the noise and activity of the nearby Bristol Road. A cafe and community space occupy a prominent position at the northern tip of the building, spilling out onto a newly created public plaza overlooking the canal.

Construction of the building will commence in late 2015 with an opening in 2017. TouchBase also aims to promote social inclusion through a substantial volunteering programme, develop integrated services for people with disabilities and the wider community and encourage further research opportunities. Alongside the neighbouring life sciences campus, this centre will contribute to the regeneration of the area.

The  project has already received £2.1m from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund – a scheme to create sustainable employment across  England.

Sense Chief Executive Gill Morbey said: “We are delighted that planning permission has been granted for TouchBase. The centre will provide integrated services for people with disabilities and the wider community and in time we hope it will become an exemplar model of care. We are also bringing considerable investment and substantial social and economic value, supporting the area’s regeneration and creating 130 jobs.”

Architect Glenn Howells said: “We are very pleased to be associated with TouchBase in Birmingham. This is an important project in that it has the opportunity, through the amazing work of Sense, to transform people’s lives and integrate people with sensory disabilities with the local community. Throughout the design process we have been working closely with the Sense team to make sure the building makes the maximum positive impact to this part of Birmingham but also improves the quality of life for the people who use it through the careful consideration of the parts of the building that help assist in overcoming disabilities.”

Lord Digby Jones, Baron Jones of Birmingham said: “I’m delighted to support Sense with their ambitious new centre in Selly Oak. It’s wonderful to see a major charity investing in Birmingham and I’m delighted that in addition to that, Sense is embracing a social enterprise model to respond to the challenges of supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

TouchBase will offer a range of fully accessible facilities for people with disabilities, businesses, other charities and the wider community. It will include direct Sense service provision, day care services, arts and well-being activities, a family and children’s area, conference facilities and a public café.

About Sense

Sense is a national charity that has supported and campaigned for children and adults who are deafblind for over 50 years. There are currently around 250,000 deafblind people in the UK. Sense provides specialist information, advice and services to deafblind people, their families, carers and the professionals who work with them. www.sense.org.uk

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