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									          Access and Sustainability Advisory Service

Jenny Field, Principal Grants Officer at the Bridge House Trust (BHT),
explains the history and purpose of the Trust, it’s grant-making activities,
and introduces a new service designed to help grant applicants make their
buildings more accessible and sustainable.

The Bridge House Trust began making grants in September 1995. Though
relatively young as a grant-maker, our origins can be traced back to 1097 when
William Rufus, second son of William the Conqueror, raised a special tax to help
repair the wooden London Bridge. In 1176, during the reign of Henry II, Peter De
Colechurch, a priest and head of the Fraternity of the Brethren of London Bridge,
began building the first stone bridge across the River Thames. The bridge, with
its 19 arches, was completed 33 years later in 1209 and was to last for the next
600 years.

In those days, people lived and worked on the bridge, enabling rents and taxes
to be levied. Over the years, the Bridgemasters maximised income from a great
variety of sources including, for example: ‘receiving tolls on carts passing over
the Bridge, tolls from ships passing under the Bridge and fines for unlawful
fishing from the Bridge’. For centuries London’s citizens had made ‘pious gifts of
land and money… to God and the Bridge’. The building of bridges was considered
so important it was perceived to be an act of piety.

In relatively recent years the Bridge House Trust built Blackfriars Bridge and
purchased Southwark Bridge and finally, just over a century ago, constructed
Tower Bridge. In February 2002, the Trust took over the ownership and
maintenance of the new pedestrian-only Millennium Bridge, which spans the
Thames between St Paul's and Bankside.

The City of London is the sole trustee of the Trust Fund and whilst the prime
purpose of the Bridge House Trust remains the maintenance of the bridges for
which it is responsible, a new Cy Prés scheme was agreed in April 1995, allowing
the Trust to use any surplus income not required for maintaining the bridges to
be used to fund charitable activity across Greater London. The Trust’s grant-
making budget for 2005/06 is £16.95m.

Grants programmes

The Trust has five main grants programme areas:

      Access for Disabled People
      London’s Environment
      Children and Young People
      Older People
      Strengthening the Voluntary and Community Sector

The Trust has always had a strong commitment to removing the barriers,
physical or otherwise, that prevent disabled people from participating in society.
Our Access for Disabled People programme includes the specific priority of
improving access to community buildings. Over the years we have made some
240 grants totalling £14m towards the capital costs of improving access to
buildings. Beneficiaries have included church halls, community centres,
community arts facilities and local museums and galleries.

Access auditing

Since September 2000, we have also required organisations wishing to make an
Access to Building application to have had an access audit carried out first, in
order to inform their application. Grants of up to £5,000 can be made for this
purpose and can include other costs such as disability equalities training.

We like to think of ourselves as a learning organisation and over the last ten
years our awareness of disability issues has grown enormously as we have tried
to encourage applicants to think about best practice guidance and to become
more inclusive. We take the view that attitudinal accessibility is much more
important than developing a state-of the-art facility where a disabled person
does not feel welcome or comfortable.

As we have matured as a grant-maker, and as the pressure on our limited funds
grows, we have become increasingly interested at trying to add value to our
grants by funding a limited number of strategic initiatives each year aimed at
tackling some of the issues we have seen arise from our day-to-day grant-

We have become aware that for many community organisations, especially
smaller ones, overseeing a building project is a one-off experience and that
many community organisations lack information about what an access audit is,
how to go about getting one done, what to do with it afterwards, or who is best
placed to carry out an access audit. We found ourselves trying to answer
questions on a myriad of subjects – where to find out about disability equality
training; finding and appointing architects, quantity surveyors and so on; what
works are liable for VAT and what is exempt.

New post

While our knowledge as a team grows on a daily basis none of us are experts in
this field and the Grants Committee decided it wanted to fund a post located
within an appropriate organisation to offer the advice, information, signposting
and handholding that we had identified as an unmet need in the sector. At its
December 2005 meeting, the Bridge House Grants Committee awarded CAE a
grant of £155,000 over three years to support an Access and Sustainability
Adviser to provide advice and information to voluntary and community groups
wishing to make their buildings more accessible and sustainable. We are
delighted that Pontus Westerberg has been appointed to the post.

As well as providing advice to Bridge House applicants, the project is open to all
voluntary and community organisations in Greater London. Pontus will be
providing telephone and email advice; making visits to organisations where
appropriate; developing a dedicated webpage about the service on CAE’s
website; and producing a range of booklets and fact sheets.
The post has been called an Access and Sustainability Adviser to reflect the
Trust’s interest in London’s environment and sustainability issues. We think that
if an organisation is considering making access improvements as part of a
general refurbishment of its building, this provides a good opportunity to also
look at the environmental impact of the building. Pontus will be able to signpost
people to appropriate organisations able to carry out environmental audits.

Ethical Property Foundation

At its meeting in December, the Trust also awarded a grant of £77,200 over
three years to the Ethical Property Foundation (EPF) towards the salary of a post
providing a comprehensive property advice and support service for the voluntary
and community sector in London. This is a relatively new charity that has
evolved from the Ethical Property Company. The latter organisation buys
properties and develops them as centres bringing charities, cooperatives,
community and campaigning organisations together under one roof where they
can share skills and ideas. This post holder will be developing a register of
approved property professionals willing to provide charities with a high quality,
low-cost service on such matters as lease negotiation, valuation, conveyancing,
repairs and refurbishment. A website will also be developed - providing a wide
range of information about what tenants can expect in terms of leases, break
clauses, liabilities such as dilapidations and rent reviews. It will also point out
the sharper practices of some landlords that are best avoided.

We are very excited about the potential synergy of these two initiatives and CAE
and EPF are already in dialogue to explore ways of working together to
complement and add value to their projects.

For further information on the Access and Sustainability Advisory Service,
contact Pontus Westerberg, CAE Access & Sustainability Officer,
Email, tel 020 7840 0125

For further information on the Ethical Property Foundation,
contact Jo Taylor, Email, tel 020 7065 0760.

For further information on the Bridge House Trust,
contact Jenny Field, Email, tel 020 7332 3710.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of Access by Design,
the journal of the Centre for Accessible Environments

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