By Bart Hellyer, former Chair of SIA
As the former Chair of the Spinal Injuries Association, I´m delighted to have the opportunity to present the story of SIA House.
Our new headquarters were officially opened by our Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, on 2 December 2005. The event was the culmination of over three years´ determination, commitment and dedication by a great number of people. The opening of SIA House marked the shape of the future of our charity and provided the platform from which we would deliver our unique and life-changing support and services for spinal cord injured (SCI) people and their families all over the UK. The official opening marked the start of a new era for SIA.
We had to overcome considerable obstacles and pass significant milestones to build SIA House and we are indebted to so many people for helping in the building project since its initial conception in 2002.
“Having been involved from the beginning as both Chair of SIA and Chair of the Building Consultation Committee, I´m delighted to see SIA House come to fruition. SIA now has a secure and firm foundation for the future – the best imaginable base for all future SIA activity assisting the 40,000 paralysed people living in the UK.” – Jack Lawton
In 2002, as the lease on our premises in Muswell Hill, North London was coming to an end, we had to make some difficult decisions about our future. We had the options of seeking to renew the lease (but that was not assured), to rent another office in or within reach of London, or to build new purpose-designed premises.
And so the vision for SIA House emerged. The trustees decided to identify and purchase a suitable plot of land and drew up a design brief for a unique building combining environmental awareness and sustainability with our overriding requirement of universal accessibility for spinal cord injured and other disabled people. We wanted SIA House to demonstrate how to break down the barriers that have previously prevented SCI people getting employment and achieving independence at work.
The statistics for SCI people returning to employment within the UK spearheaded our Capital Appeal to raise funds to build our new headquarters. We met with Tim Watts, Chairman of Pertemps Investment Group, which incorporates 100 employment agencies within the UK. Learning that a considerably lower percentage of SCI people in the UK return to work compared with those in the USA and across Europe, Tim Watts was determined to do something to change that. Since our Capital Appeal was launched in June 2002, Tim Watts has led our fundraising initiatives with staggering determination and total supportiveness for our vision. This has raised funds to create a building that is an example of good practice for all employers.
“The Foundation is delighted to have supported SIA by providing land at a 25% of the full cost. SIA impressed us with their commitment of providing employment opportunities, an information and resource centre and their support of the local community. For these reasons, it is a privilege to be associated with SIA´s work, and everyone at the Foundation sends their very best wishes for their future activities both nationally and locally.” – Julia Seal, Chief Executive of the Milton Keynes Community Foundation
We are often asked why we chose Milton Keynes as the location for SIA House. Detailed and time-consuming research was undertaken to identify the most appropriate site for our new home. We had very specific criteria to meet, including a desire to remain within striking distance of London, to be close to major road links and to be serviced by good and accessible public transport. For us, Milton Keynes ticked all the boxes. In addition to this, the city has always been committed to accessibility, and this commitment continues as it embarks on major development plans over the coming years. We´re excited to be able to be part of that.
There have been many highlights associated with the project, and the support we received from Milton Keynes Council, English Partnerships and the Milton Keynes Community Foundation is definitely one of these. Between them, they helped us choose Milton Keynes as the new home for SIA, identify a suitable plot of land, and Milton Keynes Community Foundation´s willingness to give us a massive 75% reduction on the cost of our Oldbrook site helped us realise our dream.
We are sometimes asked why so much attention to the environment has been combined with the principle of accessibility in the design. As a professional organisation, SIA recognises that we need to demonstrate a responsibility to our environment and contribute to its protection. We were fortunate to receive a substantial grant from the Energy Saving Trust to fund the building´s eco-friendly features, like the photovoltaic cells that generate renewable energy, and a system to collect and reuse rainwater. These features result in reduced overheads and running costs, allowing us to channel even more resources into our services.
It would be impossible to detail all the incredible support we´ve received throughout the Capital Appeal since it was launched by our Patron HRH The Princess Royal in June 2002 without turning this story into an enormous volume. In the course of three years the appeal raised £2million, thanks to the support of so many individuals, organisations, companies, venues, trusts and foundations.
Of course, on any journey, with highlights come difficult times. Moving to Milton Keynes meant that we were forced to say goodbye to professional and dedicated members of staff who were unable to relocate from London. This was extremely difficult and painful for us. I would like to pay tribute to all those people who are no longer with SIA but have done so much to make us the organisation we are today.
We´ll always be indebted to everyone who has made the SIA House venture a possibility, and now a reality, for the Spinal Injuries Association. SIA House is a a superb base from which we are able to drive forward and develop our support and services to spinal cord injured people and their families, and making our campaigning presence felt at local, national and international level.