Citizens Advice sets trend for multi-use buildings

The news that the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is set to use churches, and other places of worship, to provide face-to-face advice in the local community, after cuts in their funding meant their own property portfolio has been rationalised, got me thinking what other buildings could become multi-use.

People already use coffee shops, parks, museums and galleries to perch with their laptops and catch up on emails. Meanwhile many home-based knowledge workers, disillusioned with (or lacking the discipline to) work from home pop to libraries or use their local serviced office (which are springing up all over the place and not just from the likes of Regus and MWB) occasionally.

How about schools outside of term times? Colleges and universities hire out their facilities to organisations for conferences, is there a role for schools to become mini drop-in centres for advice, get-togethers or even a local hub for workers (although the chairs can be on the small side sometimes…).

The gym is a perfect place for a bit of post-workout working – a decent café with healthy juices and WiFi would attract a professional clientele.

Churches hosting non-religious community groups is nothing new. Previous guidelines have encouraged churches to host post offices and community shops and many have already started accommodating the Citizens Advice Bureaux. Spilsby Methodist Church in Lincolnshire, for example, secured funding to develop part of the church as a community centre with interview rooms, a community area, kitchen area, toilets, and is now being used by the East Lindsey CAB. The upstairs of the church was also converted into a “Bunk Barn” offering basic accommodation to tourists as part of the project, which also involved partnering with the Church of England and Age UK.

Citizens Advice are well versed in providing their services in different facilities – they currently operate from more than 3,500 locations including high streets, community centres, doctors’ surgeries, courts and prisons.

But there are downsides – my local parish priest went apoplectic when he discovered that what he thought was an exercise class in the parish hall turned out to be yoga which he felt went against Catholic teaching. Following on from the local youth group holding a halowe’en party in the facility, he was feeling a little sensitive about his parishioners’ more subversive activities. Perhaps anticipating these concerns, Citizens Advice has produced Faithful Advice, a guide for places of worships in setting up advice sessions in their buildings.

The lesson for facilities managers in these cash-strapped times, must surely be to look at how to get the best out of your facility – what other groups might be keen to use your building or its grounds at little or no cost to you (or even provide an income?)? And if you work in the charity sector, what local businesses might be happy for you to piggyback off their built environment?

Construction and facilities professionals talk a great deal about building new ‘flexible’ buildings which are future proofed for a variety of needs, but it’s important to remember that there are thousands of buildings already out there which could easily be used for different purposes. It’s just a question of opening our eyes to the possibilities.

Do you know of other good examples of multi-use buildings? We’d love to hear from you.

Cathy Hayward