Designer Drop-In Center: homeless living rough in London, UK FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 4 Apr 1999 15:31:48 -0700 (PDT)

Commonwealth Street Colleges in free-store settings anyone?

How about free stores and job halls combining with free universities in a
single warehouse or neighborhood, helping poor and homeless people in an
atmosphere of tribal inclusion and celebration?

Wouldn't that be a direct action project?  See possibly related article below.
FWD  Associated Newspapers Ltd., 31 March 1999

     Lifestyle  (London Evening Standard/This is London)


One suggests a world of seasonally changing facades, fashions in paint
colour and sofas as style statements. The other is more concerned with
providing a safe, warm place to put your head down for the night. But Paul
Daly, 35, who designed the hip Elbow Room in Westbourne Grove and the Saint
bar, off Leicester Square, is the man behind the new look at The London
Connection, in Covent Garden, the only voluntary day-care centre in the UK
open 365 days a year.

What is a designer used to creating visual effects with wood laminate, cool
chrome, Milanese-made furniture, Perspex and parquet flooring doing at a
homeless project? After all, this is a well-known figure on the London
music and fashion scene (he designed Ozwald Boateng's Savile Row showroom)
and he hangs out with Bono's U2 in his native Dublin?

"I want to help by doing what I'm good at," he says. "I'd be no good
knocking around with homeless people all day  -  my forte is design. There
are young people who are in London with no money, ripe for pimps and
pushers with nowhere to turn. I think it is an amazing thing to be involved

The project is to turn London Connection into a modern, counselling
environment for the homeless. Inside, there will be wood ceilings, and
up-lighting in the cellars, and Daly's signature look of high-tech
materials combined with organic forms. If it sounds more like a design
concept for a modern loft development than a cash-strapped centre where 200
young homeless people drop by every day, Daly is quick to point out that
the project  -  which is backed by many supportive trusts and companies  -
is being completed on a comparatively tiny budget of £70,000. Most of
the materials and labour are being provided at cost-price, says Daly,
including his own services. "Nothing about it will be gratuitously
expensive." And, he argues, it will "create an environment with a vibe that
encourages young people to help themselves. At the moment, it feels like a
boarding-school canteen."

To this end, interior windows will open up the space, with oneway glass to
provide privacy in counselling rooms. These will be moved away from the
centre of the building and sound-proofed. Walls will be knocked through to
create more space, with the fluorescent lighting changed to create a more
calming atmosphere. Furniture in the TV room has been designed to be
comfortable, but not so comfortable that visitors are tempted to sleep on
it. Similarly, the pool-table room  -  typically male-dominated  -  has
been opened out to discourage such an enclave. As Colin Glover, director of
the London Connection, notes: "The aim is to create a place of warmth and
safety, where young people feel valued. But it's also a tightrope: it can't
be so nice they don't want to leave. We aim to create independence, not

Daly had wanted to put a window in the main entrance, but was persuaded
this would create problems with rowdy visitors who had been barred. These
are factors Daly has perhaps not had to consider before.

But it is not the first time the designer, whose client list includes the
restaurant Kassoulet, and LAB, a Soho bar opening this month, has offered
solutions to homelessness. He worked on Crash Bang Wallop!, a recent
competition to design a cold-weather shelter system.

Daly is just as excited about his latest project. "The kids may be on the
street, but they're still into bands, the latest jacket, trainers, that
whole youth vibe. These are simply people with no money at this point in
their lives. The idea is to empower them. If they feel worthy of a good
place that someone has put work into, they'll feel better off. And a day
centre should be as good as the next place. Not the Ritz, but as good as
the next place."

"I was fortunate. My dad had dosh, so even when I was roughing it up I had
somewhere to go to. But can you imagine not having anywhere to go? It blows
my mind."

Associated Newspapers Ltd., 31 March 1999


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