Inclusive by design


I joined NICA at its outset in 2016, tasked with helping to get the Centre off the ground. I thought the role would be quite familiar to me as a Project Manager – setting up new systems and recruiting new staff. Almost immediately, however, I was thrown out of my comfort zone when I asked to link into the project to build our new home on the Newcastle Helix.

My role was to feed in NICA’s requirements for the building, capturing the team’s preferences on various design options, and working with NU colleagues, designers and VOICE members on some of the age-inclusive requirements for the building.

From travelling to Boston and Ireland with the architects to view other innovation centres, to attending weekly meetings with the design team, to trekking around a muddy building site in a hard hat, the project was the most challenging, fun and rewarding than I have ever been involved in.

One of the key priorities for the whole design team was to ensure the building was accessible and inclusive by design.  As well as following best practice guidelines, working with charities and academic experts, we benefitted from the insights of end-users, through Voice.  We held workshops to look at the building design, café and furniture selection and leant a lot from Voice members’ lived experiences. We also selected an interior design firm, Design North, with experience in inclusive design. They taught us a lot about compliant surfaces to prevent trips and falls, light reflectance values in colours to assist the visually impaired, and they also worked with us to develop a truly innovative way-finding system, that is more suitable for people with visual impairment and dementia than standard signage.

Being able to see first-hand the work that goes into a project of this scale was at times overwhelming – the expertise and attention to detail of the design team were beyond what I could have imagined.  And, like everyone who was in some way involved in the project, when the iconic building was completed in late 2019 I felt proud to have been a tiny part of it.

Moving into the Catalyst in December 2019 was an exciting but also nerve-wracking time (would our team find that the building functioned as they hoped).  But now when I walk into the building and see it being used as we envisaged – with public film showings in the theatre, business events in the workshop spaces and great coffee served in the café – I can’t help but smile!