Nicholson Quarter designs win award thanks to visually impaired Holyport teen

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams
Nicholsons Quarter designs win award thanks to visually impaired Holyport teen

Architects have won an award for their work after taking the advice of a visually impaired teenager from Holyport to help guide their vision for Maidenhead town centre.

Areli and JTP Architects, designers of the Nicholson Quarter, won the award for their work’s ‘genuine attempts’ to understand the needs of ‘all the community’, following conversations with people with disabilities.

The Nicholsons Shopping Centre redevelopment will see the centre make way for 660 homes, 60 shops and restaurants, and workspace for 2,000 people.

In 2019, partially-sighted Maleeka Abbas from Holyport (then 13 years old) helped architects make their plans more mindful of those with disabilities.

Maleeka’s suggestions were inspired by examples of accessible infrastructure around the world – ideas that would benefit those with any disabilities.

Ideas she presented included pavements made with tactile materials of contrasting colours and shop assistants who are trained to know when to approach someone who might need help.

Other suggestions included a phone app that would help people navigate the town, wide and well-lit stairs and lampposts in sensible locations with tactile surrounds.

Looking back, Maleeka – who recently turned 16 – said she noticed that signs and odd objects like buckets were often left in the way and can present a hazard, as architects discovered for themselves.

Emmet O’Sullivan, senior JTP architect, was blindfolded and walked around site using Maleeka’s cane and alongside a sighted guide.

“Tripping over or needing to stop can be detrimental,” said Maleeka.

“A lot of the time, we don’t realise what’s in front of us. It’s a shock to have that experience. It’s a whole other world, an experience he wouldn’t otherwise have.

“Doing something like this makes such an impact – guiding people through what it’s like is my favourite way to do that.

“As a young person you’re often overlooked, so it’s amazing how my voice was acknowledged and we made progress. They respected me and we made a good team.”

These experiences with Maleeka led the company to think about its plans and make some adjustments.

In the Planning Awards 2022, the Nicholson Quarter won the award for ‘stakeholder engagement in planning’.

This means, of all the entries, the architects were the most engaged with outside inputs to guide their design.

The judges admired JTP’s ‘innovative approach to engagement’.

Charles Campion, JTP Partner said, “We are delighted to have won this Planning Award 2022 and we thank the Maidenhead community for their local knowledge and creativity through the process and their support for the proposals that have emerged to transform the town centre.”

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