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Bespoke Careers

25 November 2020

25 November 2020

Q&A with the Architects Benevolent Society

To celebrate their 170th birthday, Bespoke Careers sat down with Katie Vivian, Operations Manager at the Architects Benevolent Society to discuss how they've coped during the COVID-19 pandemic, what resources they offer to those within the industry and their big birthday plans! 

1. What support do you offer and who qualifies for it?

ABS provides a holistic approach to supporting architects, architectural technologists, landscape architects and their families. Our basic eligibility criterion is one year’s professional experience in the UK in one of these professions or being a dependant of someone with this experience. 

We can help people with a range of difficulties including money and debt, mental health and wellbeing, employment, housing advice, physical health and disability. Whatever the issue, our welfare team responds with sensitivity, impartiality and of course, in confidence. Often, we can provide help within days. We have partnered with other organisations, including Anxiety UK, Shelter, Law Express and Renovo who can provide specialist advice and support in specific areas. More information is available on our new website

2. How have you had to adapt and change in order to continue delivering these services during the pandemic?

We have faced similar challenges to many organisations throughout the pandemic with our office being closed. However, we are proud that our delivery of support has not been affected (with the exception that our Welfare Officers have not been able to visit new beneficiaries, which is sometimes useful in assessing how best to help someone). Our technology has enabled us to communicate and respond as effectively as before the pandemic. With many people facing sudden changes to their circumstances, a swift response has been more important than ever.

3. Do you have examples that you can share of the support that you’ve given?

We have helped many people who have lost their job, have rent or a mortgage to pay, a family to support, and have had to apply for benefits for the first time. This has been overwhelming for some. Our welfare team has provided advice and guidance about what help is available from other sources, as well as arranging financial, psychological or specialist housing advice for people, often within days. We have supported people financially while they are waiting for the results of benefits claims, or mortgage holidays etc. meaning that they can keep a roof over their head and meet daily living expenses. Stories of how we have supported people are on our website here.

4. What areas of support have you seen the most increase in the need for recently?

At the beginning of the first lockdown, 80% of our new cases required financial support. Many people experienced a sudden reduction or complete loss of income. More recently, we have seen an increase in requests for mental health support. It is likely that the continuing restrictions, ongoing uncertainty of the world around and the future has had an impact on people’s ability to cope day to day. 

5. How do you feel the architecture industry has changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Possibly one of the biggest changes, apart from highlighting the vulnerability of the industry in such times, has been on working practices. The requirement to work from home during lockdown has led to many practices reassessing the way they operate. This is not specific to the architecture industry, but it seems to be an important factor going forward. Whilst it has been an incredibly challenging year, there may be some positives around embracing more flexible working practices so that people feel they have more balance in their lives.

6. What advice can you give to those studying architecture about the industry and the support they can get?

Studying architecture can be “varied, difficult, rewarding, stressful, exciting, challenging, brilliant and terrifying- all at the same time” (Abigail Patel, ABS Ambassador), and it’s true that this can continue once qualified. If the negatives are outweighed or balanced by the positives, then things generally go ok. However, if things becoming overwhelming, sometimes it may be helpful to seek support. Through ABS, undergraduate students of architecture, architectural technology and landscape architecture are eligible for free annual membership of Anxiety UK (which includes subscription to the Headspace app),as well as being able to access our dedicated AUK helpline and email support, which gives advice on self-management techniques for managing stress and anxiety. Student support services at universities are a good place to seek help and guidance too. The key message is to reach out before it all becomes too much. Why wait until you’re at your worst before asking for help? (Rosa Turner Wood, ABS Ambassador).

7. What campaigns do you have coming up in the near future?

We have just launched our new ’Foundation of Support’ campaign, so that more people know where and how they can access help if they need it, and encourage friends, colleagues and their families to come forward for support. We will be focusing on each of our different support services throughout the year and showcasing the excellent support available through our partners. We want to mobilise our supporters to spread the word so we can help to improve the quality of life for even more people.

8. Also, we’re big supporters of your Chicken Run event – do you have any other events coming up soon?

Our annual Chicken Run is always such an enjoyable day, and we have always welcomed the Bespoke team of runners, as well as being very grateful for the sponsorship, which helped make the event even more of a success. This year, we were overwhelmed by the engagement with our virtual Cooped Up Chicken Run, along with other virtual events such as Time 2 Sketch and our quiz ArchiTest. Our next big event is our virtual QuizMas, taking place on 10th December, and we are looking forward to a bit of healthy competition between teams! We have three dynamic hosts, representing the professions we support, it should be a fun event!

9. You’re celebrating 170 years in this week (congratulations!) How are you marking this special occasion?

We are so proud to be celebrating 170 years of being a foundation of support to the architectural community. During that time, as the world has developed, we have adapted to respond effectively to changing needs, but always with the core aim of improving quality of life for those in need.

The pandemic has necessitated that we celebrate virtually, so we have embraced this in a number of ways; the launch of our new website, which is designed to present information about how we can help in a clear and accessible way; our new Foundation Of Support campaign, which will run for the next year, and a short video featuring Jane Duncan, our President, and HRH The Duke of Gloucester, our Patron, along with beneficiaries and supporters.

10. Finally, do you have any other resources that you’d like to share?

There is so much advice and support available but sometimes in can be difficult to know where to start. Our new website has a helpful resources section, which includes information about redundancy support and provides links to other avenues of support, so it’s worth having a look there.

Some key resources which may be of use are:

The Architects Mental Wellbeing Forum toolkit for employers and employees which has practical tips for maintaining wellbeing, as well as a specific Covid-19 toolkit.

Our partner Anxiety UK has a number of very helpful resources, and sources of support relating specifically to ‘coronanxiety’ on their website.

We also work in collaboration with RIBA to deliver wellbeing webinars to practices which focus on managing wellbeing at this particularly challenging time. Contact us to find out more.

Author: Molly McCloy, Marketing Coordinator, Bespoke Careers

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