UWE team help build house for homeless family in Hungary

Issue date: 08 June 2009


UWE A team of students and staff from the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) will help complete a house for a homeless family in Hungary in just six days. The team travelled on 7 June and will come back on 14 June, with the aim of completing the house in one week with local help.

The team of twelve students and two staff and from the Faculty of the Built and Natural Environment have raised nearly £1,000 each to fund the project as well as paying for their air fares. The trip has been organised by the housing charity Habitat for Humanity (HfH).

The house is being built in Hajdubszormeny, a town of about 32,000 in the east of Hungary. Housing conditions are poor- many buildings from the communist era are in disrepair and apartments overcrowded. The average monthly income is $166 (30,000 HUF). 30% of the inhabitants earn under the living wage. The team will be staying at a local campsite and will be working 6 days with a day off at the end to visit Budapest before flying home.

Fiona Burrows, a building surveying lecturer who has had previous experience working for HfH is the staff contact from UWE. She said “The timber framed house has been designed by a local architect. The shell will be in place when we arrive and we will complete the fit-out with local tradespeople, the family who will occupy the house and their friends and relations. We expect to be tacking plasterboard, plastering and undertaking second fix carpentry.

She added “We are doing this project because we want to make a difference to somebody else's life as well as our own. Hungary is likely to suffer from the credit crunch more so than most new EC countries and poverty is just below the surface. We want to use it as a pilot scheme to encourage our students to spread the word and establish this as a multidisciplinary field trip that cuts across all courses in the built environment. We hope it will be something we do in future years.”

Adrian Birch, the Building Surveying course leader said “For students this is a worthwhile project as they will see the product of their labour and the money they have raised first hand. They will learn about the realities of life on a construction site. They will learn about the hardships endured by the people they are building for and the culture of the country they are working in. It will broaden their vision of the world and remind them how lucky they are to be in the UK. It will undoubtedly add value to their CV and hopefully make them more employable at a time when placement and work opportunities in the construction industry are drying up in the UK.”

Luke Sonnex, a final year student, who is leading the student team said, “After my placement with a big construction firm, I felt that I wanted to use the skills I had learnt at UWE to help other people. I wanted to use my knowledge of construction and project management skills and make a contribution to the lives of others. I am thinking about doing an MSc in project management so this is useful experience for me. I am also really looking forward to experiencing a different culture and staying with a family in Hungary.”

Ian Pearce the Project Director from Habitat for Humanity visited the University on 29 April to give the final briefing to the team. He said, “Habitat for Humanity is a housing charity established by Millard Fuller in the USA in the late 60s and since then has been working around the world with the express aim of eliminating poverty housing and homelessness worldwide, to raise awareness about the need for decent housing and to urge people to take action concerning this problem. We build houses through donations of money and building material, with the help of homeowner families and volunteer workers. The homes are then sold to low income families without profit and are financed with affordable loans. The partner families don't just pay back the cost of the house but they also have to help building their own house (sweat equity). The money that is paid back goes into a revolving fund so that we can build more houses for other people in need. In this way Habitat for Humanity creates a circle that helps more and more families.

“There are various schemes in the UK including one in Liverpool which is being supported by another university. Habitat for Humanity is well established in other universities and we are delighted that UWE will be joining the ranks.”

The UWE team includes two Building Surveyor staff members, and a mixed team of twelve mainly first year students studying BSc (Hons) Construction and Property Management, BA (Hons) Property Management and Investment, BSc(Hons) Building Surveying and BA (Hons)Housing.


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