Helping Hands Autism Resource Centre


A renovation project to transform a rundown, worn-out building into a vibrant hive of activity.

Autism sensory room

Behind all the intricate components that go into a building project, it is essential to get a glimpse of what makes a client tick. Helping Hands were one such client where passion, dedication and lively enthusiasm were evident at the forefront of everything they did.  

The charity organisation was formed in 2008 by a group of parents of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) to help and support families who found themselves in similar circumstances.  

It was overwhelmingly apparent that they were a warm, gracious community who loved, supported and journeyed with each other through the highs and lows of each individual’s situation.

Games and activity space
Communal community room for various activites

To fully grasp what the building needed to be for the children who would use the building, REQA invested in specific learning to understand specific requirements.

To help further their work, Helping Hands managed to acquire a disused community building at Millar’s Lane, Dundonald next door to Longstone Special School.  The original premises comprised of disused spaces - reception area, large assembly hall, kitchen, toilet, a variety of office space and various storerooms.

The brief was to convert the existing somewhat tired building into a warm, relaxed, safe and welcoming facility. Spaces were reconfigured to meet the needs of the children and accommodate new state-of-the-art equipment in the specialist centre.  

In the early stages of the project, we dedicated time to investigate the vital design considerations that would fulfil the needs and operations the group required.  As details, plans and specifications evolved, we defined the specification to elements such as the finishes, patterns and colours which are vital to achieving success within an ASD environment.  

New kitchen installation
New community room

Within different  parts of the building, there is a high-tech specialist sensory zone and games room.  On the first floor, another reconfigured open plan room that is used for a variety of activities such as computer classes/IT training or teaching seminars.   

A counselling room is also included within the layout to provide a calming and relaxing environment for the children. Still, those needing to burn off some energy there is a secure outdoor play area that includes both play equipment and sensory garden.  

In meeting the initial brief, a warm, open, centrally located reception facility was incorporated off a newly integrated entrance lobby with a new welcome counter, soft seating and information wall.  This space led in to the large double-height main hall that will be the hub and focus of the daily operations within the building.  

The centre is now home to newly formed women’s groups, support sessions, social groups, parent and toddler groups, and the opportunity for birthday party rentals.

New entrance reception waiting area
Community | Adaptive Re-Use
Project Architect & Lead Consultant
Dundonald, Belfast
Helping Hands Autism Resource Centre
425 m²

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