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 5 Questions for 5 years.

On the 28th February 2021, France + Associates turns 5 years old. In this Q&A, Founder and Managing Director, Jonathan France, reflects on the past few years and where he sees the future of inclusive design.

  1. What advice do you wish you’d received when starting out with your own business?

Striking a balance between work and downtime has been probably the most important lesson for me, so advice on how to implement work/life boundaries from the start would have been handy. Plus, maybe to take things slower, enjoy the journey and don’t lose that optimism! I’m also one to write lists and tick items off when its finished and I’ve had to learn that the “list” never really ends, and its ok to leave some items over for another time to complete.

A good work-life balance is something I have come to learn and enjoy more due to the pandemic, something I thought I was already doing before. For all its negativity, it has actually improved my family life and quality time with my kids, which is the main reason why I decided to fly solo from the start.

With regards being a natural optimist, well I think I fall into that category however working within the architectural industry can often lead to strong pessimism. In my opinion, being optimistic has lead to greater success, even if it was to start with a rubbish idea!

I certainly wouldn’t give my younger self any spoilers as to what will come up, as each challenge has proved to be either a life/business lesson or an unexpected business opportunity. I don’t regret anything in the past 5 years for those reasons. 

  1. Fast forward 5 years and where so you see yourself and France + Associates?

Being allowed to travel abroad and having my self build finally complete! Business wise, perhaps looking at alternative fields/markets that our skillset and experience lends itself to. We’d like to expand into fields where our services are more integrated with Case Managers & Occupational Therapists, and there has been some interest in that area that will hopefully develop over the coming years.

Long term, we’d like to venture into property development, specifically in the inclusive market. Accessible housing remains a big issue in the UK. 

  1. What client project are you and your team most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them, all of the Clients we have worked for are characters with their own distinct personalities, and their home reflects the same. They are some of the most inspirational people to meet and work for. I’m just grateful they chose myself and my team to be part of their journey.

There are a number that stand out such as my former Client, Dean Smahon, probably one of the most inspiring and positive people I’ve ever met. I was introduced to him at a potential rental property and we had to get all works complete to adapt within two weeks before he was evicted. It was a stressful time, but Dean and his wife Kirsty made it so much easier to work with. I’ve heard they now have a family of their own which brings great pleasure to being involved on their journey to rebuild their lives.

The Clients I enjoy working with are young Clients, who invariably are still smiling despite all the matters around them. When speaking to a young girl recently of 11 years, she had a list of things she wanted in her home from a planetarium room, to a swimming area and even specified ground source heat pumps, telling me how they work!

In other instances, I’ve seen young Clients who were withdrawn in their unadapted home come out of their shell and blossom in their forever home. I also recall a certain young boy who would call out from his lounge window, attracting my attention by saying “Oi Jonathan”, I would respond “yes” and then he’d respond with “you smell” or “I don’t like you”. He thought it was one of the funniest things to do and every tradesperson onsite was victim to it whilst building his extension.

Its fulfilling experiences like that where you know what you’re doing is important to a person to get on with life, that makes all the effort so worthwhile. 

  1. What trends do you see influencing and shaping inclusive design in the future?

The more a problem is discussed and receives attention, the more likely it can be resolved or worked on. There is definitely a larger focus or “trend” on making buildings and homes more accessible, such as the recent roll out of Changing Places in public buildings, but there is still a long way to go.

In my opinion, unless certain design requirements become mandatory rather than optional under legislation, we will continue to see them engineered out of projects, for someone like France & Associates to pick up the pieces and fix the access problem for a Client who wants access to their prospective home. There remains a continued risk for accessible features to be a token gesture rather than an integrated part of the design and building use, as it should be.

Going forward, modular construction or buildings/homes that are built like a “flat pack” and put together onsite is a great way to build safely and quickly. I can see this becoming more important as the shortage of homes grow, and how this is influenced with making them “accessible” and “adaptable” to accommodate the changing needs of any homeowner, will be really interesting. 

  1. Building projects can be stressful at the best of times, but you’re working with clients and families who are experiencing unimaginable upheaval in their lives. What do you do to make the process as smooth as possible?

Smile 😊

Unfortunately we cannot solve all of their problems, but being patient and understanding goes a long way. We like to make our Clients feel like they can talk to us at any time, and that they have an ally to support them during the construction process.

It’s a daunting prospect, but being positive and providing timely reminders or advice tends to help with the smooth running of the process.

 

Can’t say it works all the time though! We try!

 

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01484 960560 or email us +

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