Posted on October 13, 2005

Asian-Friendly Houses in Britain

NewKerala (India), Oct. 8

Bristol: An Asian housing association in Britain has built a block of flats especially designed not to offend Muslims — the toilets do not face Makkah [Mecca].

The 16 flats in the St Paul’s area here have been built by Bristol-based Aashyana Housing Association, an Asian-led organisation. The toilets in the apartments have been built in such a way that they do not face southeast.

Farooq Siddique, from the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society, said he welcomed developments that took into consideration the cultural diversity of tenants.

He said: “I think it is a good thing that the flats are designed in this way. We do live in a multi-cultural society and rather than just paying lip service to that, it is important that there are policies in place that address it.

“Having toilets facing the right way is an issue that comes up, as Muslims do not like using them if they are facing in that direction.”

Two of the 14 tenants who have already moved in are white. The remaining two flats are currently in the process of being let.

Built at a cost of 1.7 million pounds, the flats have a number of design features to make them user-friendly for Asian tenants.

These include a designated area of worship for Sikhs; powerful extractor fans in the kitchen because Asian families prefer steam cooking which leads to condensation problems; larger kitchen cupboards because Asian families tend to use more pots.

Saeed Anwar, chief executive of Aashyana Housing Association formed in 1992, told the local media: “We didn’t need to consult with the Muslim community about the toilets.

“We knew this would be pleasing to them if the toilets were not facing Mecca. It didn’t mean any extra cost to us — it was just a question of making sure they were not facing southeast.

“If we can build homes which are pleasing to all members of the community, then this is a good thing. If an English tenant moved in, they would use the cupboards or the toilets and not think about them — but it can make an extra difference to others.”

Anwar said tenants for the flats were chosen according to need, not colour, creed or race.

Marcus Knights, Aashyana’s development officer, who oversaw the building, said: “The project has been an exciting one and the quality of the homes we now have to offer people in this development is exceptional.”

One of the first residents to move in was Royal Mail worker Mustaf Hussain, who is sharing one of the two-bed flats with a friend.

He said: “We moved in as soon as we could. The apartment is fantastic and we were really happy to get it as we had been waiting to get a place. It is really modern and great for this area of the city where there is a lot of need for good housing.”

Hussain, who was referred to the housing association from Bristol City Council’s waiting list, had previously been homeless.

The flats were built to meet the demand for housing for south Asian people here and most of the cost of the scheme was met by the government-backed Housing Corporation with contributions by the city council and the association’s parent body, the William Sutton Group.

Anwar said: “We are not exclusively for Asians. Our doors are open, and we assess on a needs basis — people of all colours and creeds come to our homes.”

Bristol City Council spokeswoman Kate Hartas said:

“From the council’s perspective it is important that the city has good quality housing that meets the needs of our tenants, so we ensure that we work with a number of housing associations — including some smaller, specialist organisations — that can provide for specialist needs within a wide range.

“With all our allocations, we apply the normal criteria.

“But where there are two households of equal priority who qualify for an Aashyana home, we would offer to the household who would most benefit from the culturally — sensitive services that Aashyana provides.”