16 July 2020


“Being part of the AWF Partner Network is a great experience as is the opportunity to work with them on different projects. We all want to design meaningful spaces and outcomes and doing it within the framework of AWF results in a fantastic outcome.”

Deiter Lim, Managing Director of Tract Consultants shares his insights on being an AWF Network Partner and the future of pro bono work in the built environment sector

Tract has been a key supporter of AWF not only through participation in many great projects but also in providing AWF with a home which has made a huge difference to the way that AWF operates – the support is invaluable. Could you tell us how you first come across AWF and what motivated you to provide AWF with a “home”?

Esther Charlesworth and Steve Calhoun (Founding Director of Tract Consultants), were discussing a collaboration with a friend or an artist for something and AWF came up in that context. I was already aware of AWF but hadn’t yet connected. Esther reached out to Tract and said that AWF was looking for partners and invited Tract to become a financial partner. And it was a fairly simple decision. It was “yes, that’s fine – that would be great!” It was something that we were already looking to do.

As part of our work ethos we were already questioning what pro bono work we could do. And this just meant that we could actually have some structure around that. Otherwise you get people asking for pro bono things and you just don’t know whether it’s actually truly required as a pro bono give back or someone is just trying to get a discount on things. But with AWF you know that it is so valuable in that space to give back. You can be sure that you are actually giving back. So it was a simple decision when Esther asked the question.

In terms of providing the home, again it was a simple decision as well when the home at Grollows was no longer available to them, Esther asked me “Do you know of any space that is potentially available?” And because we had only just moved into the new office, we had space. It was three or four months after we moved into the new office that she asked, and I said yes. The whole office is set up as flexible workspace, so it is great to have AWF there because, again, the pro bono piece is front and centre. It shows our staff when we talk about it that it our engagement with pro bono work through AWF is meaningful because we are supporting not just in the project work that we do but in the organisational aspect and the running of AWF. We are supportive in all of that. So again, it was a simple decision. It is also great for our staff and it represents the ethos and it just shows it all working in tandem. It really is a representation of our ethos.

In terms of your collaboration with AWF, what would you say has been the most interesting aspect of that?

I think in the collaboration, it’s the exposure and really getting to know the other Network Partners. Because in the industry you are either competing directly against them or you are competing against them on different teams or you’re working with them. So, to all work together on something where you are all just giving back, there isn’t any real competition involved as to who’s going to win the job and who’s going to win the project and so on. I think that is one of the really key pieces. It has enabled a connection with the other offices and the other teams, and you just get a connection with them. Knowing them through the partner network is a great experience as is the opportunity to work with them on different projects. We all want to design meaningful spaces and outcomes and doing it within the framework of AWF results in a fantastic outcome.

Working with AWF also exposes staff to the plight of those less fortunate. Design can have a great impact on people’s lives and working for vulnerable communities through design provides the staff with an opportunity to take this ethos and see what great design can achieve. It is a great opportunity for them.

How do you see the future of pro bono design work and the work of organisations such as AWF in a COVID 19 world?

I think there are two ways that this could go. The bushfire affected communities in Australia have taken a double hit in the last six months. In this context, the requirement for pro bono work is actually greater, especially as the budgetary response has been redirected to fighting COVID 19. So rebuilding towns and communities affected by bushfires is difficult with less financial resources and will actually require more pro bono work for those communities.

Subject to how the recession unfolds, this will determine the ability of firms to provide financial help. It is too early to ascertain what might happen.

Tract has weathered the storm very well and we have been fortunate not to have had to let any staff go. A few staff have taken the opportunity to change direction and taken up new positions either inter-state or internationally. But we have not actually had to let anyone go. We are committed to trading through this and plan to stay with AWF and continue to support AWF all the way through. It is clear that globally we have all found a way to continue to work. We have changed the way that we do things and while COVID 19 has definitely impacted the way that we deliver projects, we have been able to successfully navigate the changed environment so far.

We are still able to create and design and talk to people and deliver. We are just limited in terms of our site visits and our face to face meetings. We are still able to deliver our pro bono work. We are currently supporting AWF through our work on the women’s centre and the garden project, and I think that, unfortunately, we are likely to see an increased demand for bono work around homelessness and domestic violence. The need is ever more important for responding to these demands and hopefully all firms will be able to continue to engage in and support pro bono work and to trade through this challenging period.

However, it is clear that there is still a very long road ahead.