11/06/2009 - 00:00

Coda builds Palmerston partnership

11/06/2009 - 00:00

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THE economic downturn has drastically affected the bottom line of many Western Australian businesses, yet while the level of project activity remains subdued, some firms are turning to pro-bono work to keep busy.

WORKING OUT: Palmerston Association’s Rob O’Brien and Catherine Wilson have engaged architecture firm Coda for pro-bono work. Photo: Grant Currall

THE economic downturn has drastically affected the bottom line of many Western Australian businesses, yet while the level of project activity remains subdued, some firms are turning to pro-bono work to keep busy.

Beaconsfield-based Coda is among the many architectural studios to experience a surge in demand during the economic boom, which left little time for pro-bono work. But the current downturn has provided Coda with an opportunity to donate more time and resources to charitable causes.

The firm recently embarked on a pro-bono project with rehabilitation service provider Palmerston Association to build a barn for Palmerston Farm, a farm for recovering substance abusers.

It was the first time Coda had entered into such a partnership, yet despite the large amount of time and expenses incurred, founders Emma Williamson and Kieran Wong remain optimistic about pursuing future pro-bono opportunities.

Ms Williamson said the Palmerston Farm project had communicated the firm's philosophy and ideals to staff members.

"In some ways the expenses and time were felt more acutely in a tougher financial climate, but this has also strengthened our commitment to the project," Ms Williamson told WA Business News.

"Part of our enthusiasm toward designing and building the horse barn was its role in team-building for our staff.

"We can imagine projects in the future where this may again be appropriate, but we are also looking to assist small groups and organisations in developing ideas in order to gain funding."

Mr Wong said the benefits from taking part in pro-bono work far outweighed the costs incurred.

"The running of a practice for us is akin to a familial environment - we have staff here that we employed as students and we have all grown together," he said.

"In some cases they have been part of our family structure too, helping out on weekends with building our house or the renovation of our office.

"Pro bono reaffirms our commitment to the values of social justice that Emma and I were brought up with, and provides a practical means for us and our practice to provide assistance to organisations and communities that were left behind in the recent economic boom WA has experienced."

The barn was built for just $7,000 - about $120 per square metre - with Coda's staff donating one day per month to complete the project.

If the studio continues to donate one day per month to pro-bono projects for the rest of the year, it will be the equivalent of a $40,000 investment for Coda annually in community-based projects, or about 5 per cent of the firm's total annual wage costs.

Palmerston Association acting chief executive Catherine Wilson said the not-for-profit organisation's marginalised clients would benefit greatly from Coda's charitable work.

Ms Wilson commended the work and vision of Palmerston support services manager, Rob O'Brien, who came up with the idea of the barn project.

Mr O'Brien said he was keen to continue partnering with Coda, should it consider participating in further projects.

"I was quite taken aback by the generosity of all those involved given the economic circumstances, quite honestly," he said.

Palmerston Association was established in 1980 to offer support and services for substance abusers through research programs, counselling and educational workshops.

The organisation receives annual funding from the federal government, including grants from its Drug & Alcohol Office.

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