In Selly Oak, national deafblind charity, Sense, held a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate the launch of construction of a new major centre for disabled people. The TouchBase Pears centre, which is due to launch in summer 2017, will provide vital services to help disabled people in the West Midlands lead more independent lives.

Birmingham City Council Leader, John Clancy, was joined by Sense CEO Gill Morbey, and champions of the project to mark the official start of the build. The ‘champions’, who are deafblind, have contributed to the planning of the project, and at the event they buried a commemorative time-capsule, which highlighted  visions of what they hope the world will be like for disabled people in the future.

Announced in December by the charity’s Patron, HRH the Princess Royal, the project is estimated to take 18 months to complete and is a key part of the regeneration of Selly Oak. In addition to creating over 130 jobs in the local area, it will also provide a welcoming hub for wider community services, such as a café, arts and performance area, sensory garden and gallery.

Every element of the centres fully-accessible design has been developed in consultation with children and adults with a wide range of disabilities to ensure it fully meets their needs. Sense will use the centre to run a number of specialist services, supporting people with sensory impairments to learn new skills, build their confidence, develop communication skills and take part in community-based activities.

The cost of construction is expected to total £14 million, and the charity has a fundraising target of £5 million. £1.4 million has already been raised from trusts and foundations.

Leader of Birmingham City Council, Cllr John Clancy, said: "This exciting project represents a real lifeline for disabled people in the West Midlands and will help many people lead richer, more independent lives.

"I have no doubt the TouchBase Pears centre will quickly become an important community hub in Selly Oak and the added bonus is that the project has created over 130 jobs in the area."

Gillian Morbey OBE, Sense Chief Executive, said:  “We are delighted that construction for this major new centre is under way and that we are one step closer to delivering a resource to the Midlands that will not just benefit people with sensory impairments but will also be a hub for the wider community. The TouchBase Pears centre will make a huge difference to many people’s lives and we can’t wait to open the doors next year.”

Glenn Howells, Greenwoods and Stepnell are overseeing the architecture, project management and construction respectively.