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Arup Community Engagement

Project overview

Project overview

  • Engineers Without Borders UK/RedR placement with Simple Action for the Environment (SAFE) in Dinajpur, Bangladesh.
  • Focus on community engagement in rural housing and sanitation improvements that are appropriate, affordable and sustainable.
  • Placement involved managing the design and construction of demonstration projects, including a 2-storey house and two toilet/shower blocks with anaerobic digestion/infiltration systems.
  • Post placement activities have led to securing £20,000 of development funding to build 30 housing support schemes and 35 latrines.

SAFE is a relatively young, small scale NGO based in the Dinajpur region of Bangladesh.  Their focus is on promoting and implementing affordable and appropriate housing, and more recently sanitation, by hosting community workshops, building demonstration projects and researching new/alternative construction techniques – the overall aim being to alleviate poverty in a sustainable manner.

In 2013, Tom Hallewell, a civil engineer based in Arup’s London office went to Dinajpur, Bangladesh on a Future Relief Workers Scheme placement in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders UK and RedR-UK. The placement involved project managing the construction of 2 toilet systems including the project planning, procurement of materials, site management, resourcing, design guidance, hands-on labour and liaising with other stakeholders. The placement also involved assisting with the design of a 2-storey house, developing a business strategy, giving lectures in other regions of Bangladesh and writing a funding application.

The placement provided safe sanitation to two local communities and housing for a family of eight. The sanitation projects showcased a unique design in the local area which helped to develop interest in sanitation as a whole and increased the potential for future projects in the area.

The funding application was confirmed to be successful in August 2014 and is being implemented through 2014/15, with assistance from Tom Hallewell both remotely from the UK and through site visits back to Bangladesh.  This is by far the largest project SAFE has undertaken, consisting of 30 housing support schemes, 35 new latrines, multiple engagement workshops, tree planting schemes and a roof tile making machine. This on-going project is reaching out to a wide area in Dinajpur, providing opportunities for SAFE to grow in capability and influence and maintaining existing relationships between Arup and SAFE-Bangladesh

Even low-cost housing is relatively expensive, particularly as the intention is for them to last 10-30 years.  SAFE has limited funding so it is not possible to reach a large amount of people directly.  Based on past research, the belief is that the most effective and sustainable form of poverty alleviation is community driven.  Therefore, SAFE focuses on building individual demonstration projects showcasing improved building techniques that are affordable, environmentally friendly and improve overall living conditions.  These projects, complemented with group workshops, are intended to engage the community and persuade them to save money to improve their own houses using similar techniques.

On this basis it is difficult to say exactly how many people the projects Tom worked on reached.  The table below estimates the numbers:

Demonstration projects during placement

Community members reached directly

Community members reached indirectly


1 family of 8 people

Slum community of approx. 5,000

Sanitation A

1 family of 6 people

Village community of approx. 3,000

Sanitation B

1 family of 15 people


29 people

8,000 people

The Future Relief Workers Scheme (FRWS) is designed to give anyone interested in development engineering and humanitarian aid work an introduction to the challenges faced when working overseas with limited resources. It also aims to help those at the start of their careers develop professionally by exposing them to situations they would rarely experience in their day to day roles.

Since completing the FRWS scheme, Tom has maintained involvement in international development by conducting structural assessments of garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, providing advice on strategic infrastructure investment for the Nator Rural Development Plan in Ghana and by programme managing FRWS Bangladesh placements for 2014/15.

EWB/RedR FRWS placements are an important part of our organisation especially as we are still relatively small and still growing.
Azit Roy, Executive Director, SAFE, Bangladesh



27 November, 2013
Sanitation project completion

One of the completed toilet projects showing the toilet/shower block in the background.

27 October, 2013
Lifting the roof slab

A major achievement in safely lifting an 800kg bamboo reinforced concrete roof slab into place using only manpower and bamboo, after days of planning and organisation.


17 October, 2013
Installing the septic tanks
Mud, sweat and tears is no exaggeration.  Battling against a rising water table, extremely soft ground and heavy rainfall, the team managed, against the odds, to install 2m deep manholes that would act as septic tanks for the toilets.
4 October, 2013
Breaking the ground for a sanitation scheme

This marked the beginning of a sanitation project that involved collaboration between SAFE and Health Habitat, an Australian NGO, to design and build two innovative shower/toilet blocks with anaerobic digestion tanks and infiltration systems.

11 September, 2013
Beginning Future Workers Relief Scheme with international workshop
Soon after arriving in Bangladesh, SAFE hosted an international workshop led by RedR-UK, with volunteers from the UK, Australia and China joining us for 2 weeks to learn about sustainable housing construction in developing countries.  The workshop included a fantastic group effort to build a new demonstration house in a local slum, which we almost entirely completed in just 2 weeks.
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