Australian High Commission
United Kingdom
High Commission address: Australia House, Strand, London WC2B 4LA

Australia House Major Refit
Improved access for staff and visitors with disability

A major program of works at Australia House in London to improve access for people with disability has been completed in time for the 2012 Paralympic Games.

The 12-month, A$1.1 million refit at the heritage-listed building on the Strand in central London will be put to the test on 3 September, when several of Australia’s paralympic athletes attend a reception in their honour in the revamped Exhibition Hall.

John Dauth, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, said it was easy to underestimate the scale and complexity of the refit to Australia House.

The works program had included the installation of a wheelchair- accessible lift, internal and external ramps, automatic doors, and new and upgraded toilets. Induction loops to improve acoustics for the hearing impaired had also been installed in the Exhibition Hall, Cinema Hall and reception area.

The strict building requirements associated with Australia House’s UK heritage listing had provided an added complication.

Mr Dauth said the works would significantly improve access to Australia House for both staff and guests, including those among the estimated 300,000 Australians living in the United Kingdom who relied on the High Commission’s consular and passports services.

“The successful installation of these new facilities was a challenging but important achievement for the High Commission,” he said. “Australia House is not just an office building. It’s an iconic landmark, steeped in history, and a place where Australians and British gather to celebrate one of our closest and most important relationships.”

“This works project is entirely consistent with core Australian values of equity and opportunity for all, and with the Australian Government’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace and representative diplomatic service,” he said.

The works program had been part of a scheduled building upgrade for Australia House, but was expanded slightly and accelerated to ensure completion for the 2012 Paralympics.

Ken Pascoe, Consul General at the Australian High Commission, said the refit at Australia House was an important step forward in the delivery overseas of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s) Disability Action Strategy.

“At the heart of this strategy is our desire to develop a workplace environment that is welcoming for all,” he said. “This will only happen if senior staff across the Department identify and make the practical changes needed to foster a more diverse, inclusive and supportive workplace culture for people with disability.”

Two of DFAT’s three disability cadets under our partnership with the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC), swimmers Katrina Porter OAM and Matthew Cowdrey OAM, are competing in London. Both won gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

Fellow Australian paralympian Peter Leek OAM, DFAT’s third disability cadet, broke four world records in Beijing on the way to winning three gold medals.

Peter, the APC's Junior Athlete of the Year in 2008, NSW Disabled Athlete of the Year in 2009, and Swimming Australia's Multi-Class Swimmer of the Year in 2010, elected not to compete for selection for London. He expects to complete his Bachelor of Applied Economics at the University of Canberra in 2014.

Katrina is studying a Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in Finance and Economics) at Sydney University, while Matthew is undertaking a combined media/communications and law degree at Adelaide University.

All three are completing work placements in relevant sections of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade during their university breaks.
The reception on 3 September is one of a number of events the Australian High Commission is supporting during the London Paralympics.
On 29 August, Australia's Governor General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited one of these, the ‘Spare Parts’ exhibition, featuring works created out of “pre-loved” prosthetic limbs by 40 artists from different countries.

The Minister for Sport, Senator Kate Lundy, some of Australia’s paralympians and members of the APC are also scheduled to visit the highly-symbolic exhibition during the games.