We’re big fans of Manchester’s tram network. Just minutes ago, we were in the heart of the bustling city – and now we find ourselves already at the entrance of the building we’ve come to visit in Salford Quays (so officially we’re in a completely different city). What’s more, it cost us less than we’d pay for a frothy coffee!
Such is the position of the new BUPA headquarters here in Salford, it almost feels as though it has its own dedicated tram stop – in everything other name. The new facility opened its doors in June, with interiors designed by ID:SR – the interior design group of Sheppard Robson. The 148,500 sq ft project is split over six floors, bringing together over 2,000 staff from three buildings into what is BUPA’s first co-located environment. The project was seen as a significant opportunity to elevate the BUPA brand and focus on health and wellbeing within the workplace design.
The ground floor space features a fantastic variety of visitor (and staff) facing settings and facilities – in fact it’s so impressive that we hardly notice our hosts, BUPA’s Facilities Manager, Will Greene, and ID:SR Associate Partner, Marie Leyland, are here to greet us and give us a tour of the building.
We begin by asking about the origins of the project. ‘Years ago, our architectural team looked at a number of sites for BUPA across Manchester,’ Marie reveals. ‘We ended up looking at the interiors for them when they decided to move here. This was built by Peel for BUPA, with Chapman Taylor as the base build architects – and they obviously remembered us from when we did the appraisals for those other sites. We pitched for the project and were brought on board in 2016 – so quite early in the process. It’s been really good working with them.
‘They were in three separate buildings over a number of floors in Anchorage, just down the road from here. The leases were expiring on a couple of those buildings and what they were finding was that a number of different working cultures were developing. What they really wanted was one building and one culture – a building that would reflect their ethos. So what you’ll find here is lots of natural materials, natural light, sit/stand working etc.
‘The brief was originally for 2,000 people, with 1,600 desks and during the duration of the project the figure went up to 2,300 people – so that really is quite a business change as well as a cultural change.’
We ask Marie if the fact that ID:SR were brought on board at a relatively early stage of the process meant they were able to influence the development of the building. ‘When we did our test fits, we found that the secondary core was slightly off – when we looked at the circulation space, the core was cutting into the middle of that. It just wasn’t very logical. So we ended up moving that in by a couple of metres – which meant we had a clear circulation and could increase occupancy.’
The wellbeing of staff is supported through the layout of working and social spaces to encourage movement and flow through the building, facilitating increased interaction, internal/external visibility and collaboration. The range of agile work settings and social spaces also empowers staff, giving them control over the type of spaces they select to support their work.
The move provides a dynamic workplace for staff, centred on promoting flexible and collaborative working and enhancing business productivity, supporting BUPA’s vision to provide an even better service for their customers. Workspace on the upper floors provides meeting, seminar and training rooms and a variety of informal work settings, surrounding a central open atrium that connects with the café and coworking space on the ground floor.
‘The ground floor is non-departmental – it’s all shared workspace,’ Marie points out. ‘The idea is that visitors from other offices can use any of the informal meeting spaces here. None of this is bookable. Anyone can come here and use it – we wanted people to be more agile and not take any ownership of this space to the exclusion of others.
‘The café blends into the workspace and then there is the separate 250-seat restaurant at the back of the floor, which has great views over the Manchester Ship Canal. Part of the original brief was to have vending machines – but we were really keen to promote healthy eating. The idea is that the café is open from early until late, while the restaurant is open in the middle of the day.’
‘The ground floor has proved to be incredibly popular,’ Will admits. ‘The whole ground floor is busy all day long. We inducted people into the building in groups – about 80 people a day, with everyone getting about an hour-long induction – so that really helped in getting people to understand that they can come down here and use the space. We put a lot of emphasis into making people understand, from day one, how the building works. I’d say we’ve been pretty successful in achieving that. We haven’t found that there has been any pressure on desks – and a lot of that is down to people using the space as we intended them to. There are people who have been with us for over 20 years – so this was a huge cultural change for them.
‘With this environment it feels as though we have all been rejuvenated . A lot of our people have never experienced anything like this – and there is a real ‘wow’ factor for people coming into the space for the first time. Everything has been thought about – and we had to do that. We’ve got people upstairs in our call centre who are answering calls of a sensitive nature, like, ‘I’m terminally ill…’ – that’s not a standard call centre job. It can be really tough – so we needed to provide those facilities where people can get away from their desks and have some time to themselves.
‘We are operational 24/7 and we have put a number of etiquettes in place. Because of the nature of the hours and also the nature of the work when people come to the rest area – the restaurant – there is no work whatsoever. That means no laptops, no phone calls, no meetings. This is purely a space for people to escape, to rest. We also want people to come down to the ground floor to have their lunch – not stay at their desks.’
‘It was also important that the design and the palette was calm and soothing – and wasn’t overly corporate,’ Marie adds.
The design engages with the principles of biophilic design, forging connections between people and nature. To help promote a positive mental response, there is plenty of ‘green’ to be found on the ground floor (including a central 5m high Barringtonia tree) while, as Marie touched upon a little earlier, a subtle palette of organic materials with high environmental credentials and recycled content has been employed throughout, helping create a calm setting for work.
The majority of the team workspace is located on the upper floors and to the perimeter of each floorplate, with views out over the building’s waterside location, allowing natural daylight to flood into these areas. Collaboration and informal social space encircles the full-height central atrium on each of the floors. Client meeting rooms, on the other hand, are positioned central to the floorplan, giving views over internal operations. ‘When it comes to meeting space, we’ve gone from 17 formal meeting spaces across 24 floors, to 59 bookable rooms – but overall we have more than 90 formal and informal meeting spaces,’ Will admits.
Marie challenges us to count the number of different work settings we can find on one of the upper floors. From a standing start we can see a huge variety, from open collaboration tables through to high back sofas and pods…we lose count without even moving.
This really is a scheme that massively elevates the culture and the brand. By relocating just down the road, BUPA has actually moved forward decades.
We think it’s probably time we said our goodbyes, left our hosts in peace and took that 20 second stroll to ‘our’ tram stop.