Peaks & Plains

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We all love being right. For some of us, it comes as a rare and precious thing. Therefore, when Peaks & Plains picked up the Public Sector Project of the Year award at Mixology North, we couldn’t help but smile. We were right!

We had already headed up to Macclesfield to take a look at the project, designed by BAND Architects, by the time our judging panel had unanimously selected it as a winner. Our judges commented on the impressive financial model of the project and agreed that it ‘has been given a ‘private sector’ feel to what had been known as a very traditional public sector setting’.

The head office of Macclesfield-based Peaks & Plains Housing Trust has undergone a radical fit-out programme – the 11,500 sq ft space at the town’s Ropewalks building has been completely transformed to reflect the changing business needs of the Trust as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Peaks & Plains Housing Trust was created in 2006 following a transfer from Macclesfield Borough Council. Prior to transfer, all council tenants were issued with an Offer Document, which outlined what they could expect from the new housing trust. It was on the basis of the promises contained in this Offer Document that tenants voted in favour of the transfer and the Trust was created. It has been rated in the top 10% of housing associations nationally and was also awarded 21st place in the Times Top 100 not for profit companies to work for in 2014.

“Enclosed spaces have been used to define routes and form smaller, domestic scaled zones for staff to collaborate within the large linear floorplate”

The Trust, which took ownership of the building on Bond Street in the centre of the town in 2016, has funded the fit-out programme by re-designing the areas it previously occupied, releasing more than 800 sq m of available office space, which has now been let to other occupiers. The entire operation has now been consolidated on just one floor. This smart funding model using rental income is, we’re told, a first for any public sector landlord.

Peaks & Plains invited BAND Architects to re-imagine its workspace to reflect its progression as an organisation, and to create a more efficient, healthy office environment – one better suited and equipped to meet the needs of its employees, and to support the continued improvement of its services.

‘Our concept focuses on bringing domestic, urban design ideas into the workplace and creating open working environments,’ David Wilcock, Practice Director at BAND
Architects, tells us as we admire the vibrant new Peaks & Plains home. ‘Enclosed spaces have been used to define routes and form smaller, domestic scaled zones for staff to collaborate within the large linear floorplate. Subtle, natural and calming materials were utilised within the core working areas, and more visually vibrant ‘pods’ are distributed throughout the space to create a variety of destinations for personalised work and team meetings.

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‘It was important that the client’s working environment reflected the values that they wanted to achieve within their own housing projects going forward – a more creative and inventive approach. I think that’s important.’

In the design brief, David recognised the client’s ambition to bring the local culture to the project. ‘I saw the move to a more agile way of working as forming little communities within communities and meaningful placemaking – which is what Peaks & Plains do. So, we treated the floorplate as an urban landscape. The quirky street map of Macclesfield is reflected in the new office design via the unexpected zigzag route of the walkways and the focal points on the horizon that draw you further in. We used these design cues to move away from the ubiquitous, open plan office space with regimented rows of desks.

‘The project originally came from a longstanding relationship with Peaks & Plains – we’ve known them for a long time and had a lot of synergy with their approach as designers. That relationship has developed into working on housing projects with them – in fact we’re currently working on a housing scheme with them in Whaley Bridge. They’re an ambitious organisation and they’re quite progressive, especially when it comes to design. They understand that design can help benefit communities – and they also understand that design doesn’t have to cost a great deal of money.

‘Tim (Pinder, Chief Executive of Peaks & Plains Housing Trust) approached us and said, ‘I know you’ve never done an office re-fit before – but you understand our ethos and we think you will bring a unique approach.

‘We wanted to approach the project from a fresh perspective and not just be another corporate interior fit-out scheme. So, we started from scratch and drew inspiration from larger scale urban
design principles that would resonate and give rise to a variety of stimulating places to work.’

Although you’d never know it from the look and feel of the space, David and his team did work particularly hard to keep costs down. ‘The big challenge was to design within the budget available. We started with including everything the client would ideally like and identifying the core essentials – and arrived at a happy balance following a series of value engineering meetings. This involved making the design and specification work very hard to achieve the original spirit of the design.

‘The contractor – Brown and Bancroft – were part of the team that helped this process. We all worked to find solutions and keep the ideas alive in a sensible way. Our focus remained on the health and wellbeing of staff through good ergonomics and functional lighting. We saved on things that wouldn’t be noticed or were just nice to haves.’

The design solution has worked so well that the Trust is about to lease the ground floor too, meaning they’ve reduced their use of the building by 63%, cost-neutral-funded a dynamic new home for themselves and brought a new sense of purpose and community to their staff.

Brown and Bancroft became an integral and valuable part of the team on appointment to fit-out and refurbish the space. The works involved totally stripping back the office space to the shell and then introducing new lighting, air conditioning, flooring and decoration.

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‘I was really quite emotional when I saw the finished scheme, with all the graphics and finishes in place,’ Brown and Bancroft’s Jill Bancroft admits. ‘It just looked absolutely fantastic. This was quite a journey for the staff. They were very much used to their own pedestals and their own desks, so it must have been pretty scary for them – but every single one of them has bought into this. I think we needed to get the furniture and the facilities right – and judging by everyone’s reaction, we’ve got that spot on. Everything here is coordinated and everything has been perfectly styled. The really nice thing is that the client really believed in the architect. It’s a leap of faith for the client at the end of the day, but they were so willing to take that leap – and I believe the results speak for themselves.’

Following David and Gill’s lead, we take a closer look at those results. We’re immediately taken by a series of impressive curved meeting rooms and pod spaces – each of which has been created from bespoke larch clad timber partition systems, with integral acoustic absorption – and help break up the open nature of the floor.

Internal finishes are natural wherever possible, using a palette of larch, linoleum and polished concrete, creating a stunning effect to the overall space. The flooring concept provides a woven vinyl surface for the office areas, with individual designed carpet used for each of the meeting pods.

Two kitchen spaces sit at either end of the space, featuring unique graphics and wall designs, while cool breakout seating perforates the open floor.

‘The design delivered by BAND Architects reflects Peaks & Plain’s identity and the whole team is absolutely delighted with it,’ Tim Pinder enthuses. ‘We believe that living and working in a well-designed space improves people’s quality of life and productivity.

‘It doesn’t necessarily have to cost more to deliver great design and it is something we are now working on replicating in the homes we create for our residents. As well as delivering amazing new spaces for us to work in, this scheme is all about delivering value for money. By renting out the rest of our building and consolidating more functions in this new space we are saving money that can be spent on the delivery of new homes.’

When it came to furniture, David tells us he had previously worked with Kinnarps on a school project. He included them on a shortlist of furniture suppliers and David, Tim and Greg van Enk-Bones, Peaks & Plains Director of Resources, duly visited Kinnarps’ London showspace. ‘Seeing the variety of products that Kinnarps offered was great,’ Tim says. ‘Even the furniture we used to hold the meetings inspired us. The great variety had an impact on choices we made. But the one thing that really impressed me was the welcome we received. There was a sense of us being the utter centre of attention – that Kinnarps completely got what we were trying to achieve and were as excited as us.’

‘I was thrilled that Tim and Greg understood why I liked Kinnarps,’ David enthuses. ‘Their designers understand that each project is different. You know you’ll receive great customer care all the way through the process and they’re genuinely interested in the outcome, not just trying to sell you something. We all thought they were the right choice.’

Although the furniture may well come from Scandinavia’s finest, there was very much a desire to keep much of the project local. ‘As well as Macclesfield-based architects,’ David smiles, ‘a lot of the things in here are local, Macclesfield-based – such as the photography for the artworks by Fiona Bailey, prints by Ralph McGaul and screen printed personal storage crates made by not-for-profit organisation The Print Mill – all Macclesfield based. Peaks & Plains have always had a very open relationship with this community – and wanted to support local designers and local creatives  and initiatives.’

We really, really like the new Peaks & Plains home. Oops, sorry, that should be the new award-winning Peaks & Plains home!