We’ve got to be honest and admit that we’re feeling a little smug right now. The reason for this is not that we’ve come to see a multi-award winning project.
Instead it’s that we’ve returned to the site we first visited in the middle of 2014 – which has, we’re delighted to say, progressed to become said multi-award winner. It’s always nice to be ahead of the curve.
We’re a brisk hop away from Manchester’s Trafford Park to take a look around the new HQ of leading outdoor clothing retailer Regatta, which today boasts stores nationwide and a quartet of successful brands – Regatta Great Outdoors, Craghoppers, Dare2b, and retail offerings Countryside and Hawkshead Outdoor.
The site is virtually unrecognisable from our previous visit. The tired brick building is a thing of the past and is now replaced with an impressive timber exterior. Rather than working our way through paths at the front, we’re taken through to the back of the site where we find a grand entrance. We’re in absolutely no doubt that this is the new Regatta.
‘Each of the brands has its own neighbourhood…’
We’re joined once again by John Mulvihill, Regatta’s Group Commercial Manager, and also SpaceInvader’s Simon Millington and Jason Oak – whose scheme here has not only helped transform the way in which the business is able to work, but has also earned a design gong or two, most notably the Mixology North Commercial Interior Project award.
Moving through the smart entrance and past the reception desk, we find ourselves in a light, open space which has the main open plan working space and a series of meeting rooms to the left and brand showspaces to the right.
These facilities are smart working areas, designed to look, feel and work just like retail units for each of the brands. Aside from the lack of tills and shoppers, you could easily be across the road in Trafford Park rather than beginning a tour of a new HQ building. ‘This is essentially their shopfront,’ Jason tells us. ‘This is about them being able to bring in their buyers and getting people from all around the world to see the products. They’ve never had a facility like this – and rather than going to people they can now bring them here.’
Heading back across the central atrium, we can see through to the real heart of Regatta – the open plan working space. We should say that, although this is essentially a corrugated structure, you don’t feel that thanks to the clever use of lighting and acoustic products. As if to prove the point, the rain outside is on the heavier side of torrential, although here in the atrium there is very little to indicate that.
As we enter the open plan space we ask John if he and the Regatta team are settled in. ‘I’d say so,’ he grins. ‘There are one or two little things still to do but it’s been really good. Happy, happy, happy.’
So what were the main challenges faced by the design team? ‘The biggest challenge was that we’ve got four separate brands across a 70,000 sq ft floorplate and we didn’t want it to feel like a big call centre where everyone is part of a big group,’ Simon reveals. ‘Each of the brands has its own neighbourhood and then in the middle we’ve got the Camp Site – everybody has access to this and it’s really the space that everything else spins around. It really breaks up the floorplate.’
‘The difficulty was that we have four brands that have three distinct identities,’ John continues. ‘They each have their own ideas and their own distinct ways of doing things – and their own designs and look. We didn’t want to merge all that together. We wanted the brands to retain their own identity. I think this has been done incredibly successfully.’
We’re stood at the edge of the Dare2b zone, which, just like the other zones here, has been designed with the particular brand in mind. The zone has its own design studio, a mezzanine and a display room as well as the open plan working space. ‘They are able to imprint their own identity on it,’ John says as we look across the Dare2b zone. ‘Even though these guys are in the open space, they can stay within their own world when they need to, but this also allows the sharing of ideas across the business.’
Simon and Jason tell us that the studio and display facilities here are bespoke designed, with the design teams sat adjacent so they can easily spin around and relocate when necessary. ‘These work really well,’ John admires. ‘These guys get great use out of their space.’
As we step inside the design studio we’re met with smiles and warm hellos. The team here, we’re told, are working on spring/summer 2017 collections – and it’s only winter 2015! Ever the enquiring journalists, we ask what the mezzanine is used for. John leads us up to reveal that there is currently a lunchtime yoga class in full swing – although the mezzanines are more commonly used as breakout and meeting space.
Moving on towards the middle of the space, Simon explains how a clever piece of thinking has further broken down the wide-open nature of the office without the need for walls. ‘Although the grid here is obviously 90 degrees, we have placed everything within at a 45 degree angle – which breaks it all down and adds a dynamism to the interior.’ ‘We’ve used five different timbers throughout – and every brand has its own timber,’ Jason tells us. ‘The finishes slightly change as you walk through the space, so you get the slightly different feel of each of the brands coming through.’
Reaching the centre of the floorplate – the Camp Site – we’re again faced with a plethora of beautiful finishes and design touches. Again, nature and natural materials are at the heart of it. Although the team has been determined to keep certain natural elements, such as the rain, away there is a definite feel of the outdoors indoors – as John had suggested all those months ago. ‘It really was about bringing the outdoors indoors,’ Jason confirms. ‘We’ve used a lot of planting and green and natural products and materials throughout to reflect the brands here.’
‘We’ve used five different timbers throughout – and every brand has its own timber‘
‘This looks fantastic,’ John grins as we walk past a stunning vibrant green moss wall on the way into the Camp Site. John also tells us that he’s particularly proud of the striking trees, which were brought over from Holland and are now placed throughout the open plan area. ‘The original design for the Camp Site was that it had big hoods over it and lots of tents structures throughout,’ Simon recalls. ‘There was a concern that, for the people working next to it, there would be a lot of noise and food smells, and they felt that we should close it all up – which at the time felt like an absolute tragedy!
‘One of the hardest things we had to do, therefore, was to find a way of putting a ‘lid’ on the Camp Site without it breaking down the flow and the views. I’ve got to say that it is now probably the most successful part of the scheme.’ ‘We’ve used as much glass as possible to keep the views across the floor,’ Jason adds. ‘There is a wall on one side, but it doesn’t go full-height. That way you can still see outside without feeling as though you are in a goldfish bowl. We treated it almost like a pavilion in the middle of the space. There was also an issue when it came to the lighting – we didn’t want it to feel as though it was an enclosed space, so we’ve used roof lights, which light the space and also give it a real sense of height.’
As it is lunchtime right now, the impressive Camp Site is extremely busy and buzzing. John tells us that the facility is extremely well used throughout the entire day, giving people a chance to grab a drink, food, meet, chat and simply get away from their desks for a while. ‘The acoustics here are fantastic,’ John enthuses. ‘There’s no way we could have had this open. It’s a very popular spot and a lot of people come in here and bump into colleagues they wouldn’t normally see otherwise. I think this and the kitchenettes we’ve placed in each of the zones have really helped to create that interaction.’
We cross the Camp Site and exit on the far side where our hosts explain that aside from the circulation route, there are intentionally no defined routes through the space – further encouraging chance encounters and staff interaction. Clever. We can see exactly why this scheme keeps picking up awards.