We are, of course, extremely used to being guided through projects, boroughs and streets by kind hosts, who know far more than we do about our new surroundings. Today, however, it is our own Editor who is giving us something of a tour of a town we – as Mix – have not visited before.
Which is something of a curiosity when you consider that our destination, Stockport, is just seven miles to the south-east of Manchester city centre and one stop shy of Piccadilly railway station.
Our Ed is clearly excited at the prospect of revisiting the town and, as we alight the train, tells us that the area surrounding Stockport railway station is virtually unrecognisable from the area he remembers as a young boy – his father and paternal grandparents originally hailing from the town.
By the time we’ve arrived at the new home of Stockport Homes (this isn’t just a trip down memory lane, after all) our Ed has informed us that the town was once at the centre of the country’s hatting industry, which by 1884 was exporting more than six million hats a year – hence the local football club, Stockport County, being nicknamed ‘The Hatters’. He also tells us that, if we were to continue south on the A6 (just off which the new Stockport Homes facility stands) we’d pass his late Nan’s former home and pub (‘She was a publican, by the way!’).
Walking into the brand new building, the last thing you think of is traditional public sector office. The impressive exterior is matched by the open ground floor’s clean, contemporary feel. It is here that we meet with Linda Camblin, Corporate Support Manager for Stockport Homes, and Mark Pearson from Heatons Office Solutions.
As we walk through the ground floor facility, we ask Linda to tell us about the organisation.
‘We’re an ALMO and work in partnership with Stockport Council,’ she begins. ‘We manage the housing stock on the Council’s behalf, so anything from managing the waiting lists, letting the properties, doing the repairs and maintenance, dealing with anti-social behaviour, through to any problems or issues that customers might have in terms of maintaining their properties or their tenancy.
‘There are around 550 staff in total across the organisation, currently across four sites, including our stores, which is our maintenance operation.
‘Whilst the majority of teams will be coming together here at Cornerstone, it is impractical to have all the vans and traffic coming into Cornerstone, with this being in the city centre, but we will, of course, be encouraging those teams to use the space as their office whenever possible. We don’t want anyone υ to feel excluded – we want everyone to come together, to be one team.
“We don’t want anyone to feel excluded – we want everyone to come together, to be one team”
‘You’ll see in the signage around the building that this is about transforming lives – not just for the staff but for the community as a whole.
‘The ground floor space will be open to customers, staff and the general public – so essentially anyone who wants to use it is welcome to do so. The ground floor area is what we’re calling the Customer and Community space. We very much want this to not be seen as just an office – this is somewhere for the whole community to use.
‘This area includes the Windmill Coffee Shop – and hopefully staff will come down here for lunch and informal meetings. They don’t have to just use the office space. This is also a great space for us to interact with customers, visitors and people who come in from the borough.’
We ask Linda about the organisation’s former main central hub. ‘We were just five or six minutes’ walk from here,’ Linda tells us. ‘It’s important that we’re in the heart of Stockport. The current leases were up for renewal and we’d outgrown all the office space we had. We’d been in our head office for just over 10 years. We decided to renew the lease for another year while we considered our long term options. The buildings we had didn’t really facilitate how we wanted to go forward as an organisation – they didn’t allow staff to come together – so we decided that building our own office was the best option for us and the aspirations for the organisation going forward.
‘We looked at a number of different sites and options and decided this was the best location for us. This used to be a Lamborghini garage – and we’ve developed a heritage board which will be displayed in the customer reception . Also, when they were digging out the foundations for the car park, they discovered remnants of an old windmill – and so the coffee shop is now called the Windmill Coffee Shop.’
AEW Architects were appointed to design and deliver the HQ building for Stockport Homes. The brief was to provide flexible private office space for staff, public space for a customer service centre and semi-public ‘invited’ meeting spaces, maintaining security whilst creating a sense of openness and transparency.
The building totals 51,000 sq ft, including basement parking and spans four floors, with customer/public facilities located on the ground level, supported by three stories of office space, including meeting rooms and forward-thinking collaboration spaces.
The scheme is designed to Grade A office standards and the building is designed to BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating. The overall design and material and furniture selection sensitively responds to the conservation areas in which it is located.
We ask Mark to tell us more about that complex furniture selection process.
‘We were invited to tender for the Stockport Homes project in June 2015 through SpaceInvader, who designed the interiors here,’ he tells us. ‘We knew we would be up against very stiff competition from the other furniture dealerships, who were also submitting a proposal. To that end, we used our in-house experience and expertise to produce a very high quality but value engineered alternative solution that we knew would appeal to the selection criteria of the client.
“We very much want this to not be seen as just an office – this is somewhere for the whole community to use”
‘A shortlist of two dealerships then provided a ‘furniture showcase’ of the proposed solutions, of which we were pleased that the majority of solutions come from UK manufacturers.
‘This was followed by a formal interview process. We were delighted to learn of our successful appointment in January 2016.
‘For the rest of the year we worked directly with the client on fine-tuning their selections, offering guidance and advice, resulting in a final schedule for order in December 2016. We began the installation in July, with Stockport Homes taking occupancy later that month.’
Said design and materials and finishes would grace any major city centre commercial facility. From the bright, welcoming public facing ground floor – which cleverly takes elements of high-end coffee shop and airport lounge design – through to the flowing, open yet functional office floors above, this is a facility that might have been brought together with a very close eye on budgets – but don’t for one second think that the look and feel is ‘budget’. Far from it.
The clever use of joinery throughout (our semi-trained eyes tell us that the brilliant overhanging timber ‘roofs’ are something of a SpaceInvader trademark) delineates space, creating zones for teams and departments as well as breaking up the open plan nature of what are sizeable floorplates here. The mainly British furniture selection has been carefully suited and provides a wide selection of settings, from informal bench-based meeting space and soft seating through to formal meeting rooms and individual focused work areas.
Wellbeing is very much at the heart of what the team here has created – and when we say wellbeing, we’re talking about looking after both the staff and visitors alike. ‘We’ve tried to make sure that, whatever we provide here, we’ve got the facilities for not only the staff but for visitors as well,’ Linda continues. ‘We want everyone to get the most from the facilities – and it is really important that our visitors feel comfortable and are looked after. We’ve considered absolutely everything in here – even the lighting is designed to make the space feel bright, airy and welcoming. It’s just as important that this is a nice place to work.’
The new Stockport Homes facility really is incredibly impressive – but what is maybe even more impressive is the organisation’s willingness and desire to adopt new working practices and a vastly different working culture. This is Stockport – but not as our Editor remembers it. In a very good way.