Cirencester is not the easiest place to get to. Thanks to Mr. Beeching back in the 1960’s, the town lost not one but two stations, leaving it without a direct railway network. Thanks to Roger the taxi driver, this needn’t be a major issue.
Indeed, this ‘minor inconvenience’ (Roger’s words, not ours) does not appear to have greatly affected this charming, quintessentially English town. In fact, from the very brief view we were able to take, Cirencester is in rude health. It is also finding a way to blend the old with the new, the traditional with the modern – and there’s no greater example of this than one of the town’s leading employers, money.co.uk.
Established in 2008 by serial entrepreneur Chris Morling, money.co.uk remains the only independently owned and financed comparison website among the top players. This means the business can be agile and fast moving without having to answer to an external board of shareholders, and was recently ranked the second fastest growing business in the UK.
Based in Cirencester and London, money.co.uk attracts millions of visitors every month to its website, which compares over 17,000 financial products and offers consumers the best tools and information in the industry.
Furthermore, money.co.uk provides something different and fresh to employees in the area – and its working home is a perfect reflection of its unique outlook and culture.
Local firm Interaction was asked to create the ultimate workplace for money.co.uk, transforming its unique and characterful office in The Castle – and we’re met by the firm’s designer, Egle Bareikyte, Sales & Marketing Director Hayley Blacker and Digital Marketing Assistant Samuel Douglas-Jones.
We’re told that, having not had any major work done in years, the 10,000 sq ft Grade II listed Victorian space money.co.uk occupied did not illustrate the current standing and vision for the future of the business.
‘We hadn’t worked with money.co.uk before,’ Hayley tells us. ‘They were delighted with how we were able to hit the brief and with our design capability – and liked the fact that we were a local option.
‘They also have a link with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen – who again is local – and he’s designed six meeting/breakout rooms throughout The Castle.’
‘They were founded in Cirencester,’ Sam reveals. ‘They already occupied half the building and the other half was the local college. When the school left, the space became available and they looked to bring together the two separate spaces. It was pretty derelict at the time.’
‘They really loved the fact that they were based in The Castle,’ Egle continues. ‘We didn’t need to explore other options for office space. The fact that they worked in The Castle was the driver behind everything really. They wanted to be really proud of where they worked.’
At the heart of the refurbishment was the money.co.uk team, with the firm wanting to reward the staff with the best possible working environment. This meant creating a space where their team could flourish, fulfill their potential and feel happy. Furthermore, the comparison company needed its new inspiring work environment to continue to attract and retain the best talent in the industry.
‘It was really worn out and a bit beige when we first looked at the space,’ Egle concedes. ‘They had tried to make it feel like a home but at the same time they have grown massively over the past couple of years. They really wanted their culture to shine through but simply didn’t have the workspace to reflect that.
‘There were loads and loads of rooms here – teams of eight and 12 and 16 were working in these individual rooms. Members of the same team would find themselves on the other side of the walls! We have now created open plan offices over three floors.’
‘It was really important to open things up,’ Sam takes over. ‘The way they had been working didn’t encourage collaboration, so – wherever possible, bearing in mind this is a listed building – we’ve looked to give them open space to work in.’
The design team looked to juxtapose the traditional architecture of The Castle with a contemporary and unique decor. The building provides a characterful and quirky setting for a workplace setting – and it was therefore felt that the interior needed to reflect the eccentricity of the exterior.
The list of original, bold and brilliant features is incredible – and includes an amazing bespoke Star Wars themed cinema (interestingly styled on the Death Star and not the more obvious Millennium Falcon) complete with popcorn machine, paint splattered suits of armour (think Stone Roses eponymous album) and a variety of themed bathrooms – such as ‘Rolling Stones’ and ‘Steam Punk’.
The work on The Castle was completed with staff in occupation and delivered in two stages; the main workspace was completed in the first phase, and the meetings spaces and informal rooms delivered in the second.
Major works included the fitting of a bespoke oak external staircase, which links the back of The Castle to the main entrance. We’re told that the staircase was removed years ago and its restoration was critical to unlocking how the space worked as it allows everyone to enter the main hub of the building.
Interaction also gave a new lease of life to neglected basement rooms, creating two gyms (one for cardio/yoga and another for weight training), which are both linked to changing rooms with showers.
Having a diverse range of teams (from programmers to content writers, each with varying needs) money.co.uk was keen to provide a facility that allows its people to work the way they want to work. ‘We explored the individual requirements of every employee, in order to design a multitude of flexible and adaptable workspaces tailored to the needs of the teams,’ Egle explains. ‘These spaces give people the freedom to work how they want. We had conversations with all the team here to discover what they like, what they don’t like and how the teams work. We wanted them to have an input into how their space would look and work. I think those conversations proved to be a really useful tool for us. From there, we took those ideas, went away and created a series of visuals and then presented back to them.
‘A few of the spaces were left as a complete surprise to them. They were sealed off throughout the project and only revealed when we’d completed the entire building.’
‘They didn’t really have breakout space before – they would eat at their desks and had no alternative settings,’ Hayley tells us. ‘Just by creating these environments, we’ve been able to completely change the way they work and interact.’
There are now a host of settings in which people can go for informal meetings, private work, training, relaxing or socialising. This includes the ‘ice cave’, which can be used for an informal meeting, or to eat and socialise. Then there is the ski lodge, which can be accessed through a secret door in the library. Perfect for relaxation or quiet work.
With software and technology at the heart of the business, having the best technology to interface seamlessly with the work environment was imperative. Interaction installed SONOS in every room, with iPads mounted on the walls to allow the team to enjoy a productive environment. There are no less than 30 TVs throughout the office, all linked to a HDMI matrix, which makes collaboration effortless.
A new, grand ‘high-tech’ room boasts a 98” 4K TV with the latest video conferencing system, to allow money.co.uk’s agile teams to communicate easily, while outside every meeting room is a touchscreen booking panel.
The Castle is a fun, unique and extraordinary environment that goes beyond convention. After nine months on site, the client is clearly happy with the results. ‘We very quickly realised that this was much too big a job to do on our own, and we made the right decision by bringing Interaction on board,’ Chris Morling, Founder and Managing Director of money.co.uk, says. ‘They opened our eyes to what was possible beyond just making the place look pretty. The workplace adds an extra level of motivation and satisfaction from working in such a stunning and functional environment.
‘I absolutely love the finished product and I’m really delighted, going above and beyond my original expectations.’
This project might raise a purist’s eyebrows and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Vitally, however, the space works for the client and is a perfect example of how to place employee wellbeing at the centre of the brief. We’ve smiled a lot while walking through the space and take our hats off to a client who genuinely practices what they preach and a design team who were willing to push boundaries. If we were budding programmers or entrepreneurs in and around Cirencester, we’d certainly want to work in The Castle. And not just because it’s got a Death Star cinema!