Thanks to our Sponsors
Nick Atkin Group Chief Executive, Halton Housing • Stephen Hodder MBE Chairman, Hodder + Partners
Carolyn Mellor, Owner and MD, homes4u • Tim Pinder, Chief Executive, Peaks & Plains Housing Trust
With the sun reflecting off the modern architecture of Manchester Spinningfields we could have been forgiven for forgetting that we were in the supposedly ‘grim’ North. In fact, just a week later, a number of the Mix team were in Chicago for NeoCon – and they certainly didn’t experience such beautiful weather.
Before turning pink, we headed into the shade and cool of the XYZ Building and made our way up to the award-winning, critically acclaimed Shoosmiths Manchester HQ – the venue for our latest MixInspired event. This was our 12th MixInspired – and our fourth in Manchester, the theme of this event was ‘The People Shaping Tomorrow’s Workplace’.
We would of course like to thank Shoosmiths for allowing us to host in such an amazing space – and also a huge thank you to our sponsors, Colebrook Bosson Saunders and Spatial Office Environments.
I’ve always made that case that what any architect needs at the outset of any project is a really good brief – and I can’t emphasise that enough. If you get the brief right, you get the design right.
We were delighted to find a packed house, full of the North West’s specification sector, who were eager to hear from our expert discussion panel of leading end users and designers, which comprised Nick Atkin, Group Chief Executive at Halton Housing, Stephen Hodder MBE, Chairman of Hodder + Partners, Carolyn Mellor, Owner & MD at homes4u and Tim Pinder, Chief Executive at Peaks & Plains Housing Trust. Here’s just a taste of what was said by our brilliant speakers.
With no less than three end users on our panel, we began by asking whether there is any downside to clients today being more knowledgeable and savvy – and, naturally, directed the question to the non-client first. ‘As an architect, I think the answer is quite simple,’ Stephen Hodder considered. ‘I’ve always made that case that what any architect needs at the outset of any project is a really good brief – and I can’t emphasise that enough. If you get the brief right, you get the design right. We need to spend far more time developing a brief because that does lead to successful outcomes. To my mind, that means a knowledgeable client and an engaged client – and there are examples where we have worked with clients who haven’t been as engaged and therefore the outcome has not been as successful. I applaud a knowledgeable client – and I applaud a very demanding client. That, for us, from personal experience, is when we produce our best work.
‘The client must be engaged not just from the beginning – but right the way through the process. I always think that the client is very much part of the team.’
So how engaged was Nick Atkin when it came to the Halton Housing project? ‘Very!’ he immediately replied. ‘I think the workspace is the most important thing – I think it is at the very heart of an organisation’s culture and sets the tone in what a business wants to do. The move to our new workspace was the culmination of four years of culture change within the business; to work in a completely agile manner and to break away from desks. We found that the only reason our people really needed a desk was because they needed a screen to hang some fluffy animals from or to put a picture of their family on because they never see them, and they also needed a pedestal – which was the hardest thing to wrestle away from them, by the way – and all that was in them was some out of date Cup-a-Soup and some pens that didn’t work!
‘What we wanted as a client was someone to understand where we were going and what we could do, practically, to help us achieve that next step in terms of our cultural journey.’
‘I was very passionate about what I wanted to happen for our business – because I wanted something very different,’ Carolyn Mellor considered when discussing the evolution of leading estate agent homes4u’s work and retail spaces. ‘Our previous branch had been very different – this was 18 years ago, in 2000. We had a coffee shop at the entrance to the sales and lettings area. At that time there was no Internet access, so coffee was very much what was right back then.
‘With this new branch, which I felt was in one of the best positions in Manchester – facing the Hilton – what I wanted to do was to have something that really led, something that estate agents weren’t doing. I wanted to adapt to what people really want and need nowadays.
‘I had some ideas in my mind, but I needed someone to take those ideas out of my mind and put them on paper.’
‘In common with the others, I had a very clear view of what we wanted to achieve and I knew the right designer to help us achieve that,’ Peaks & Plains Tim Pinder told our audience, regarding the Mixology North award-winning project that has helped transform the Macclesfield-based business. ‘I didn’t go out to tender, I didn’t go to a framework – I knew the designer who was going to realise our dream for us. So, from that point of view, I was an incredibly engaged client. I was passionate, I was very clear in my old mind what success would look like – and I was confident I knew the person who would help me deliver that.
‘I’m pleased to here Stephen say that, from his side of the table, designers do appreciate clients who do push them. I know from our residential work that if we don’t push designers we can end up with some pretty bland housing – but, when we turn the heat up, it is amazing what can be delivered.’
‘We do have to think about what we mean by ‘the client’,’ Stephen added. ‘When it comes down to workplace design, we’ve found that it is about evidence-based work – it is not just about engaging with the client, it is also about engaging with the people who are going to use the building – which I guess it what Tim and his team are doing. Very often, problems occur when there is a disconnect between the client and the people who are actually going to use the space.’
I think the workspace is the most important thing – I think it is at the very heart of an organisation’s culture and sets the tone in what a business wants to do.
The panel were then asked what they felt were the key drivers behind workplace transformation. ‘The key driver for us was purely economic,’ Tim explained. ‘We were occupying too much space at too high a rent, that was taking up a disproportionate amount of our overheads – and we needed to do something about it. To do something about it effectively, we needed to shrink our floor size. We occupied 60% of our multi-tenure building beforehand and we now occupy 37% – and we’ve not lost any members of staff through that transition. By just really focusing on how much space we need, how it is configured, what it can do for us, how we want the space to look and feel – getting rid of C-suite offices and banks of formal desks – has helped us achieve that aim. As we own the building, it also meant that every square metre saved we were able to rent out and create extra income!’
‘I don’t think there’s a single driver for transformation,’ Stephen considered. ‘I think, inevitably, the big shift that we have seen is through technology. That has introduced a completely different approach to workplace design – through the flexibility it offers. Increasingly, it’s also more about the individual. We’re finding that more clients and developers are concerned about the individual and are now offering the greater flexibility that the technology affords.’
Like Tim, cost was also a key driver for Nick and his business. ‘We previously had two offices, both of which were a compromise really,’ he explained. ‘We’ve now been able to create a much more imaginative and inspiring workplace environment, where people come to collaborate, rather than somewhere they just come to bang a keyboard for eight hours a day – and that’s at less cost! One of the other things, for me, is recruitment and retention. This is a big thing for us. We’re stuck in between the bright lights of Liverpool and Manchester – nobody grows up saying ‘I want to work in Widnes!’ We wanted to create something different, somewhere people would value – somewhere people would feel better in and want to stay.’
Nick Atkin Group Chief Executive, Halton Housing
Nick has driven the transformational change of Halton Housing to enable it to be best placed to meet the future opportunities and challenges the housing sector faces.
Included in the top 25 most influential people in housing, he is a keen advocate of innovation. He uses digital as an enabler to drive fundamental change in how businesses operate. He is also a disruptor in the ‘future of work’ debate – and has been paperless for 16 years!
Stephen Hodder MBE Chairman, Hodder + Partners
Stephen Hodder MBE is Chairman of Manchester-based architectural practice Hodder + Partners and formerly RIBA President.
He’s described architecture as ‘a way of life’ and believes that its successful delivery can now only truly be achieved through collaboration. The practice is currently working on projects including Gary Neville’s £200m Manchester city centre mixed-use scheme, St Michael’s, and the largest gardening project in Europe, RHS Garden Bridgewater.
Carolyn Mellor, Owner and MD, homes4u
With Carolyn’s roots in retail, she brings an eye for detail and a passion in customer service to the property industry. Creating a well trained team with a single vision and desire to be the best is Carolyn’s measure of success.
Aside from homes4u, Carolyn is on the board of Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre , a building designed by Sir Norman Foster, which has won a number of awards over the last couple of years.
Tim Pinder, Chief Executive, Peaks & Plains Housing Trust
Tim Pinder leads Macclesfield based Peaks & Plains Housing Trust; offering good quality affordable homes to those unable to access the highly priced East Cheshire market. Tim is restless for change; whether that be in the way that services are delivered, the way staff are organised or in the way that the working environment is structured, designed and functions.