It’s 1987. The year of Michael Fish’s Great Storm gaffe, double-digit interest rates and the Black Monday stock crash. The now defunct Greater London Council wants to shed some of its properties; along come 12 investors with £16.7 million to form London Industrial and snap up 18 properties, mostly in the East End.
Fast forward to 2017: London Industrial has been reincarnated as Workspace, sold its industrial portfolio and now has a portfolio of 64 properties that are home to 4,000 businesses, spanning 3.7 million sq ft. across the whole of London. How did the transformation happen?
The Workspace story
The 1990s heralded the company’s ascent to the London Stock Exchange, a name change and even a brief venture into the West Midlands. But by 1999, Workspace had its eye firmly back on the property prize – London – and in 2007 converted to a Real Estate Investment Trust. It was around this time that Angus Boag joined the company as Development Director from Manhattan Loft Corporation. In the last 10 years, he’s overseen a shift in focus from operating light industrial estates to developing business centres.
Workspace’s Kennington Park HQ in a previous incarnation
“We’ve been transforming the portfolio. The focus [before] was on providing cheap space, it was all about the price. Since then, we’ve concentrated on refurbishing existing centres, bringing them up to modern standards and providing a much more dynamic business environment.”
“We used to get a paper memo every Friday to remind us to check our email daily”
Workspace started out as a pioneer in affordable, flexible leasing. Small businesses could sign up as customers, safe in the knowledge they weren’t tied down by a burdensome contract. This flexibility has remained at the heart of the Workspace offering. However, in addition, its differentiator today is how it helps companies achieve their full potential through its network of super-connected, cleverly designed buildings and networking opportunities.
Pill Box at Bethnal Green
The change of tactics paid off. Workspace survived the last recession with a steady stream of lettings and emerged from it with a rising occupancy rate. A number of buildings have undergone extensive refurbishment; some of the most recent launches include Pill Box in Bethnal Green, Metal Box Factory in Southwark and Grand Union Studios in Ladbroke Grove. And an exciting refurbishment at Southbank House – the old Royal Doulton factory – is set to reopen in 2018 as China Works.
Workspace continues to expand its horizons. Traditionally focused on developing properties on the fringes of the city, such as Bethnal Green, the company has recently acquired buildings in more central locations, such as Fleet Street, Finsbury Circus and Fitzrovia.
A visualisation of The Frames, coming soon to Shoreditch
The Workspace community
The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the vibrant businesses that rent at Workspace. Claire Dracup, Head of Support Services, is something of a veteran, having started out at Workspace more than 20 years ago, when the business was getting to grips with working online.
She says: “I recall we used to get a paper memo every Friday from Harry Platt (the then-CEO) to remind us to check our email daily. We were told we should get into the habit of checking it at least once per day!”
Claire fondly recalls her time as Centre Manager at The Leather Market when popular local pub, Juggler’s Arms, was a tenant. The owners had an upstairs office where they also ran a thriving juggling ball business, More Balls Than Most.
Today, Workspace is still home to a hugely diverse range of businesses that span almost every industry – from architecture to artificial intelligence, music to money management and lifestyle to luxury chocolates – plus many more.
Musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett started out their band Gorillaz at Westbourne Studios, and Music Bank at The Biscuit Factory supplies equipment to Glastonbury Festival and has stored equipment for big names like (Oasis’) Gallagher brothers and Girls Aloud. The organisers of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympic Games worked out of the Marshgate Business Centre in Newham, close to the action at the Olympic stadium.
The people are the best thing about Workspace, says Sabina Bathurst, Head of Lettings and an employee for almost 18 years.
“It’s like a family, that’s the biggest reason I’ve stayed here.” A belief in doing the right thing underpins the resources and relationships Workspace needs to make its business model work. “At Workspace, everyone tries to put the customers first; it’s probably the biggest difference between us and anyone else. We’re not just a landlord.”
How will Workspace look in another 30 years? We can’t tell you that, but we have our ideas as to how the workplace might look in five, 10 and 25 years. If you’re interested in the future of work, read our lead feature by award-winning design writer Anna Winston on page 34 of the latest HomeWork magazine, which is available for download here. One thing’s for sure, the office will never be the same again.