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Far from the madding crowd

09 September 2020

This year has seen unprecedented numbers of people working from their homes following the UK lockdown in March and gradual reopening of facilities in recent months.

Amongst the many topics of conversation arising from the Covid-19 impact on the UK economy, discussion on its implications for commercial real estate and city centre offices was continuing as this issue of PFM went to press.

Questions are being asked about how companies are likely to change their structure, fuelled by reports of businesses planning to downsize their main facilities and open regional satellite hubs to accommodate staff closer to their home.

In order to explore this topic further, PFM visited Burrough Court business park, located a short drive from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire and an ideal representative of the type of facility expected to gain increased interest from companies seeking to avoid city centre alternatives.

Having opened in 2000, the celebration of its 20th year has resulted in additional poignancy due to the ongoing conditions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and the predicted extra interest in satellite and rural facilities this is expected to drive.

Burrough Court business park covers an area of 22 acres and is part of a working arable farm of 1,200 acres that continues to be family-owned and managed.

In addition to office space of 20,000 sq ft, clients can also lease substantial warehouse facilities, some of which include offices on mezzanine floors. Director and chartered surveyor Fred Wilson and brand and marketing manager Becky Wilson outline the progress achieved by Burrough Court over the last 20 years and further explain how it has continued to support its clients in recent months.

Mr Wilson states that his experience in construction has proved highly useful for the initial building and subsequent additions to Burrough Court business park.

“My knowledge of house building has proved very relevant and adaptable to the commercial sector,” he says.

“After opening in 2000, we gained planning permission to convert former grain silos to warehouses in 2005, and then in 2015 added more warehouse and office space.”

With 350 people present on site, the need for additional facilities became apparent and resulted in the opening of a café and air-conditioned gym at the start of this year.

The greater focus on wellbeing has seen the addition of both yoga and pilates classes, further supported by walking routes established around the local area. Burrough Court has had to deal with the same issues as all other businesses throughout the UK Covid-19 lockdown and reopening and has found that frequent and clear communication has been well received by its clients.

“Some businesses have continued to operate on-site throughout and we’ve supported everyone to allow them to carry on as necessary,” Mr Wilson continues.

“Like many of our clients, we’re a small business and this means we’re agile and able to adapt to changing conditions with the minimum of fuss.

“We saw how things were developing six weeks ahead of the UK lockdown as our clients said they had seen deliveries from China tailing off. When the lockdown was announced, we agreed with some impacted businesses to defer parts of their rent payment and although we lost one client in the last few months, everyone else has now caught up with their payments.

Fred Wilson

“A remarkable situation really given events, but I do not think we are ‘out the other side’ just yet.”

Having ensured that the site has remained open throughout 2020, Ms Wilson describes how considerable thought and effort has been devoted to reassure all those returning to work at Burrough Court.

“We recognised the need to ensure that everyone follows the new rules and regulations, but have avoided the use of the yellow and black warning signs, which can seem daunting to some people,” she continues.

“We organised the supply of bespoke signs that explained to everyone all the various requirements, but have used friendly and supportive messages and language to remind everyone that we’re all in this together. This means that we’ve gone above and beyond what we’re required to do while managing all arrivals in a sensitive and supportive manner.”

Those returning to their offices have found branded messages on signs that include holders for bottles of hand sanitiser, along with reminders to “smile and be happy”.

Bottles of hand sanitiser, also carrying the Burrough Court brand, have additionally been placed on desks and individuals are encouraged to follow their preference for the wearing of face coverings.

Further actions include establishing one-way systems in areas including the café, removal of seats and furniture to allow social distancing, along with the use of additional clear signage so that everyone knows how to comply with the requirements that all workplaces are now subject to.

Ms Wilson further states that with the gym, yoga and pilates classes reopened, consideration is now being given to the further wellbeing initiatives. “There’s been a lot of interest in lifestyle and health and this has seen us create the café and offer healthy eating options supported by fresh, locally-sourced produce,” she continues.

“We’ve also set up local walking routes around the area, to encourage everyone to enjoy the fresh air and that’s another aspect that’s not possible in city centre locations, and we’re also thinking about company away days. “And there’s the additional option of creating a retreat for aspects such as meditation and therapy that would be of interest to many businesses looking for company away days, although that’s possibly 10 years in the future,” says Ms Wilson.

Having weathered the initial impact of the lockdown and reopening of businesses, Mr Wilson believes that this has created “the perfect time” for Burrough Court and other business parks of similar size to attract new clients.

“We can easily cater for SMEs and with larger companies now allowing their people to work from home, there’s a great deal more interest in attractive, modern offices – especially if they’re located in healthy settings. Covid-19 has proved to be an accelerator in many instances and it’s very likely to change office requirements very quickly,” he continues.

Mr Wilson also believes that another effect of the pandemic has been to make companies and individuals aware of the need to be more accepting and understanding of ways to deal with workplace issues and adopting a more balanced view.

“With schools reopening more workers are likely to feel able to return to their place of work and companies need to manage the next phase very carefully. With four generations present in the workplace for the first time, businesses have to be aware of the essential need to support all staff and retain valuable talent wherever possible,” he concludes.

While large companies are unlikely to establish the hundreds of satellite offices required to accommodate all their workers, smaller organisations have already stated that they are implementing or considering changes to their business models that will see Burrough Court and other regional business parks becoming sought after in the immediate future.

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