Writing & Inspiration

Life Science Vision - Adapting Work and the Workspace

By Phil Shears - Woldon Director 

Over the past decade, the UK has been at the vanguard of European tech, but by 2023 the landscape had changed. Amid a global slowdown in tech, the UK has fared worse than many other nations and is having to raise its game to compete with other attractive markets in Europe.

In this increasingly competitive world, we face ever-evolving challenges to achieve improvement in the health of our planet prosperity and securing economic stability. But what is the strategy for addressing these challenges? We watch keenly our interest rates for signs of stability, but do we have the skills and expertise to bring new energy to our economy and environment?

In the built environment, the volume and length of new office space leases is one measure of economic health. While companies continue to determine their working from home policy, according to the FT, “the length of UK office leases has fallen to the lowest level on record while vacancies have soared close to a decade high" [1] And it is the tech sector that is particularly vulnerable. The result is that designing attractive and successful workspace must be more imaginative; it cannot rely on simply adapting to changes in basic regulations and providing superficial improvements in quality. We require wider and brighter thinking.

We have faced these kinds of challenges before. In 1948 the vision to provide a robust and reliable healthcare was finally taking firm shape. The NHS was the product of years of hard work by those who felt the nation’s healthcare inadequate and needed a revolution. With the creation of the NHS came a growth in demand for workforce and services; not just doctors and midwives but the wider industries from textiles to banking and electronics. The new eco-system would also provide fresh opportunities and benefits for women in paid employment.

We now see again the arena of work is shifting, and a new vision is needed for growth. We will be judged by how we respond and adapt. Britain has a long history of leadership and innovation, from the steam engine to the World Wide Web. These all brought growth and prosperity to both our nation and the world. But it is essential to resist nostalgia and look towards the future where investment in science and technology is more important than ever. With much of our industrial and technological expertise being drawn away to work abroad, we find ourselves searching for inherent strengths to build a future upon.

Our priorities should be Identifying the technologies most critical to the UK’s objectives. The UK must articulate its science and technology strengths and ambitions, both at home and abroad, to attract relevant talent and necessary investment.

Despite very slow growth, Britain out-performs its closest competitors and is a significant challenger to the US and China in many areas. The UK has four of the world’s top ten universities and a technology sector worth over one trillion dollars. If you put together just eight of the UK’s university towns, they are home to more billion-dollar unicorn start-ups than the whole of France and Germany combined.

The UK is already home to clusters of world-class science and technology talent. Structures are in place that bring together top universities, cutting-edge research institutes and enterprising businesses of all sizes, to channel scientific advancement and growth in levelling up the country. Surrounding our academic centres exist the organisational structures and systems where great ideas are allowed to flourish.

Innovation most often occurs when clusters develop. We must develop a larger circular economy where innovation can be germinated and developed to commercial maturity effectively within a range of flexible structures. We need incubator innovation centres with easy leasing models such ‘pay as you go’ structures for start-ups and space that can continue to accommodate expansion for success.

Current examples of this formula working successfully can be seen in the development of health vaccines including for Covid-19. Emerging innovation clusters centred around research-intensive universities across the UK can help revitalise regional economies. With targeted support, there is an opportunity to scale these pockets of regional innovation excellence, enabling them to deliver much greater benefits for their local areas and to begin to rival more established clusters in the UK and overseas.

With the supercharging of UK Innovation Clusters and research facilities comes an increased demand for wider services including power and ventilation, and skills such as engineering and management. The orderly process of experimentation, write up and collaboration is key, allowing shared learning and ideas to flourish. Sites can be urban or rural; but each with specific challenges around Planning and infrastructure. Encouragingly these clusters are not just sources of employment for the highly educated but eco-systems of a whole workforce and community.

At Woldon we are in various ways servicing the needs of the ever-changing modern workplace. Existing buildings may often be the starting point and, where viable, existing building fabric is retained. The brief may see a redundant office adapted as flexible laboratory space with a highly technical specification from anti-vibration to high floor load demands. Old buildings can be revitalized with creative, high quality, low carbon technologies and adapted to facilitate new business. The focus is on the principles of place-making and creating attractive environments that put people first and stimulate innovation.

The knowledge economy needs to find its home connected to academic roots and opportunities for investment. Woldon is well-placed to deliver this infrastructure. Projects include developing a 350,000sqft quarry site for incubator business, research, health, and leisure facilities, and designs for a national award-winning diary producer that focuses on biosecurity. We engage with agronomists and Agri-tech consultants to support the diversification of rural estates, and, in central London, we have serviced medical institutions to ensure delivery of the latest healthcare.

At the core of Woldon’s service is the vision to enrich life and landscape with humanity at its heart, underpinned by the values of Quality, Integrity, and Creativity. Our success will be the legacy of a better life for all.