This year we have been lucky enough to design and fit out our new office from scratch to coincide with a business name change (itself an act which factored our position on diversity and inclusion, following the association of our old business name, Hardwicke, with the slave trade). Gatehouse Chambers arrived at newly refurbished 1 Lady Hale Gate in Gray’s Inn in July.
Established organisations usually have to make physical changes incrementally, subject to need and finance. The beauty of this project meant that we were investing in a brand-new look and feel for our organisation (including on branding and website too), and so we had a one-off opportunity to be bold and creative.
We got professionals in to help us on the design, and worked with a great team from Oktra to provide visual concepts, ideas and space planning, leading to the actual fit out itself. However, much of the direction of travel in terms of what we wanted to achieve out of our new space was business led.
We wanted to create a space – or in fact many different spaces – that felt open and creative and which fit our values as an organisation.
Along the way we had focus groups and representative sub committees about what our needs were. It was interesting to see that perceived needs for the future did not appear to change very much either through or after the periods of lockdown in the pandemic. The desire to move to a new, modern, shared, all-purpose space was strong throughout.
First class real estate in Central London near to the law courts comes at a premium. We had purposely set out to acquire more space, moving from 15,000 to 21,000 sq ft in order to give our business space to grow, but also give us the versatility to do so much more with our accommodation.
In factoring in diversity and inclusion considerations we made many positive design and space choices to include ideas on how we wanted to work in the future, and what we wanted to have on offer to others. This included a prayer room, call pods, quiet rooms, a multi-purpose hub and two fantastic floors of versatile client meeting and seminar rooms. This space is not fee earning, but it is definitely considered as business-enhancing.
The concept of creating lots of different spaces where people could ‘plug and play’ was borne of creating space that took in to account mood, creativity, neurodiversity, mental health and ways that different people work best.
Physical and mental wellbeing was also considered in the acquisition of automatic sit-stand desk for everyone, and already we are witnessing the benefits of making this choice.
We found that many of our design project decisions reinforced our values as an organisation. We were not simply buying a suite of things ‘off the shelf’ that gave us good equality, diversity and inclusion credentials, but designing and building space that spoke to or enhanced where we already are.
Diversity and inclusion considerations are also factors in who we will invite in to use or share the space with us. We will open up the space commercially of course, but will also continue with a tradition of giving up meeting and seminar rooms for charitable causes.
We will be welcoming sublet tenants to small areas of the building including three voluntary sector organisations, Legal Action Group, London Legal Support Trust and Law Centres Network, demonstrating a real tangible business commitment to supporting equality, diversity and inclusion not just in our own industry and space, but in organisations that have a wider remit in society.
This article first appeared in Property Week.