Inside Mantle’s new Cambridge business centre at Nine Hills Road
For Guy Baker, it was something of a bold move.
But signing a 10-year lease on a major building in Cambridge in June was a vote of confidence, both in his own business – Mantle – and in the city’s wider economy.
Now, a multitude of companies have settled in to their new home at Nine Hills Road, where Mantle successfully opened its latest business centre just days before the second lockdown began. Inside are companies relocated from the CB1 Centre at 20 Station Road, which is being knocked down and redeveloped by Brookgate as part of its CB1 development.
Nine Hills Road also offers significant extra room for new clients to join them – and CEO Guy says the signs are encouraging, even at a time when many of us have been working from home.
“We first took over 20 Station Road for Brookgate in 2013,” he explains to the Cambridge Independent. “At that point, it was an elderly building that Brookgate knew they were going to redevelop at some point. We were able to give it a new lease of life for a number of years.
“We knew a while ago that we needed to find a new home, and entered into negotiations with the University of Cambridge to take a lease on the former Cambridge Assessment building at Nine Hills Road.”
Cambridge Assessment, the university’s international exams board, moved to its new home, The Triangle, in 2018, opening up the opportunity for Nine Hills Road to be converted into one of Mantle’s business centres, which also include the Bradfield Centre on Cambridge Science Park and The Officers’ Mess at Duxford, among others.
“We were presented with a ‘go’ decision in June, during the first lockdown,” recalls Guy. “In some ways, it was almost perfectly bad timing! But we worked our way through it and had it all planned. We were able to take 130 of our clients at 20 Station Road with us. They were all keen to stay with us.
“It was a bold decision. I don’t know how many 10-year leases were signed in June…”
Then came what Guy describes as a “very challenging three-month period”.
“We had to totally refurbish the ground and first floors of Nine Hills Road between the beginning of August and the end of October. It was a logistical challenge to get the refurbishment work and the relocations done in three months, but we got there on the day.”
The centre opened on Monday, November 2.
“I’m really proud of everybody involved and all of my team. By all accounts, our tenants are very happy with the building,” says Guy.
Aidan Gutteridge, founder of MOOi Architecture, certainly is.
“As architects, we look for light filled, high specification, generous working spaces and we’re delighted with our new office at Nine Hills Road, which delivers everything we had hoped it would,” he says.
“The site has been well considered and designed and offers private working spaces, collaborative communal break-out areas and all the facilities you’d expect from a modern office. Our location just minutes from the city centre and the secure bike storage means we can easily cycle to work and visit our clients and sites nearby, although there’s parking too, which is useful for meetings at the office.”
Another client thanked the team for a “faultless move from Station Road in what must have been very difficult circumstances”.
Now they are in, the advantages of the new site are becoming clear.
“It’s twice as big – it’s 30,000 ft,” notes Guy. “It’s got lots of parking, a bigger and more spacious reception and we’ve been able to create significantly more break-out space and co-working space. We’re able to make the building work much better than 20 Station Road.
“Since 2013, we’ve also developed a house brand. If you go into our business centre in Stevenage, or Abingdon in Oxfordshire, or the latest phases of our centre in Chelmsford, they’ve all got a house brand. We’ve been able to install that in Nine Hills Road.”
Covid-secure measures, of course, are a necessary part of all Mantle’s business centres right now, with perspex screens, floor stickers, two-metre distancing and hand sanitisers everywhere you go.
During lockdown, some companies have worked more from home, while others have been on site, depending on the nature of their business – and those at Nine Hills Road range from technology companies to business support services.
But while you might imagine the demand for bricks and mortar has declined during the pandemic, Mantle’s flexible workspace offer – enabling businesses to take space at a level and frequency that they need it – has proved ideal for those navigating the new normal.
“We’ve seen higher levels of inquiries in August, September and October 2020 compared with those months in 2019,” confirms Guy.
“Some of those inquiries are different, with bigger flexible service requirements that we hadn’t seen before. And that’s the case with Nine Hills Road more than anywhere else. We have conversations going on with a number of slightly larger occupiers. We’re pleased that there is plenty of demand.”
Meanwhile, Mantle’s Home Flexi arrangement offers small companies a business address, a desk and meeting space as required at any of its business centres.
“I feel quite positive that we’re offering the right services to current and new customers. It’s looking a lot better than we feared in March,” says Guy.
“Nine Hills Road gives us more flexibility and options to satisfy the need that is there. 20 Station Road was full and we had a waiting list.”
Walking around Nine Hills Road, you will find new co-working spaces and offices in a range of sizes, along with phone booths, breakfast bars and kitchen facilities with a coffee machine, large meeting rooms, 80 parking spaces, cycle parking, showering and drying facilities.
Post-Covid, it should prove ideal for making business connections within the centre too.
“We try to facilitate that by making sure our centre management team are really engaged with our clients. We have events – like wine tasting – and a benefits programme where the centre manager arranges discounts for our clients,” notes Guy.
Mantle is currently recruiting a new centre manager for the site.
“It’s a great opportunity to find the right person for what will hopefully be our flagship centre,” says Guy.
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