Westminster University’s Regent Street Campus, opened as The Royal Polytechnic Institution, has stood in the same imposing building in the heart of London’s busy shopping district since the early 1800s.
Over the years the building has aged well, but many of the original lecture theatres were becoming dated, and at a time when British universities are battling to attract the best students from both home and abroad, something had to be done.
Some universities regard such challenges as an opportunity to start afresh, drawing up plans to flatten old buildings and build new facilities that feature contemporary designs.
Westminster University, however, decided to give this much loved asset a second lease of life. Indeed, when the Regent Street campus reopened in September, following a six-week-long refurbishment, students and staff would likely have been pleasantly surprised by an ambitious facelift that has created spacious new lecture theatres, brought loads of natural light into the building, and recast its gloomy interiors with wood surfaces and brighter colours.
Claughtons Office Equipment, based in Hull, was awarded the contract to supply the university with bespoke fixed and loose fittings, with the Regent Street campus being one of four sites involved in the £300,000 furniture renewal program.
“This was one of the biggest projects we had embarked on this summer in central London. When we were awarded it, we were really pleased and eager to get started, because the brief gave us room to showcase products that we hadn’t featured in educational buildings before,” says David Claughton, Sales Director at Claughtons, which recently merged with British Thornton ESF Ltd and EME Furniture Limited to become the biggest educational furniture supplier in the UK.
The project was put to tender through the London University Purchasing Consortium framework, which exists to generate savings and better value for members through the collaborative procurement of goods and services. Claughtons successfully pitched for the work by proposing to use bespoke furniture designs intended to combine old and new by matching the building’s timber interior with modern work surfaces.
But while refreshing older buildings may be less costly, the challenges of projects like the Regent Street’s ambitious modernisation plan can be formidable. With furniture being supplied from multiple sources from across the globe, Claughtons had to coordinate its suppliers as well as working closely with the architect and other onsite contractors, which presented its own unique challenges.
“At any one time, we had consultants working at four sites, some in the centre and some on the outskirts of London. When deliveries came in, vans would go from stop to stop dropping off furniture and team members, who would then have to get on the Underground to return to the main site. The logistics of this project were a huge challenge; working with so many different trades at once meant that we all relied on each other’s work being done on time, but that made it all the more satisfying when it was completed.”
David said that the most interesting thing about this project was the range of furniture Claughtons was tasked to fit.
“In one lecture theatre we installed multiple rows of Ocee’s FourCast range fixed to the floor. Now fixed seating might sound old fashioned, but each seat shell is ergonomically developed to provide maximum comfort and they even have tablet holders attached.”
The project included Steelcase’s Node Chair, with its flexible design for quick, easy transitions between room configurations. These chairs allow conference rooms to switch to a more collaborative environment, making them a popular choice for Universities.
Claughtons also installed sound studio furniture, IT suite work surfaces and Ocee’s Den Range, which gives students an isolated area to work without distraction. All of the fittings included bespoke dark wood work surfaces designed to match the timber interior of the building.
In 2012 the Government increased the price of tuition fees by £6000 per year from £3000 to £9000, and as a result, universities are going ahead with more expensive building projects secured by the extra income.
“The whole education marketplace is becoming more competitive. Choosing a university can be a confusing time for students and one thing always taken into careful consideration is the look of the campus and its facilities.”
David believes Claughtons, now called British Thornton, has learnt that the most important way to ensure a project like this one is successful is to remain flexible and open minded.
“The success of this contract has really opened up new potential for us in London and the South of England because we have proved that we have the skills to be able to implement a large scale and logistically complicated project on time and to a high standard.”
British Thornton is already in talks with the London School of Economics and has other projects in the pipeline that have come out of its Westminster University refurbishment.
David continues: “We are in a great position to benefit from the campus construction boom, which will only continue to grow now that the cap on university placement has been lifted.”