Health and wellbeing at work


Architects Saunders have designed what will be one of the most sustainable business parks in the UK, with the focus on sustainable construction and healthy lifestyles for staff. Managing director Martin Williams explains why it is an exemplar workplace

Cambridge Innovation Park North is set to become one of the first fully sustainable business campuses in the UK. The ethos driving this business park model – in itself innovative – extends beyond highly energy efficient buildings, MMC and carbon offsetting, to also fully embrace community wellbeing.

It sits on a 3.88 hectare former Ministry of Defence site at Waterbeach, in Cambridge. It is the first phase of a three-park initiative, and an aspirational model of sustainability for a business park community of the future with ‘best in class’ environmental strategies, which encourages sustainable modes of transport, and contains settings which allow for exercise and relaxation.

The scheme gained planning consent following a successful planning performance agreement with the local planning authority. Being sustainability-led, the design proposal fell in line with local development aspirations for the area and was well received by consultees. As a result, the client is now working on further environmentally-driven schemes with the architectural team.

Diversifying workplaces
It is very clear that if the business park model of yesteryear is to survive, it needs to diversify. The out-of-town parks synonymous with uninspiring and insular block buildings surrounded by a sea of cars is at odds with today’s focus on sustainable and commutable living. We were fortunate that the client in this case prioritised sustainability and had a vision of a setting constructed in sustainable materials, employing modular solutions and employing passive or low energy service strategies. The sustainable workplace will incorporate facilities for wellbeing such as breakout spaces, social facilities, a cafe, gym, trim trail, running/cycle tracks and meeting spaces, set around a large, ecologically diverse watercourse reminiscent of the local fenland character. As well as attracting and retaining staff, this provides efficient links to new town facilities and importantly, transport.

Isolated workplaces which are divorced from amenities have become unthinkable nowadays. Good transport linkages and access to town centres or their facilities are fundamental to the success of a business park. The Waterbeach site is located adjacent to a vast new town development including shops, bars, residential and a new railway/bus station. The proposal also includes excellent covered, secure cycle parking which far exceeds the national standards, with changing shower facilities linked to the cycle network and public transport together with a green travel plan to provide bus facilities to reduce reliance on cars alone. Parking spaces will be prioritised for electric vehicles and employees involved in a car sharing scheme. Despite the inclusion of adequate parking, the proposal is landscape focused, with the majority of parking concentrated to the rear of the site. This maximises the impact of the soft, green landscaping, and ‘waterscape’ setting.

Work culture shift
A big shift for the business park is also in work culture. The first examples were devised for a nine to five working day, however, post-pandemic flexible working requires a shift in our understanding of the workplace. Staff need to be enticed by an attractive and stimulating change of scene from their desks at home, as a place for collaboration that will engage the best staff. The work setting promotes a lifestyle, while enabling a sensible work/life balance. Flexible low carbon workplaces that are naturally lit and ventilated improve wellbeing and, in turn, positively impact a company’s employee retention.

In this project, detailed materials research and appraisals determined the most appropriate, low impact materials to be included in the building, including those which have the potential to store carbon throughout their life cycles. Natural materials such as timber, sheep wool, straw and cellulose (recycled paper), all by-products of much larger industries, are available locally and have the potential to be used within the building design, especially for insulation. Additionally, hemp, which is a great absorber of carbon, is being considered as the liner for a prefabricated wall panel; to offer the benefit of naturally modulating internal temperatures as well as carbon sequestration.

The holistic approach to sustainable design also goes far beyond the tangible elements, such as material choices, construction methodology and energy sources. The ethos of the brief and design proposal needed to persuade the post-pandemic worker that there are clear and healthy benefits (both physical and mental) to going back to the office. This includes the camaraderie, discussion, collaboration, social stimulation and opportunities to break the pattern of the day with sporting or recreational activities.

Forward thinking, socially responsible businesses are keen to promote a commitment to sustainability, and are more discerning about their working environment. This will attract an environmentally conscious workforce who appreciate the sustainable benefits of their workplace.

The business park of the future can play a key role in establishing new workplace models and many of those existing business parks are capable of being remodelled, just like we have at Cambridge, to make a truly positive impact on the climate crisis.