HQ flagship building evokes pioneering spirit of Maurice Wilkes

It was 30 years ago that St John’s College visionaries lit the touchpaper to an iconic business hub on Cambridge’s northern fringe.

St John’s Innovation Centre offered an alternative venue for ambitious startups to the Science Park across the road and hundreds of top companies have been through its portals and emerged as acknowledged greats.

The innovation centre – the first of its kind in Europe – also attracted the interest of global organisations who have since used it as a template for similar ventures in various parts of the world.

Over the years other business hubs have evolved on the college’s 21-acre site, namely the Jeffreys Building, the Platinum Building, St John’s House, Edinburgh House, the Vitrum Building – and now the Maurice Wilkes Building.

Autonomy Corporation, Jagex, Zeus Technology, Redgate Software, Business Weekly, PlayFusion, Owlstone, Scientia, Datanomic, Samsung, Telstra and Qualcomm are just some of the businesses that have cut their teeth on the Park and scaled globally.

The Maurice Wilkes Building puts the icing on this 30th birthday cake! It is named after Cambridge’s world-renowned technology pioneer Sir Maurice Wilkes who revolutionised computing and connectivity of devices at the university and further afield.

Turnstone Estates was selected by St John’s College to help the development of the site for this major grade A office flagship.

Due for completion in early summer 2018, it will provide 64,445 sq ft of Grade A office space arranged over five floors, plus reception and roof terrace measuring 2,077 sq ft.

As Turnstone managing director Chris Goldsmith explains, the reaction from leading businesses in Cambridge to the accommodation on offer has been exceptional.

Cyber security world-leader Darktrace pre-leased the top two floors through top-ranking letting agent Savills. Then, as announced exclusively a week ago by Business Weekly, Britain’s No.1 accountancy and business advisory firm PwC ended a six-year search for a new Cambridge HQ by taking a 15-year lease on 12,195 sq ft at the building.

With another part of the building already under offer, according to Savills’ Rob Sadler, just one 7,452 sq ft suite on the ground floor and 15,580 sq ft across the first floor of the building remain available to let.

Goldsmith believes the Wilkes building can justifiably stake a claim to being Cambridge’s stand-out Grade A office property given a vast array of hi-tech features throughout allied to provision of a range of features to accommodate a diverse and dynamic workforce.

Clean lines and a contemporary mix of materials ensures a distinctive and stylish headquarters building which sets new standards in the Cambridge market, according to Goldsmith.
It offers access to a wide range of amenities at St John’s Innovation Park that give those on the site “a greater work life balance.”

Proximity to the new Cambridge North Station has proved a magnet for tenants and Turnstone insisted on unparallelled provision of a significant number of ultra-secure cycle parking spaces for the non-car community, given Cambridge’s bike friendly profile. Superb shower and changing facilities further stimulate the comfort zone for employees cycling to work at the Maurice Wilkes Building.

Darktrace – our reigning Business of the Year – has previously gone on record to trumpet the significance of the new HQ to its international expansion strategy.

PwC’s Cambridge senior partner Sian Steele has joined the fan club. She told Business Weekly: “The firm has been searching for some time for a new Cambridge headquarters and the Maurice Wilkes Building is exactly what we were seeking. It is fabulous for our staff and our clients and will help us in recruiting new talent to our Cambridge operations.”

All 150 permanent Cambridge staff will make the switch – probably around Christmas 2018 – and Steele said PwC intends to continue building its team from the new base as well as aligning many of its international services in science & technology sectors behind the Cambridge offering.

She added: “We want to offer the best thinking in the marketplace to our increasingly international Cambridge clientele. Even young startups are international from day one and we recognise this.

“All our staff are so excited about the opportunity this move to the Maurice Wilkes Building provides the firm and its ongoing growth strategy.”

The inspiration behind it all, of course, is St John’s College and spokesperson Suzie Wood said: “It is great to welcome such a prestigious tenant as PwC to the St John’s Innovation Park to sit alongside the other cutting-edge technology firms already there or signed-up.”

Thirty years ago when the original blueprint for the Innovation Centre was laid across protagonists’ desks, few could have foreseen the potential for the growth as developments have unfurled.

When Business Weekly moved into the centre in May 1990 there was no distraction for staff to look out of the windows because there was nothing out there to look at.

As David Gill, managing director of the Innovation Centre for the last nine years, points out the landscape is now unrecognisable. The density and bustle as hundreds of employees fill the different buildings on the Park has created a world-renowned corridor of excellence.

The Innovation Centre itself is more or less permanently full and continues to churn out corporate champions at a regular rate.

Many tenants now have the opportunity to stay on the broader Park when they outgrow the innovation centre rather than uprooting for another Cambridge venue – or even an alternative location elsewhere in the UK or internationally.

Gill said: “I think what St John’s has envisioned and executed from a standing start 30 years ago is utterly remarkable and the environment across the Park has stimulated so many global success stories.

“Furthermore, the provision of such inspirational facilities has retained a good many companies here that might otherwise have moved out of the area.

“There are sensible plans in place to improve facilities even further at the Innovation Centre and across the Park in general to continue to cater for the new wave of exciting startups in science & technology that the cluster is constantly producing.

“The Maurice Wilkes Building and the world-class tenants it is attracting is a fitting addition to our centre of excellence.”

by Tony Quested