november 2016 | Economic Multiplier
Driving Collaboration and Innovation Through Personality
Set to be officially unveiled in summer 2018, Here East is London’s new tech campus with meeting facilities occupying the London 2012 Olympics press and broadcast centres. By cultivating an environment of creative and innovative talent in both big and small business, education and retail, as well as fostering new ways of constructive collaboration, it is already receiving global recognition. Meetings International met with the driving force and CEO of Here East, Gavin Poole, on site in London.
The leading figures of the European Enlightenment would often seek inspiration for their work by turning to the wisdom of the East. A similar eastward gaze in pursuit of wisdom is currently in vogue in London too, more specifically towards the site of its 2012 Olympic Games on the eastern fringes of the city and its legacy facilities, where the transformation of both buildings and park has been slowly creating a modern-day urban environment fit for the demands of 21st century globalised society.
Within this once heavily deprived and run-down area of east London nowhere will the transformation of the Olympic legacy buildings have such a lasting regenerative impact as that of Here East, the press and broadcast buildings used for the games and currently undergoing conversion to a 1.2 million square feet (120,000 m²) hub for creative businesses with significant meeting and conferencing facilities at its core. All this is in a setting that is bringing people together for creative cooperation and promoting trailblazing new concepts on how collaboration can be maximised.
The catalyst for the project has been Here East’s charismatic and indefatigable CEO, Gavin Poole, who, remarkably, has been able to achieve all of this in his maiden foray into development.
“I got involved in the project back in 2011. A friend who founded and ran a data centre company told me about the potential of the buildings in the Olympic Park to house a data centre. However, we needed a vision to deliver that, because the data centre is just one small part. I left what I was doing at that time, which was running a social policy think tank in Westminster, and came and gave a stamp of authority to social regeneration, but could then also help craft a really powerful vision around education, employment, enterprise and environment.”
The strategic prowess to be able to deliver on the potential of such capacious buildings and understand how they would need to functionally weld together whilst embracing and integrating the local community stems not just from Poole’s Westminster think tank role, but from a much broader personal history of strategic decision-making and leadership that has fully equipped him for the demands of such a project.
“I’m an ex-military officer, so I’m a generalist in leadership and being able to work across teams, which I did for more than 20 years in the military. What that has enabled me to contribute to this project is system leadership, team building, vision and a focus on regeneration. Also, as an aerospace engineer, I am able to focus very specifically on a technology bias, which in east London is really important.”
There were more than 300 expressions of interest for the post-Games use of the press and broadcast buildings. By stressing the importance of technology to east London and the socially regenerative potential of Poole’s vision for the buildings and surrounding area, Here East gained the edge with the London Legacy Development Corporation. To then make it a more tangible prospect, he had to formulate a strategy to put the right skill sets in place to make it deliverable.
“The Legacy Corporation recognised that we didn’t have the development skills, so we partnered with an asset management company called Delancey, which develops fantastic large-scale buildings across London. They also owned the athlete’s village in the park, so we saw that politically as a good thing, but moreover the chemistry was right.”
With the Legacy Corporation’s nod of approval securing their preferred bidder status, Poole’s next strategic step was to understand how similar facilities around the world operated successfully and use these insights to improve the London concept.
“There’s a whole range of spaces over a million square feet, but they’re all so different in terms of legacy background and history. We went to the RDM Campus in Rotterdam and Eura Technologies in Lille, which is re-purposed textile factories, and to an old Phillips Centre in Eindhoven. We’ve also made visits to America, where we’ve looked at different places that have come out of tower blocks or dockyard facilities. You start to see they’re all different in how they’re being re-purposed and their design.”
With the professional team in place and the vision further crystallising from a better understanding of these facilities, Poole wasted little time in getting on site to refurbish the buildings, which was when the full extent of support for the wider positive impacts of his vision was really becoming palpable.
“As soon as we got through planning we were getting the contractors on site and getting into the refurbishment of the buildings, and the support was phenomenal. There’s no ’not in my backyard’ mentality, mainly because people can see that this is bringing life and vibrancy into the area.”
“We had a huge amount of support from all quarters when we became preferred bidder for the buildings and negotiated the lease. In fact, we’ve had huge support all the way through. We’re based in Hackney and that’s really important to us, as the council’s executive team and local councillors have been really supportive about what we do here. The Legacy Corporation executive board is also very supportive. Whilst the other venues were sporting, apart from the homes in the athlete’s village, we deliver the economic multiplier they hadn’t got and also we were here building fast as well.”
The economic multiplier effects of Here East have quickly become apparent with a number of high-profile tenants occupying completed space on the campus. However, the depth of support for their ambitions is also fuelled by the numerous examples of how it is engendering a strong sense of community both within the buildings it is directly responsible for and via its engagement with the surrounding local communities in how it will achieve its economic aspirations.
“Here East is not just about ’work’ – we’ve got the education aspect here as well. The universities and projects are here to give local students opportunities to get free, funded Masters programmes.”
“We’ve got our restaurant offer by the canal. We have built it and curated the type of operators in such a way that it’s become a place for the community. It’s now a destination people travel to from all over London, because it’s had such fantastic reviews. There’s a night-time economy, as people are coming from all over to eat and drink here. So we’ve created a community down there that isn’t dependant fully on the footfall of Here East and it will be able to grow further as we take on more and more lettings.”
“At the same time we link back strongly to the original vision and make sure we’ve also got programmes for schools, apprenticeship programmes, academic bursaries and grants. We’ve also got employment here and we make sure when jobs come up that we put those into the local community as much as we possibly can. Our ethos here is to support local employment, so my own team, which is now over 50 people here on site, is almost 50 per cent local employees all the way through the hierarchy of jobs. Where appropriate, we use local suppliers as well, because I want to make sure it’s not just about what goes on at Here East, but how we can also support GDP growth in the local community by supporting local contractors.”
With a supporting ethos at its core, Here East offers a strong platform for interaction in its community by providing meeting facilities in both the theatre building and a conferencing area currently under refurbishment. These spaces, which are split between two buildings connected by a link bridge, can be used by both the businesses on the campus and external companies.
“The theatre space has a 950-capacity event space and the conferencing facility can take the same number in a break-out area and refreshment area. At the moment it’s a very raw and temporary set up. We are starting to divide and sub-divide areas in the conferencing area. The theatre space offers a lot of different configurations: from round tables of ten for gala dinners up to 950-person theatre style, or a mixture of both.”
“There’s the ability to run two events in the two locations, and we’ve also got a huge 60m-deep, 100m-long balcony, which is available for breaking out and fresh air breaks. Also, beneath the theatre, which is elevated by 10m, is a covered exhibition space, which you can use outdoors. For an upcoming event, the motor industry will be putting Formula 1 cars, high-end sports cars and new development vehicles in that space. It’s a very flexible space and we’ll reconfigure it over time.”
“We’ve done a lot of research into where we fit into the sector, because we really needed to understand that. If you just walked blindly into the meetings and events sector you’re going to get hurt and we know that we’re niche. All of this is the last piece of the jigsaw, which will finally be made over in about 18 month’s time. In the interim, we’re running it as a sort of a pop-up space – a pop-up with over one million pounds’ worth of equipment in it – to enable us to run proper high-end events.”
When the final pieces of the jigsaw come together, Here East will not only be offering high-end events, it will be hosting them in a collaborative environment that will be entirely avant-garde, as under Poole’s guidance the campus has been completely redefining how people come together and interact.
“There’s a group of us with a very similar vision about what we’re trying to achieve, how we’re trying to bring people together, the value of education, the value of curating the right environment and our role as managers of the site. We are almost like ’custodians’ of the environment, making sure we get people to meet and collaborate. It’s different to just having a skyscraper where you have a facilities management team at the bottom and you speak to them when something has gone wrong. In our case, we meet everybody, we know everybody and we make sure that they’re introduced to the right people.”
“If someone new brings their company here we’ll say ’actually, you should go and meet these guys, they’re doing something you could be interested in’ – we facilitate all of that. It’s about driving collaboration and innovation through personality. The theatre space and the conferencing facility plays into that, because it’s a place where we can bring people together, as opposed to the informal ’bump and mingle’ as people call it, across the site.”
“What’s really important to us is that it’s not just about tenants – the ’tenant’ is the institutional body that takes space at Here East, but every single individual is a ’citizen’ of Here East. We value every single person, because each person is working for an institution or company that may have a great idea and may just be looking for the opportunity to think about how to unleash it. With research facilities, innovation centres and lecture series all here, it might be the catalyst to get that idea out and turn it into business, support business growth and create job opportunities. That’s what we believe and that’s how we address the citizens of Here East. It may sound very grandiose, but that’s our value set.”
Such grand ambitions with equally grand regenerative and socially inclusive consequences have naturally drawn attention from an international audience. With more than 18 months to go before the official unveiling – scheduled for summer 2018 – Here East is already proving to be a benchmark for similar projects getting off the ground around the globe.
“There has been a lot of interest. We’ve had people visit us from the Baltic states, Norway, Finland, Paris and America. So we’ve had quite a few asking what we are doing, how we are doing it and what they can learn from it.”
“The Olympic broadcast service and the International Olympic Committee asked to use some of our material for attracting bids from other nations when they wanted to announce the games. It was to show what they could do and that this is a model for best practice, so that helped as well. There are a lot of countries out there that are really looking at this.”
Having delivered such a complex and forward-thinking facility that has the eyes of international tech and meeting communities trained on the wisdom of London’s east end, what challenges might lie ahead for its enlightened engineer-in-chief?
“Someone once said to me that if I could tell you now what you’d be doing in five years time you wouldn’t believe me, and I think that’s as valid today as it was when it was said to me almost 20 years ago. I hold that whilst you plan your life and your career, you never know what’s around the corner.”