This year we have been lucky enough to design and fit out our new office from scratch to coincide with a business name change (an act that factored in our position on diversity and inclusion, following the association of our old business name, Hardwicke, with the slave trade). Gatehouse Chambers arrived at newly refurbished 1 Lady Hale Gate in Gray’s Inn in July.
Established organisations usually have to make physical changes incrementally, subject to need and finance. The beauty of this project meant that we were investing in a brand-new look and feel for our organisation (including branding and website ), so we had a one-off opportunity to be bold and creative.
We got professionals in to help on the design and worked with a great team from Oktra to provide visual concepts, ideas and space planning, leading to the actual fit-out. However, much of the direction of travel in terms of what we wanted to achieve with our new space was business led.
We wanted to create a space – or many different spaces – that felt open and creative, and which fitted our values as an organisation.
Along the way, we used focus groups and representative subcommittees to work out what our needs were. It was interesting to see that perceived needs for the future did not appear to change very much either through or after the pandemic lockdowns. The desire to move to a new, modern, shared, all-purpose space was strong throughout.
First-class real estate in central London near to the law courts comes at a premium. We purposely set out to acquire more space, moving from 15,000 sq ft to 21,000 sq ft to give our business space to grow, but it also gives us the versatility to do so much more with our accommodation.
In factoring in diversity and inclusion considerations, we made many positive design and space choices to include ideas on how we wanted to work in the future, and what we wanted to offer to others. This included a prayer room, call pods, quiet rooms, a multi-purpose hub and two fantastic floors of versatile client meeting and seminar rooms. This space is not fee-earning, but is definitely considered as business-enhancing.
Creating different spaces
The concept of creating lots of different spaces where people could ‘plug and play’ was born out of creating space that accounted for mood, creativity, neurodiversity, mental health and ways that different people work best.
Physical and mental wellbeing was also considered in the acquisition of automatic sit-stand desks for everyone and already we are witnessing the benefits of making this choice.
We found many of our design project decisions reinforced our values as an organisation. We were not simply buying a suite of things ‘off the shelf’ that gave us good equality, diversity and inclusion credentials, but designing and building space that spoke to or enhanced where we already are.
Diversity and inclusion considerations are also factors into who we will invite in to use or share the space with us. We will open up the space commercially of course, but will also continue a tradition of giving up meeting and seminar rooms for charitable causes.
We will be welcoming sublet tenants to small areas of the building including three voluntary sector organisations – Legal Action Group, London Legal Support Trust and Law Centres Network – demonstrating a tangible business commitment to supporting equality, diversity and inclusion not just in our own industry and space, but in organisations that have a wider remit in society.
Amanda Illing is chief executive of Gatehouse Chambers