Workers return to Chiswick Business Park

One of the major changes in Chiswick as a result of the pandemic has been the peace and relative quiet of Chiswick Business Park. Normally there are crowds of workers streaming across the road to and from Gunnersbury tube station at the beginning and end of the working day.

The workers are set to return over the next few weeks. Pam O’Toole has been talking to Matt Coulson, CEO of Enjoy-Work, which manages the Park, who told her he is expecting the workers to return in force.

Image above: Chiswick Business Park; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Chiswick Business Park expecting  double the number of workers on site in the next two weeks

Since Covid hit, the majority of its workers have been based at home, but Chiswick Business Park has not entirely been a ghost town:

“It’s been 18 months of frustrations for everyone,” says Matt Coulson, CEO of Enjoy-Work, “but the Park has remained open throughout the whole pandemic.”

The multi award-winning Park is home to a number of big household names. Their “guest” companies include Paramount, Starbucks, Pernod Ricard, Pepsico, Danone, Pokemon and Singapore Airlines.

He points out that some are 24/7 operations, and therefore have needed access to their buildings throughout. These include Discovery, which bought the European TV rights to the Tokyo Olympics, the shopping channel QVC and medical/ security company International SOS.

He admits that only a fraction of the ten thousand or so office workers are currently on site, but he senses things are gearing up for a wider return.

“Compared to how busy the Park was pre-Covid, about a third of people are back” says Matt. “We’re expecting that to double in the next two weeks. From September, talking to the guest companies, the vast majority of them are coming back in much bigger numbers. So we’re looking forward to another big uplift and a busy September, October.“

Image: Matt Coulson, CEO Enjoy Work

Vaccination “personal choice”

So what can returning workers expect in terms of safety measures? As the infection rates mounted in the spring of 2020 and the government made available a breakdown of the figures in local areas, Chiswick Park often had a higher number of infections than other wards in Chiswick, but given the size of the workforce they could have been a lot higher.

At the beginning of the outbreak, Matt points out, the Park was ahead of the curve.

“It was through the relationship we have with our guest companies we heard about Covid, ahead of it really hitting the UK”, he says. In late 2019 he received a tip off from a director of a guest company which had offices in China – a potential problem was looming. As a result, the Park started preparing early. It introduced sanitisation and social distancing measures at the end of January 2020, well ahead of any Government Covid measures being introduced, and individual guest companies began changing their working practices.

Since then, his team has followed government guidelines. They’ve also held a series of presentations showing guest companies what’s being done to keep the environment safe, including using very high-grade filters to clean the air. As for on-site vaccination policies, that’s pretty much up to individual companies. Asked about his estate management company’s own policy, Matt says:

“We don’t enforce double-vaccination, we recommend it. It’s down to personal choice.

“We’ll continue to work with each of the guest companies and we monitor very closely how many people are occupying each of the buildings, and how things are working around the estate. We have a range of measures in place within the buildings, as do guest companies. If anything changes, guidance-wise, then we’ll make sure we adapt and change as well. But for now the buildings are safe – everyone’s happy using them.“

Images above: Chiswick Business Park – photograph Jennifer Griffishs; Crane on a pod – photograph Silvia Boncompagni

New companies moving in

I wonder whether the Park ever be quite the same again, given the massive shift towards working from home during the pandemic?

Again, it’s all down to individual company policy. But, according to Matt:

“With regards to flexible working, to be honest I’d say that most companies on this Park have been doing that for years and years anyway. So it’s no different to what it was pre-Covid. That will continue – people will work some days in the office, some from home. It may have a very small impact, but it is only a small impact. ”

It’s perhaps a tribute to the Park, which has featured regularly in the Financial Times’ Top Great 50 Places to Work, that Matt says only one company has left during the Covid period, and that company’s planning to return within the next two years. Meanwhile, new companies are still moving in – Pladis, whose brands include McVitie’s and Jacob’s, now has its global head office in the Park.

An announcement is expected in the next week or so about another new tenant. Meanwhile Building 12 is currently being refurbished. Matt Coulson confirms that Richmond, The American International University in London, is one of a number of organisations potentially interested in moving in there.

Image above: Chiswick Business Park; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Workers returning to the Park will find a number of small changes. The owners of the popular café next to the Virgin Gym have decided to call it a day and will not reopen their doors. But returning cyclists will find a lot more services on offer. Bicycle parking spaces have been massively increased, and there are now cycle repair stations in every building, plus a cycle shop.

Measures like this are likely to further burnish the Park’s reputation as one of the most user-friendly places to work in Britain. Twenty one years after opening, it’s still continuing to attract awards.

Occasionally the Park hits the headlines for other reasons. During the summer of 2019 a couple were filmed having sex in one of the Park’s outdoor meeting pods. The story created headlines as far away as Australia. I can’t resist asking Matt Coulson about it – were the culprits ever identified?

“It was just two local residents who were walking through the Park and unfortunately broke into a pod and moved on very quickly afterwards,” he says. “Unfortunately it was out of hours on a weekend and it wasn’t anyone who actually worked on the park. But the police were able to deal with it.”

Image above: Chiswick Business park zipwire

Zip lines and fireworks

They’ve also not made themselves popular with local residents in recent months. Members of the West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Residents Association, whose houses back on to the Park, raised objections when Enjoy Work applied to LB Hounslow for a licence to hold bigger functions more regularly. They got their licence, but were told they had to set up regular meetings with residents to liase.

READ ALSO: Council approves large scale events at Chiswick Business Park

They will recognise some of the faces. West Chiswick and Gunnersbury Residents Association were behind a long fight to get the bridge built at the northern end of the business park, to relieve the pressure on Gunnersbury station. It took several years to achieve, but with typical panache, the bridge that was built is stylish and attractive.

Chiswick Business Park occasionally opens its doors to the public. Over recent years, more adventurous locals visiting Chiswick Business Park have watched with envy as crash-helmeted office workers whizzed over their heads on a 300 metre zip line. In pre-Covid times, the zip line, which runs over the Park’s central lake, was one of the many perks available only to employees of the 75 companies based there.

This September, with the Park gearing up for a return to work, the zip line is back. And, for the first time, daredevil Chiswick residents are being given the opportunity to try it out. You can book your slot, for one day only – Friday 10 September, here. Tickets are £10. Times: 10.00 am – 5.30 pm.

Matt Coulson says the move to make the zip line available to the public is in response to requests from the local community. A “nominal fee” of £10 per person will go towards running costs.

Image above: Chiswick Business Park; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

He also told The Chiswick Calendar that the Park’s very popular free fireworks display, suspended last year because of Covid, is due to make a comeback. Scheduled for Thursday 4 November, he says:

“It will be a ticketed event, which we haven’t done before, and there will be a large number of tickets available for the community.”

Tickets will be free, but the number of people allowed to attend will be smaller. Enjoy-Work says the event will run at around two thirds of the 2019 capacity. The tickets are not on sale yet.

Meanwhile Matt says the Park’s Christmas lights are expected to go up a few weeks earlier than usual, and there will be a few activities open to the community during the Christmas period.

All this seems to indicate a gradual return to normality, or at least semi-normality, eighteen months on from the first lockdown.

Image above: Chiswick Business Park; photograph Jennifer Griffiths

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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