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Ziggy Stardust And Going Deep Undercover Help The Crown Estate Launch Coworking Concept

What does it take for a 260-year-old property company to launch a flexible office brand and position itself at the bleeding edge of the world of work? Going undercover, a radical change in the way you think and a little bit of help from David Bowie.

The Crown Estate is gearing up to launch its first flexible office and coworking space at One Heddon Street just off Regent Street. The 23K SF space, which will officially open in late February, will offer 350 desks, with 120 coworking desks, 14 individual desks that can be permanently reserved and 30 private offices ranging from two to 32 desks.

Ziggy Stardust And Going Deep Undercover Help The Crown Estate Launch Coworking Concept
Some Ziggy Stardust-inspired art at One Heddon Street

The building itself and Heddon Street generally have an interesting history that the Crown has tried to utilise in its design. One Heddon Street has over the years been a stable, a church and an art gallery, and the second-floor reception has been designed to evoke this last use.

Heddon Street is best known as the location for the front cover of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album cover, and there is a nod to this with the artwork on the walls of Little Green, the independent café and restaurant the Crown has installed on the ground and first floors.

The building was previously leased to a traditional serviced office provider which divided it up into identikit closed offices. These have been replaced with light, glass-fronted offices with meeting rooms, phone rooms and booths to work in. There is a computer games room that doubles as a meeting room, and original parquet flooring has been restored in the stairwells. 

The Crown is attempting the difficult feat of achieving WELL certification in a retrofitted building, and is going about this through details big and small. The air is recycled regularly, and there are plants everywhere. The coffee cups are kept small so workers don’t unwittingly overload on caffeine, and the plates are small to help encourage portion control, which is part of the WELL certification criteria. If you want a big plate you need to bring your own, Alan Partridge style.

Ziggy Stardust And Going Deep Undercover Help The Crown Estate Launch Coworking Concept
The reception at One Heddon St.

Bisnow first revealed that the Crown was planning a coworking concept at Mipim last year, but the project had already been in the works for 18 months before that, Senior Asset Manager Jon Allgood and Director of Central London James Cooksey said. It meant changing the way the company thought about and operated its office business, they said.

“As the market has evolved, you have to react to that,” Cooksey told Bisnow on a tour of the building. “We have always been good at producing great buildings, but we have a 10M SF London portfolio where 25,000 people live and work, but we have never brought those people together before. We want our customers to feel like when they are in a Crown Estate office they have more chance of succeeding and so they will want to stay with us as their business changes size.”

“It feels like an obvious thing to do, but you have to apply your mind to how you do it in practice,” Allgood said.

As an example, he previously ran the Central London office portfolio with a team of five asset managers, and One Heddon Street has a team of five dedicated staff recruited from the hospitality sector.

“That is a 100% increase in staff just for one building,” he said.

As part of the learning process Allgood said he “got out of my suit, into a pair of jeans, and spent a lot of time pretending to be a small business” working out of the buildings of rival flexible office operators. What were the big lessons he learned from his undercover assignment? The main one is that community is key.

Ziggy Stardust And Going Deep Undercover Help The Crown Estate Launch Coworking Concept
An office at One Heddon Street

“There were a lot of examples where there were the right physical attributes and the space looked great but the community didn’t work, and people really want that,” he said.

Hence the hires from the hospitality sector, some of whom will be dedicated to finding ways to help companies connect. There is also a dedicated and convertible event space at One Heddon Street, where the Crown will hold events ranging from yoga through to business leadership talks to seminars for smaller companies on how to do your tax returns.

Allgood also said the Crown decided to move away from having a large number of smaller offices, and had instead gone for a mix of coworking desks, a few smaller offices and a greater number of larger offices. He said he expected there to be a high level of turnover in the smaller offices of two to five desks, as companies expanded. The company is already in talks with five or six prospective office tenants, he said.

A lot of attention to detail has gone into the scheme, but Allgood admitted, “We’re not going to get it right on day one. This is a learning process. But we want to get 90-95% of it right and then iterate as people move in and use the space.”

Cooksey said the Crown decided to set up its own coworking space rather than just leasing space to an existing operator to try and get as close to its customers as possible, and to keep learning about what companies want from their place of work.

“You need to get your arms around the customer and your key relationships,” he said. “Doing it this way, you are learning lessons directly rather than being distant from those key relationships. We want to become the property provider of choice in this core area.”