Birchwood Park - the Warrington company appreciating the benefits of biking
PUBLISHED: 11:50 07 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:36 20 February 2013
Enthusiasm for cycling has grown apace since Team GB's successes at the London Olympics. But the benefits of biking have long been appreciated by one green and pleasant company near Warrington WORDS BY MARTIN PILKINGTON PHOTOS BY STEPHEN HAMMOND
Birchwood Park near Warrington is home to some of Cheshires most creative and dynamic companies. It has to provide a location that keeps their workers content and productive. The result is a contemporary workplace whose open spaces and amenities reflect those of the wider county.
It is basically about creating an environment where when you leave your desk you have a warm feeling, says Jonathan Walsh, Managing Director of site-owners MEPC, as he gives me the tour: It is important to effectiveness youre culturally different in a place where you feel good and at ease, as opposed to being in a restrictive concrete jungle. We live in a competitive world and still have land to fill with buildings, so this is our business model, a pleasant green place in which to work. Your workplace should be about so much more than just a building.
At Birchwood Park green has both a literal and a metaphorical meaning and at the heart of the park sits its lake. Lots of places have water-features but this is teeming with fish, and on a sunny day you will see maybe 200 people around it. They sit on the steps, look across the green and the trees, feed the ducks - its a breath of fresh air! he declared.
Close by is Chadwick House, the largest building on the site, made more human with its internal courtyard covering three-quarters of an acre dotted with picnic areas and parasols.
As regards the ecological aspect of green Jonathan points out the loan-bikes near the lake: We want to encourage more to come to work by bike and train, need more people to car share. Our view on the bike is if we can make it easy as possible and remove the obstacles to doing it, then more will use them. And they have, year in year out.
Sonya Laing, Leasing Manager at Birchwood Park responsible for its award-winning travel management plan, adds: A survey in 2004 showed that just 3% of those working on the estate cycled to work at some time during the year. In 2011 the number had risen to 11%.
The six loan-bikes are to tempt lapsed cyclists to try it again. Larger sums have been invested in facilities for those committing to a cycled commute, regular or otherwise: The 2011 investment was about 60,000 on showers, lockers and drying rooms. That followed investments in another building of a similar amount. Over the last few years we have spent well over 150,000 to making cycling to work an easier option, says Jonathan.
More than 5,500 people work on the estate, and Birchwood Park is confident another 1,000 could join them before too long, with the potential for the total to reach 10,000 eventually, so promoting cycling is not just altruistic, it reduces pressure on the infrastructure.
I am a keen cyclist myself, admits Jonathan: And fit rock-solidly into the category of MAMIL - middle-aged-man-in-Lycra. Last year he helped come up with the idea of a ride from Bridgewater Place, the latest development on the park, to Bridgwater in Somerset. Some 40 cyclists rode the 220 miles over three days and raised more than 15,000 for the charity Brainwave.
Other transport methods have their part to play: The free shuttle bus we run from the local train station has been such a success that we have switched from a single- to a double-decker, says Jonathan. Rather smaller vehicles contribute to reducing carbon consumption, with some site personnel using new electric vehicles to ferry them around, and others in converted milk-floats: They were the first electric work-horses and they never wear out, says Jonathan: I dont believe in gestures for the sake of it, so there are no solar panels it rains quite a lot in Warrington. But we do have a tree planting programme every year.
The attraction of the central lake is echoed in Bridgewater Place. This has become one of the iconic shots of business in Cheshire, says Jonathan Walsh, indicating the elegant and ultra-modern architecture around a courtyard and trickling central rill. He adds: Weve commissioned a three-metre sculpture by David Harber that will be a striking addition to this area of the Park which already has a lovely contemporary urban feel to it.
Public art is another element of making a pleasing environment, most notably the carved stone figures outside Chadwick House: Our most recent arrival is Willow the Horse, who was on the peoples choice stand at Tatton flower show. I saw the horse and instantly knew where her home was to be. As soon as she arrived we had people bringing their children to see her, have photos taken with her.
Our trip around the park ends at Thompson House, where there is yet another public space and a cafe area to attract people and bring life to the building.
Images courtesy of Birchwood Park MEPC