Thrivalism: Creating Communities
Thrivalism, a podcast focused on the art of thriving – flourishing and evolving under any conditions.
In this series, you can find out how to create thriving businesses, culture, careers and places. We’ll explore key topics such as: workplace design and build, culture and community, sustainability, and, of course, the future of ‘work’.
Cubex have changed the urban landscape of Bristol. Best known for bringing the derelict Courage Brewery site out from administration of a failed developer in the midst of the late 2000’s recession and turning it into a thriving million sq ft of mixed use development, Cubex are a perfect example of an organisation that has thrived by embracing challenges.
Sarah is passionate about construction, placemaking and inspiring people to join and develop the property industry.
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Sarah Trahair-Williams: If you’ve got a choice between working for this company in this company and one company’s got a BREEAM excellent building or Bradberry goods and a rooftop terrace and the other, you’ve got a burger van down the road and it’s really dark and really grim in your office, I think, you know which one you you’ll go and choose.
Dieter Wood: Welcome to Thrivalism, Interaction’s podcast, focussed on the art of thriving, flourishing and evolving under any conditions. In this series will examine how to create thriving businesses, culture, careers and places. We explore key topics such as workplace design and build culture and community sustainability and, of course, the future of work. Join us and our guests as we explore how people and businesses can set themselves up to thrive, not just survive. I’m here with Sarah Trahair-Williams, who is associate director at Cubex. Cubex have literally changed the urban landscape of Bristol, best known for bringing the derelict Koch brewery out of administration. And in the midst of the 2008 recession and have transformed it into a million square feet of mixed use development. And arguably, the best office accommodation in the city. It’s a perfect example of an organization that has thrived by embracing challenges. Sarah is passionate about construction, placemaking and communities and seeing that people are inspired to thrive in the property industry. Sarah, welcome to Thrivalism. Fantastic to have you with us.
Sarah Trahair-Williams: Thank you,
Dieter Wood: Well, you’ve recently joined Cubex as a business whose culture and vision you must’ve liked to want to be part of it. What was it that made you want to join?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: I think for me, one of the things that I found with property is the breadth that you can do so from from how I started out. I started out on my placement er working with a contractor that moved into the consultancy, so I’d always had to go onto the client side. But as a developer, in terms of having only slightly more control of your destiny, because as a developer you can, you can do whatever. So it’s not a case of you have one niche. If you go to a company like kickbacks where you’re only looking at student accommodation or you’re looking at just one piece of property, whereas with Cubex it’s what do we want to build? Because we’ve got funding in-house. We’ve got other funds here we can use. And and that’s sort of where we are. And I also would just say Covid is clearly been very quickly because I’ve definitely been a key for well over a year. Just everyone’s kind of forgotten about 2020. So we’ll go for it will go for yes. Reason recent starts. But let’s not count Covid 2020 perhaps.
Dieter Wood: So I’m thinking about Finzels Reach and it feels for lots of people that that development is coming to a close because it’s obviously been going on for so long. I’m sure it doesn’t feel like inside. How is Cubex maintaining that momentum? So I build on the success that it’s already achieved there.
Sarah Trahair-Williams: So pretty my time. But one of the things that was really important when starting the finials development was, was to set up the brand and to really think about what community are you trying to create. And actually, probably the best way to create a quality community is to is to brand it, to work out what does it feel like, what are you wanting to say to the outside world? And so I think that’s one of the things that is so strong about things. It’s got a real identity. Sustainable office buildings is obviously something that’s massive to us. So you go to Fenceless and you look at the office accommodation down there, though, there will be some buildings that are built, the highest quality BREEAM at the time, and we will have to bring outstanding buildings by the time we complete Halo. So that’s important. But then you also go with the quality of the accommodation side we’ve built and what retail aspects we’ve wanted to put in terms of food and beverage. We’ve thought about the quality that we’re delivering and the quality of those tenants and bringing the of Granger and Bill to rent to Bristol as a cities, it’s quite important to be progressive and to be modern. And I think that’s probably one of the really important things for us and also in terms of Fenceless, where we’re on our way out of it.
So for us, it’s that one of going. We’ve created this this great community, but we haven’t finished yet. And so we’ve still got of two and a half years of building to go because buildings take quite a while to to build or so and try to sell me anyway. And therefore, we’ve still got that passion to keep creating this this incredible area and to keep seeing it thrive and supporting the rich market. They actually asked if we could do it on two days a week instead of just the one day a week. And we we were really supportive and really keen to see that happen. So I think it’s the one of just because of buildings finished, don’t think that’s not you look back and make sure you’re proud of what you’ve built. And that comes from the very start of setting out. What’s the expectation? What does it look like? How does the community feel? What’s the quality of everything around it? What’s the quality of of life? So people being able to live there, to work there, to eat there, that’s really important to be able to exercise their rights. Think about that.
Dieter Wood: Do you think you have a unique kind of, I suppose, insider’s point of view? Because, you know, you’ve trained as an architect, so you’ve trained as a as a QC. You bought those go together and you’re now client side and able to kind of set that destiny. Does that give you a bit of an insider’s point of view of what success looks like and then sitting on that platform of comebacks?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: I think it gives me an. I’d probably probably is unique, I haven’t met someone else who’s got an architecture degree followed by a because that normally two very different people and I can say that I met and then got into project management and then decided to become a developer. So it probably is unique, but I think it’s that empathy with different disciplines, with understanding what each of them are trying to achieve and what their real job is. Also, an architect, Nicastro is very different and I think that’s really important. And then the the developers side is is really thinking what’s the best use of the space? Whereas what I found before with construction is you came when the project was already decided you didn’t really have the engagement of going to we students came here. Here we put a residential scheme here. Do we put an office here? You don’t have that. You just get told this is what is this what the budget is and crack on. So I think that’s really good that actually I’ve got those three sides of me and I’ve learned from doing lots of very different projects and therefore I can put that all in to make sure that actually when we’re building it, we think about believability. I think that’s probably the uniqueness is actually I’ve delivered construction projects of varying types. So when I’m looking at when we’re looking at sites and acquisitions, we think about build ability more than perhaps perhaps you could otherwise.
Dieter Wood: Yeah. If it was like a really good fit, because obviously, I suppose you mentioned the CapEx is self-funded. It’s able to kind of create a solution which is maybe less driven by some of the numbers that other developers are and are able to give a bit more time, a little bit more money to those things that one community and placemaking and stuff like that is it’s something you think is a really good fit.
Sarah Trahair-Williams: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s not a funding thing that drives whether you put more money into placemaking. It’s it’s what you want the place to be. And it’s it’s really about what your quality drivers are. So from from that side of things, I would say that’s probably the biggest driver really for us. This is the starting point of going how does this place feel? And you tailor the budget accordingly. So if you if you have to change something else, you have to change something else to make sure you’ve got enough to do the placemaking side of things. Yeah.
Dieter Wood: So what excites you in terms of I mean, Vincent’s, which is a unique proposition for Bristol in terms of that development, the time it’s taken and a great space it is. What excites you in terms of the city about the next finials, which if you like, what’s the space that is going to change so significantly and be really good placemaking for the city?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: That’s a very good question. I don’t know if I’m best placed to to answer that one. I’ll be honest, because from our side of things, what we look at is being able to see a space which you can put multiple uses on it. But perhaps the scale of things is that is a very long term ownership, but it’s divided into a lot of different parts. So that’s quite important to us. We’re probably not looking at those aspects of big areas of of Bristol that have got multiple different ownerships because that’s not what finials was. I think it’s what people maybe perhaps see Findlay’s as being because there are now multiple different owners. But actually that have in the past has been to say, the fire station where we are now. And then obviously you mentioned before about the administration before. So there have actually only been two owners originally and now there’s quite a few. So I think Finzels is unique in that in that aspect. And it will be interesting to see what happens when the government support finishes as to whether that frees up quite a lot of space in that same guys because of distressed owners. Hopefully that won’t be the case. But I think we all sort of expecting at some point we’re going to go into a recession and therefore what happened previously could could well happen. And it will all depend on whether there’s a landowner who actually owns quite a few pockets in one area or it’s a very large site is the other one. But you might find that you get a huge office that is on the out of town that needs to be redeveloped. And actually, office isn’t the right use for that type. And I think that will be the interesting one is actually, if there’s large swathes or the larger shopping centres, I mean, the other towns have probably done better than the city centre ones at the moment. But those I think those sorts of things could be I think it could be that the massive shopping centres being repurposed and maybe they’re a little bit further outside of the city.
Dieter Wood: Yeah. I mean, certainly the industries that survived I spoke to in coverage and logistics is one of those. And I know that’s an area that lots of developers are looking at and seeing what the opportunities are. What is Cubex put into that market? And, you know, kind of what does its unique position as being a provider of mixed use schemes and highly sustainable offices?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: So I think I think for us, it is the sustainability side of things, so logistics, it’s not the it’s not the wow factor of property, that it’s probably not as exciting as some other buildings that you can see. I think if someone if someone designed a logistics shed like the Gherkin, they might not be doing very well. And what is important is how the staff feel. There’s still a lot of staff that are employed within that space. So think about how you were designing the office accommodation for those staff. The obvious one is if you’ve got a building, put your office on the south because it gets more lights. Don’t put it in the north because it’s only is normally in one area, whereas the perks you get with an office normally is you’ve got all sides to the building, you’ve got all corners. But actually that’s quite a quite an important but it’s probably not necessarily thought about of going what happens to the staff. And then similarly, rooftop terraces. You’ve got a huge area of rooftop photovoltaics and go for the sustainable side of things. There’s not that many industrial schemes. There are probably five years old. The any form of BREAAM writing to them, the likes of Amazon are definitely pushing that very hard now, which is which is great because we all need to see the sustainability agenda. I think everyone is now. And that’s definitely all the funds are also pushing it very hard. So that’s really important because that will see the change in the industry that people will look and they will demand and they will expect it. So for us as keep access, it’s exactly what we’ve been doing all along. Thinking about sustainability and thinking about placemaking that still got a role in logistics. It’s got an avenue because it’s got enough money everywhere, because wherever people are in a building, that’s important. So I think that’s very also,
Dieter Wood: Does it feel like an unsophisticated market in some respects as it sits now? And is it going to be the place where we’re going to see the most innovation and the most change in the landscape as we drive around the outskirts of our cities?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: I think you’ll see the biggest change from what you saw five years ago. I think that’s probably what it is. But I think also you might not actually physically see it because ultimately they still look the same. You’ve probably still got a box that looks the same. It just performed very differently. So I think I think to someone who doesn’t work in that building, they won’t notice it and you won’t see it apart from you’ll probably see more of them. But what you will see is the people who work within them will go to quality. Occupy will demand it. And ultimately, employees, if you’ve got a choice between working for this company and this company and one company’s got a brand, excellent building or brand. Very good. And a rooftop terrace and the other, you’ve got a burger van down the road and it’s really dark and really grim in your office. I think you know which one you you’ll go in twos if money is no object and if they’re very similar salaries, certainly I know which one I’d choose. So I think it’s probably less so for those outside it and much more so for those who actually work in those buildings. And that’s really important.
Dieter Wood: Does it feel like, I suppose with all of those sectors now, the pressure is coming finally from every part, so from the funders, from the communities, from the employees, from the occupiers. And it’s finally all of those pieces aligning that is making the developers react. Or do you think developers like cutbacks have been pushing?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: But I think it’s a bit of both. I think there’ll be some developers who haven’t done it and who aren’t necessarily aware of it as well. But I think that’s a big part, particularly for the logistics. I think everyone in the office side of things knows about BREEAM and have done quite a few years. And part of that is actually probably because most councils demand it for planning, so therefore most people know about it. But BREEAM in industrial just hasn’t. People don’t know about it. I think industrial is quite similar to the house housebuilder market in, you know, your sector very well. And so if no one else is doing it and you never had to look outside and see what that element was, you wouldn’t do it. So I think that’s probably more is actually people didn’t know something like BREEAM existed. They didn’t know how to do the sustainable elements and that education has happened because it’s had to happen. So I think I think that’s more what it is, is is actually people are more aware now of the ways that you can use the standards to improve the quality of your building, because BREEAMS not they’re not the be all and end. And some people view it as a tick box exercise. But ultimately these box takings that you’re doing is improving the quality of your building and the sustainability of it.
Dieter Wood: So, I mean, you talk to me about there the occupiers demanding it and the people who work in those buildings demanding a better level of sustainability in a way also feels like putting people into the construction industry in the property industry. They’re demanding that, you know, the products that we’re putting out have to be sustainable as well. They want to be they want to see that value proposition of it being a really, really sustainable product that is being provided. Is is that important to bring a kind of the next generation of people into the into the industry?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: I think it’s important. I think what’s more important is we publicize what we do and we show just how interesting. I personally find it very interesting. I probably I probably bore people too much with how much I enjoy rebar or concrete or cranes. I just I think they’re really good. I saw some someone’s picture a couple of weeks ago and it was about six cranes all lined up and they they dropped the crane. So exactly the same height and it just looked great. And it really does make you smile or it makes me smile instead of saying that because it’s just as a child you love playing and building stuff and then as an adult, probably pretty locked out. People didn’t really do that because actually we could go to the pub and we could go out for food. So we tended to opt for that instead. And then actually, as we were going into lockdown, people have learned about puzzles again and people have learned about building stuff and making things to give you a project, give you something to do. And actually, we got to do that in real life for our jobs. So fantastic. And I think that’s what we’ve got to do, is we’ve got to showcase what we do. And the sustainability element is there. And it’s important. And we’ve got to show that we’re being with we’re doing right for society because construction has the hairiest builder, as I think what most people think about construction professionals. And we need to change that and we need to just shout about what we do and get people engaged and that I’m attempting to do it in my limited social media skills. But it’s just the one where, yes, I’ve always found it really interesting. And I think that’s what we’ve got to do to get people encouraged and into our industry.
Dieter Wood: Do you think Covid has massively in some ways benefited the recruitment of people into our industry? Because we strongly believe in kind of sense of place, whether that’s community or workplace, and the people where people go to be together to kind of share ideas. And actually, one of the great things about construction sites is that working your way through Cubex and there will be more people Hobart working, there will be more people working from home. But obviously, if you work on a construction site, you are in there with your colleagues as part of a team delivering something every day. Do you think that will be something that post covid is going to really appeal to young people coming into the profession?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: I think one of the things it is, is probably actually how much contractors are more flexible with their workforce now, because you’re right, people would have to be on site as a team. And actually, there’s a lot of people who are office based who do not need to be on site. And that’s one of the things that the contractors have learned, is you don’t need to keep everyone on site and right now don’t do that. So I think that’s really important because actually that’s probably what puts a lot of people off the construction industry, is it hasn’t been enough to to harsh a word of it. Not but not everyone is very progressive in terms of thinking about flexible working and flexible working being the hours you work and where you work. And that’s quite important. So I think a lot of people, females particularly, wouldn’t be able to do or females coming back to work and wanting that flexibility to work three or four days a week. But then equally, the male counterparts who would love to pick up their kids from school or drop them off or the female, depending on how you split your childcare duties. But more often than not, as a percentage, it’s probably the female who takes kids to school and the gentleman who doesn’t or same sex relationships different.
Sarah Trahair-Williams: So I don’t want to go into that wormhole. But in terms of where we are on construction and covid, I think it’s really important to obviously to get the message that you can work flexibly. And I think that I think the contractors will probably benefit the most from it because they’ve learnt that. And I think the consultancies always knew that. And hopefully what hasn’t happened is that people have lost the learning skills because so much of the design process is people in a room together and talking and starting over drawing and that you haven’t been able to do. And it is not the same on teams. We’ve we’ve struggled with it, looking at sites and trying to work out what can we do on it. And it’s a lot easier to do it in person. So I think hopefully that hasn’t put people off and the people have left the industry because they haven’t got that learning. And hopefully the fact that we’ve we’ve suddenly learned that you can be flexible, that all.
Dieter Wood: Helps, yeah, it is interesting, isn’t it? I think it’s quite inspiring to a lot of people who potentially careers where they may only do stuff online, that you could actually have a real tangible experience in the construction industry. And yet you actually do need to get together. You need to get to a site and things like that. And that is pretty inspiring for lots of people. And hopefully we’re going to build a space between lots of people into the industry. What should we be doing more of to to bring those people up?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: So I think going into schools and if anyone’s got a chance to go back to your own school, go to another school and talk to kids and don’t just talk to the secondary school kids, because by then they’ve probably made up their minds, go in and get the seven, eight year olds really inspired by what you’re doing, and then go back and ask if you can if you can keep talking to them. And I think I think that’s that’s important. And I think when we’re on site as well, be open to inviting school kids in when you can when when the world opens up and that you get a variety of people going into the school, don’t just have the one project manager or the trainee QC who doesn’t necessarily want to be there, but is going to get in front of my boss, get a get a range of people, because we’ve got so many different people who work in construction and let’s use it and let’s invest in our marketing. I think we’ve got a lot of a lot of good marketing people now in the industry. But there’s a handful of contractors or developers who use marketing. And we’re we’re probably still marketing within our own our own sphere and not necessarily pushing it out further. And I don’t know the answer to that. And I would love to know how we can push it out further to those than elsewhere. And maybe it is just the fact that you brand your holding and people can then go and look up who that person is and maybe that helps.
But, yeah, I think that’s I think that’s going to be the million dollar question. And for me, the first one is schools and youth centres. And there’s a big part that can be played by by going into the centres and talking to talking to those who are who are less privileged because I think property is still there, still got a stigma as to who we are, who we have coming into it. We’ve still not got that diversity. And the youth centres are a good source of people who are there who just need some help and getting the confidence. And you need to learn about what we do. And it mean it’s not hard to walk free Bristol and find a crane and find a construction site. But then quite often we put scaffolding up in front of it for a reason. But then you can’t see it and then you just it all comes down and oh, I don’t know how that happened. So I think we’ve I think we’ve just got to get out there. And hopefully when we all have covered and everyone is so desperate to speak to people, they’ll still be desperate to speak to the youth. They’ll be desperate speech. Those who are wanting to return to work, who have maybe take would break because they’ve been on furlough for a year ago, maybe something else. Absolutely.
Dieter Wood: I mean, the future construction, I think is is something that should excite people because, you know, it’s going to be one the sort of big industries. It’s going to be last to be disrupted by technology. There is so much going on. But I don’t think it’s really seen by the people out there who cover the into the industry. And I think that’s going to be a massive attractor for people. What’s the bit about technology that’s most exciting about construction for for the future?
Sarah Trahair-Williams: As ridiculous as it sounds, I think it’s going to be how for for me personally, it’s probably less about the technology we put into the buildings and more about the technologies we use to make construction better and more efficient. And some of our processes are still done, sort of manual handling. And actually, I think it’s more those sorts of technologies. So there’s a products that when I was at university, my dissertation tutor was working on, which is called Skins. And one of the things that they had was basically you put on a pair of gloves and you were able to feel what it was like to have white finger vibration. So if anyone’s ever held that power till too long and realised that actually then their fingers have gone down well for construction workers, actually, they can do that and then they’ve permanently damaged their fingers. And that technology, I thought was absolutely fascinating is that’s a great way of really explaining what the implications of you repeatedly doing something that you shouldn’t you don’t notice at the time because it doesn’t affect you at the time, but in five years time, that’s going to really affect your life. So I think those sorts of processes where actually it shows people what the implications of them not following something could be on them personally and in their life. I think those could be. And similarly, the things that help people do their job easier. So in terms of laying carbs, carbs are incredibly heavy and I think they’re still quite often to people who will pick up one and some very, very strong people will try and pick up one on their own. But you can get tools that lay them for you. So playing she’s great because actually that’s just saving someone’s back. And I think those that sort of technology is probably what’s going to be the most exciting for those coming into the workforce because it makes construction more accessible.
Dieter Wood: I mean, great that you’re out there talking to people, inspiring the next generation. You know, we definitely want to have a more and more diverse workforce that construction and property in general. It’s definitely something we want to see more of. I suppose if I was going to close. Interesting question for you, other than the fact that I’m really excited about rebar because I’m a civil engineer by trade post covid prediction most likely to be wrong
Sarah Trahair-Williams: Or the office is dead. But I don’t think that was post Covid. I think that was six months and nine months in and then 12 months and everyone went, now get me back to the office. So I think it’s yeah, I think it’s going to be it’s going to be how much people use the office. And I think everyone’s desperate to get back. And and it’s people are just going to go to buy the best the best base that they’ve got.
Dieter Wood: Absolutely. It’s going to be that flight to quality. And that’s where we’re going to see that the best quality spaces, whether that’s offices, leisure, retail, logistics, is going to be fantastic. I would agree.
Sarah Trahair-Williams: Well, thanks very much for having me. Thank you,
Dieter Wood: Appreciate it.