INSIGHTS | 19/07/2021

The key Campus ingredients: community, vision and evolution

The evolution of the Babraham Research Campus, from the first great house built on the Babraham estate in 1576, into what it is today - 200,000 square feet of state-of-the-art facilities and home to over 60 bioscience organisations – has a unique and rich architectural history.

Above: Babraham Hall

The existing Babraham Hall that forms part of the Babraham Research Campus was the third great house built on the site in the 1800s after the original house was demolished and a much simpler country house was constructed in its place. It wasn’t until 1948 that research on the Babraham estate began when the Institute of Animal Physiology was established to help the nation recover following the Second World War.

Forty years later, the Babraham institute created Babraham Bioscience Technologies (BBT) with responsibility for developing the Babraham Research Campus. Their goal was to find small-scale organisations with complementary interests to the Institute and enable them to come and work alongside them on the Campus.

Between 2005 and 2012, the first custom Bioincubators – Minerva, Meditrina, Maia and Moneta – were built on the south side of the Campus. Further development of the Campus from 2013 to 2015 led to the Jonas Webb, Eddeva and Bennet buildings on the north side of the Campus. And in 2020, a third round of Campus expansion was delivered following the completion of the first-class life science research space, Biomed@Babraham.

In 2021, BBT changed its name to Babraham Research Campus Ltd.

Campus expertise

Chris Chapman, Director of Campus and Facilities, is responsible for the operation and development of the Campus and its estate and has worked at the Babraham Research Campus for 42 years.

Having worked at the lab bench in the Neuroendocrinology Department of the Babraham Institute in the 1980’s and 90’s, Chris then took on the role of managing institute laboratory facilities on the Campus between 2000 and 2011.

Chris has held the role of Campus Development since 2011, during which time he has been responsible for delivering circa £75 million of development – dealing with planning consents, concept design and the construction of buildings, infrastructure and landscape. In January 2013 Chris took on the responsibility of Director of Campus and Facilities for BBT, now Babraham Research Campus Ltd.

“Joining BBT was a significant change for me,” says Chris. “Before that, I was part of an academic community doing similar work, but joining BBT showed me the breadth of what the building occupants need to flourish and to succeed in a commercial environment. I am lucky enough to be one of the people who can influence and make decisions on the estate environment, and we all know that Babraham has a fantastic landscape, and help people to enjoy the community that they are living in and working in. I get a real buzz from creating new things and challenging old ways of doing things whilst preserving the beauty of the setting we are in.”

Creating an exceptional Campus eco-system

Chris credits the successful development of the Babraham Research Campus to ‘The Six C’s’: Campus, Community, Connectivity, Culture, Capability, and Commercialisation: “We are committed to these important component parts. Collectively, they describe what you need to have in place to have a thriving campus; individually, each one has its own particular function that contributes to the wider experience and character of the Campus.

“And there’s one we’ve added to those six in recent times which is ‘Continue to Innovate’,” adds Chris. “But the single most important ‘C’, is Community. What we aim to do is create a place of work, a place of gathering, which engenders and propagates that sense of community. All workplaces need a heart; somewhere that you gravitate towards, a place that makes you feel part of, and want to be within, with other like-minded people. And that’s not just through the landscape and buildings, it’s the whole environment and most crucially, it’s the people at the Babraham Research Campus who make it.

“We underpin the community here with the huge breadth of support services that allow people to come to work, do their job and go home having successfully completed their tasks without having to think about anything else; it just happens. From unfailingly collecting the waste in the morning - which seems like a really prosaic thing to talk about but it’s essential to our occupiers - to having the right mentorship for start-up companies and easy access our network’s expertise.”

Understanding the demand for space

Appropriate stock in the life science sector is a major talking point for the industry as a whole. So, how is the masterplan for the Campus conceived in the short, medium and long term?

“In the short-term, it is as much about demand as anything else,” says Chris. “Understanding what the demand is, where it is coming from and what it is for, is vital to be able to provide the market with what it needs. Medium-term is really understanding what you are trying to create and having a very sharp focus on community creation, without doing a ‘patchwork quilt’ of a bit of development here and a bit of change there. Our leading and driving focus though is the long-term master-planning, having that vision of what is it we are trying to shape in the long-term, in terms of culture, construction and sustainable growth.

“Sustainability is important for the longevity of what we do and is at the heart of our development - if it’s not sustainable it will, eventually, cease to grow and need to be replaced. We’ve always believed that buildings should be designed in a way that is good not only for the environment but for the people working within this environment. The drive to sustainability through the planning authorities and regulation is just forcing that further and faster.”

Right: Buildings should be designed in a way that is good not only for the environment but for the people working in them.

The future of Campus development

As we start to return to our workplaces post-COVID, will the Campus community use their workplace in a different way? And how might this impact future development on site?

Chris thinks that people want to return to work but with some changes: “We are moving into a new era where the demands of people coming to work are different since COVID. We have to think carefully about what facilities will give people additional benefits from being here. We created the Cambridge Building and that’s a really good starting point, but I think that we could go further. People have had the convenience of working at home so they will want that convenience transferred to work, they will expect a different type of setting. Adaptability is the key word. If occupants or tenants of the buildings want to make changes within their spaces, our years of experience means that we are able to assist and advise them.

“I think that’s where the Babraham Research Campus is unique; not only do we plan, develop and construct our Campus, we also then operate it as well. We cover the heart and soul of the buildings: facilities management, health and safety specialists, a communal laboratory manager, event coordinators who organise meetings and events, and the catering team at the restaurant to name just a few of the brilliant but small team who ensure the smooth running of the Campus and can help occupiers to adapt and prosper”.

Chris’ 25-year background of working in a lab has given him the ‘at the bench’ experience to understand what’s needed: “There are the very specific labs that deal with high-technology and perhaps in an academic environment, and then there’s commercial laboratories where you have to balance adaptability for the future with a fit-out that’s both attainable but also one which is commercially viable which can flex to cope with the growth of individual companies. We’ve learnt a huge amount over the years and every single time we built a building we’ve incorporated new ideas.

“Any new development on Campus will include all those underpinning laboratory services that small start-ups wouldn’t necessarily have - there’s some additional things that we put in our buildings which you wouldn’t see in a normal commercial shell and core and Cat A. We also include communal space such as meeting rooms and shared ancillary lab areas. Adaptability, together with our knowledge of customer demand, means that you end up with a new building that will meet the requirements of the occupants and fulfill the development needs of the sector as a whole.

“The Babraham Research Campus really is the best place to start and grow a company in Europe and we have a vision to be the best globally; a vision I am proud to be part of.”