Jubilee Warehouse & Wharf. A case study.

5 minutes with: Andrew Marston from RobotMother. RobotMother is the company responsible for developing and managing the Jubilee Wharf and Warehouse sites. It’s offices are located on the Brain of Brian, a former World War 2 concrete barge that is now moored on Jubilee Wharf.

How has ERDF funding helped to refurbish the Jubilee Warehouse?

We bought the leasehold with a view to expand Jubilee Wharfs with studios and workshops, but we wouldn’t have done it without the funding; the building work would have cost more than the building was worth.  It was an old 1950s warehouse, and a lot of architects said “You should knock it down, build something new!” However, we had a vision to use the existing structure to give it a spacious feel and a link to the past, while bringing a modern studio aspect with the polished concrete floors and the central atrium. We built it to spec in terms of underfloor heating, and insulation. We’ve given a lot of attention to corridor space and quality of fittings. ERDF funding ensured the foundation of the project, and that’s 50 years worth of workspace that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

How does RobotMother manage Jubilee Wharf and Warehouse?

We’re quite unusual as a landlord, because we’re located on site and go above and beyond what a majority of landlords do to create a community and atmosphere - we actively help tenants organise events, and organise events ourselves. We advertise, we do a newsletter, and generally work really hard as a landlord to create a sense of place and cultivate that feeling at both creative hubs.

What kind of companies have moved in?

We have a real cross-section. There are three tech companies and a branding company, as well as two fine artists who work in oils, a lighting designer, a not-for-profit digital education company and a chiropractor, so a real mix. We can fill the whole place with digital, but I think there’s a difference between someone who has fundamentally made something physical and a digital creator who may have done the same, but at the end of the day, it’s just screens and keyboards. That said, several of our tenants are generating GDP for the county by exporting digitally with customers and tech companies around the world. We have one workspace left, and we’re holding out for a physical creative maker. That’s our next task, to get the right person in there.

The Wharf and Warehouse are very environmentally friendly, aren’t they?

I like to think so. The main drive of that came from the fact that RobotMother had a 125 year lease on the original site, so anything we put in place now has to be able to stand the test of time. Energy costs are going to double in the next 10 years, and we won’t be able to build it in another hundred years, so the tide level becomes really important! It’s really about reducing consumption, and it doesn’t matter where that’s coming from. In converting the old Warehouse to BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment Methodology) Excellent, we’ve really had to go quite far. With the funding, we only had to get Very Good for the Warehouse, but we were keen to push it above and beyond the basic requirements. Both buildings have a lot of thermal comfort and are beautiful spaces to work; they’re superinsulated and have Solar PVs, and Jubilee Wharf has solar hot water as well as a biomass boiler.

How do you create a healthy community here? There are a lot of different companies...

It’s really the tenants that create their own communities. It’s the mix of what they do and their passion for it that stands out, in the quality of what they produce and what they bring to the spaces. We just create the habitat that happens in, and that if can be facilitated, it’s brilliant. Some amazing stuff has been made and created in Cornwall, and often, it’s not visible or seen. One of my drivers was to get people who say “Oh, there’s nothing in Penryn” and show them that there are loads of interesting things going on here! It’s about bringing that to the fore and getting it noticed, and we’ve done nothing more than that. The tenants are the ones knocking out amazing tweed suits, or fixing bikes, or making prints for the Royal Academy.

How are you looking to further develop the sites and the impact they have on the community?

Well, you think building the site is the difficult bit, but actually it’s the ongoing maintenance and management to keep it at that level that’s the hard part. It’s about facilities, creative events and making it unique. In an ongoing sense, we have a program within Jubilee Wharf and Jumblies, the nursery, with a mosaic that grows year by year, with people coming back and adding a bit more. Initially, we had one on the carpark side of the building, and people within the development came and made tiles for that. Caroline, our secretary, coordinated one with Penryn College on the end wall, where a whole year group of Year 7s made the tiles. It takes a lot of time to liaise with the community, and it’s often people who haven’t been down here, and it takes them being invited to get them to see what we’re doing here. I don’t think a sense of place happens by accident, that’s the nub of it. It needs the physical infrastructure and the people populating the spaces that make it feel alive.  

Thursday 9 July 2015