Now, there are offices and places of work, and there are offices and places of work!
I recently visited an office with a great wow factor. Was it a building of new modern design, sustainably constructed with all new ‘eco-bling’ such as PV panels, mechanical heating ventilation, greenroof, etc? Well no, actually it was a train station built more than 150 years ago.
The station at Needham Market, originally designed by Frederic Barns for the Eastern Union Railway Company was constructed in 1847/48 at a cost of £5,000 against a budget of £3,150. The Needham station was officially opened in 1849 with two trains passing through carrying more than 1,100 passengers and it is reported, often exceeding 30 miles per hour! At a time when Needham was not even a market town, the station was referred to by some as a ‘palace like station’. Indeed the design resembled more a country house than a working station.
The station is of Jacobean style with true symmetrical design, with two storey bays, mullioned windows, gables and tall decorative chimney stacks. Constructed from Suffolk red and white bricks in a diamond pattern under a red clay peg tiled roof, Caen Limestone was used for the cornices, window cills and the doorway arch to compliment the brickwork. Originally the end towers of the building were capped in Dutch ogee roofs typical of the period but unfortunately, due to deterioration, they were replaced with flat roofs in the 1920’s.
Apart from the changes in the early 1920’s the station remained operational until the mid 1960’s when it was closed. However, public pressure resulted in the station being re-opened in 1971 under the new name of Needham Market. Whilst trains still stop at Needham Market the station is unattended and tickets have to be bought from a machine or on the train.
The station was awarded Grade II listed status in 1977, but unfortunately the occupants neglected the gem in their midst and the station fell into disrepair until eventually the ground floor collapsed into the basement. The station, standing lonely and dejected, was subject to attacks by vandals who stole many of the original features. It was boarded up in the 1980’s but was ravaged by rising damp, leaking roofs, wet and dry rot. What a sad end to a glorious building.
Or was it? Of course not, for how would I have been able to visit? Like a beautiful phoenix rising from the flames, the station now stands proud and glorious once again in Station Yard, an area that it has helped to regenerate. In 1998 Mid Suffolk District Council threatened the owners, Spacia Limited, with a repair notice enforceable on a Grade II listed building and vital external repairs were carried out at a cost of £350,000 in 2000.
During 2001, NPS property consultants approached the owners to refurbish the interior of the building and proposed becoming the new tenants of the building. A further £250,000 was spent refurbishing the interior to produce the remarkable offices that are there today. To satisfy the building’s listing all the windows are single glazed, there is no internal wall insulation and all the materials used in the refurbishment are as close to the originals as possible. It is certainly not an environmentally friendly building of today’s standards, but NPS have installed energy efficiency boilers, low energy lighting and equipment. The running cost of this building are higher than for normal heating and energy loss is high, however this is all compensated by the fact that the building has been transformed and brought back to life by the current tenants.
Once inside the building, it has a charm of its own. Generous office space is provided over three floors including the basement offering an inspiring place to work. In the middle of the basement offices, covered under glass you can look down into a well that was used to provide water for the steam trains of yesteryear.
The conference room on the second floor looks out over the platform to the meadows beyond where sheep are quietly grazing and if you close your eyes the history of the building wraps itself around you and you can almost hear the whistle of train from a bygone era.
A fantastic building providing a wonderful environment in which to dream, oops work!