Sarah Chitty explains 'FIELD,' a new test bed for Brighton’s start-up scene on the derelict site of a former army barracks
Q: What is Preston Barracks?
A: We’re bringing homes, student beds and retail to this derelict site in Brighton, in partnership with the University of Brighton and the city council. The scheme will deliver over half a billion pounds’ worth of economic impact to Brighton over 10 years. We’re working up a planning application for submission later this year.
Q: What’s happening at the site right now?
A: What we didn’t want to do, before starting our anticipated 2017 start on-site, was just stick up a hoarding and sit on our hands. To us, it was important to start creating economic, social and commercial value and opening up the site from day one. That’s why we came up with 'FIELD'.
Q: So what is FIELD?
A: The final Preston Barracks scheme will incorporate a 50,000 sq. ft. commercial building for start-ups and SMEs in the product design, manufacturing and technology sectors, for which £7.7 million of grant funding has been secured from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
In order to inform what the end product should be, we wanted to do something immediately to test out ideas and get the measure of local demand – a pilot project. So FIELD is our pilot scheme for this space. It offers a temporary home to some of the most innovative start-ups in Brighton, and provides us with a valuable platform to engage with them.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: We went through a whole host of ideas before arriving at FIELD. We knew we wanted to do something meaningful and intelligent, which would help inform and shape the future development and also contribute social, economic and commercial value.
We will use FIELD to tell us what businesses want us to provide in terms of workspace, facilities and commercial support. For example, what kind of shared equipment should we provide? How should the internal space be designed? What should the balance between co-working and workshop space be?
Q: Is FIELD a money-making exercise?
A: Not directly. The site has been closed off for the best part of two decades. It’s about saying to people that something interesting is coming – the buzz we create will give investors confidence in the future prospects of the wider area, and councils appreciate it if developers go the extra mile with proper 'meanwhile uses'. It’s often intangible, but it does add value.
Q: In what way does it add value?
A: It’s always going to be hard to quantify, but we think it adds value commercially and to our approach to planning the end scheme. It will help us to understand the ultimate rental demands and appropriate lease lengths, so that we don’t create a building that local start-ups will reject. We also have a public-facing café and a space we’re letting out to community groups for free, giving us a forum to actively engage with people on our development plans.
The works we have done to bring the former army building on the site back into use were part-funded by our LEP grant. It enables us to provide start-ups with space at FIELD for free, except for a small service charge and a commitment to help out with the ongoing maintenance of the buildings. For instance, Old Tree (the café/drinks production tenant) are also keen landscape gardeners, so they are doing the landscaping outside the building and growing edible plants for the café.
The FIELD building is now full – with a real mix of residents, from a business attempting to develop a new kind of hybrid motorbike, to start-ups creating new, sustainable forms of protein by farming crickets.