South Staffordshire Council: Codsall Community Hub
The Hub is a building the community is proud of, creating a hive of activity – from a café to library, nursery, GP surgery plus a plethora of voluntary sector organisations and businesses. The project has transformed the council’s headquarters into a vibrant building which is now fully occupied. The Community Hub is a modern, energy efficient building providing workspace for the council and 28 partners across public, private and NHS sectors allowing greater integration of services. It has received the iESE Gold Award in the public sector building category. The council building refurbishment cost was estimated at £4 million. Taking a commercial approach, it uses new revenue income to offset the £10 million construction cost.
The Community Hub is the most complex and expensive project in the council’s history. It secures the council headquarters future, improves local services, is cost neutral to the taxpayer, reduces environmental impact, creates new income for the council and enables local businesses to grow. When considering the wider One Public Estate in the community, this project created new land for housing, reduced public sector running costs, and generated capital receipts.
When designing this project, rather than only inwardly facing into the council’s own building and services requirements, the council looked wider to include broader community needs. Working with partners the team enabled the Police, NHS and county council estate teams to review, align and reconfigure their asset strategies. The opportunity for greater co-location and service integration was apparent. Bringing primary care, mental health, social care, children’s, police, and housing and benefits teams together has provided officers greater ability to meet and discuss families’ needs. This project sets a new standard for public sector delivery, rather than partners being dispersed across multiple buildings.
It was agreed that for this project the council would finance the capital and operate as landlord across all organisations, on the basis that rents covered borrowing. This has meant the council has capitalised the whole project and funded a GP surgery, NHS trust, private nursery, police base and library. This innovative approach was complex to manage and implement with so many partners, so the council appointed a project manager throughout to ensure all partners design needs were met and the business case stood up to scrutiny.
Effective and consistent communication were key to the successful delivery of the project with weekly news and information going out throughout the project to councillors, staff, partners, and local community.
For staff and councillors, office space has seen the removal of cellular offices, creating an environment where teams, councillors and partners work together in new collaborative social spaces, including pods and break-out areas. The emphasis is now very much focused on social space, rather than the traditional ‘9:00 to 5:00’ workstations. Inside, the community space feels more like a hotel lobby than a council building, providing a universal community space for an array of uses, centralised around a café. For the local community, Codsall Community Hub is a place to learn, work, access services, eat and socialise.
The building has become a true community space, centred around an open plan atrium with facilities resembling a hotel lobby. In addition, a new Changing Places facility has been installed, further improving accessibility.
The new building is a space that staff and councillors are proud of. During a forum for staff, the council leader and chief executive commented on how amazing the building now looks. Both staff and members’ feedback on the new space has really built a sense of pride across the organisation, especially given it was delivered throughout the pandemic. Across the public estate this project sees eight buildings condensed into one; significantly reducing taxpayer spend by at least £905,000 in running costs over 10 years. In addition, land released created sites for 25 new houses and capital receipts have come in at £1.25 million.
The council has generated over £750,000 a year in new revenue income, offsetting the project’s capital borrowing. Over the past 12 months the Hub team has secured new leases valued at £5.7 million. The impact of this new income on the relatively small district of South Staffordshire is an outstanding achievement and a testament to the new commercial culture embedded across the council. The new income is concurrent with the original business plan, though at times it proved challenging to achieve; with some partners needing to review and amend their space needs during the pandemic.
This project has reduced the council’s carbon footprint by significantly reducing its use of fossil fuels and replacing with green alternatives, helping reduce overall CO2 emissions by 25% to date.
The entrepreneurial approach towards this project is maximising the building’s financial potential, while at the same time improving services for the local community. The Community Hub not only creates an ideal environment for local business to grow, but it also creates a central location for specialist teams from across the public, health, private and voluntary sectors who are co-located in a modern, agile environment.
By reducing the amount of council office space, the council’s Business Hub has been expanded, providing high-quality serviced accommodation. New serviced offices now have a range of paying tenants from private and voluntary sectors across 20 additional rooms. This includes Citizens Advice, Barclays Bank, architects, accountants and a whole host more.
The council is sharing the learning with other authorities now embarking on similar projects.