In the past year Purcell has demonstrated a degree of adaptability worthy of its place in the top 10 of the AJ100. After the EU referendum, the conservation and heritage design specialist experienced a slowdown in its core public and high-end residential sectors. It bit the bullet and shed 30 staff.
‘Six months after the vote there was a slowdown, with clients lacking the confidence to push the button on projects,’ says chief executive Mark Goldspink. ‘It has been sad to let some people go, but we are continually reviewing our strategy and tweaking our business model.’
Key changes have included the appointment of two new regional office partners – Nicola Hewes in Oxford and Clifford Martin in Bristol and Cardiff – and the acquisition of Norwich-based Reynolds Jury Architecture, whose co-founder Janet Jury rejoins as a partner after 12 year’s absence from Purcell. Purcell’s presence in Australia was also strengthened with a new studio in Sydney.
Meanwhile at a corporate level, the firm has invested in the creation of a new ‘people director’, whose job will be to align Purcell’s staffing strategy with its strategic business plan, boost employee engagement and enhance the company’s overall learning and development offer.
Among their core responsibilities will be Purcell’s flagship internal training programme, known as the conservation school, and ‘making sure the passion for training and development is in everything we do’, says head of conservation Elizabeth Smith.
Thanks to these strategic adaptations and several high-profile competition wins over the past year, Purcell’s leadership is looking forward with confidence. Chief among the wins was the new £15 million visitor and community centre next to Bristol’s Grade I-listed St Mary Redcliffe Church. Other successes include a £3.25 million makeover of the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, Cumbria; a new two-storey extension to the Manchester Museum; a £4 million overhaul of Abingdon’s Grade I-listed abbey, and a new student accommodation block for St Catherine’s College, Oxford.
A further promising commission has recently materialised in South Yorkshire, where the practice is working with a landowning trust to create a new future for the Grade I-listed Wentworth Woodhouse – which boasts the longest country house façade in Europe.
Looking ahead, Purcell says it is now seeing a general increase in confidence among new clients and a return to normal among more established buyers with whom the company delivers the vast amount of its business. Two such repeat clients – the National Gallery and the National Maritime Museum – have both recently embarked on significant regeneration projects with the practice.
A flurry of enquiries from new customers has meanwhile followed the selection of Purcell’s £12.5 million Cardigan Castle restoration as the winner of Channel 4’s Great British Buildings: Restoration of the Year. Despite all this good fortune, Goldspink remains cautious, although hopeful that the political environment will deliver five years of steady trading conditions.
The first milestone on the immediate road ahead will be the completion of Purcell’s largest current scheme, the new £200 million Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre in Loughborough. Involving the restoration and conversion of Stanford Hall and a significant traditionally styled new-build extension, the project is due to finish within 12 months.