I visit Sheppard Robson as the finishing touches are being put to its London office expansion, which brings together members of staff from three different locations under one roof. ‘We were really struggling with places to commune and gather,’ says partner Lee Bennett. ‘Now we have bigger meeting rooms and social spaces.’
In a sense this serves as a metaphor for what continues to be the approach of the practice. The focus remains on consolidation, with a view to the future that remains decidedly long-term and steady, despite some recent uncertainties.
‘We expected fewer opportunities,’ says partner Alan Shingler, speaking on the effects of Brexit, ‘but that didn’t really materialise. There’s definitely uncertainty and less commitment. But, once we’re on those jobs, we’re just as busy.’
Repeat business remains high, at about 80 per cent, and Sheppard Robson’s primary sectors – higher education, offices and commercial – have remained buoyant. This feeling of a compact, tightly-run ship continues in the firm’s two other UK offices – Manchester and Glasgow – which are seen as hubs for the whole of the Midlands/the North and for Scotland respectively. Both are the largest they have been, with the staff count in Glasgow almost doubling in the past year to 34.
‘It’s exciting when those offices are growing so quickly; it has a real energy. The Glasgow office is now at a scale where it can secure larger jobs,’ says Shingler, citing Cannonmills Garden in Edinburgh and further work at the Skypark development in Glasgow.
Sheppard Robson’s main typologies remain largely the same, but with a notable increase in mixed-use schemes, as well as schools and residential. The firm is also working with broader campus-type projects, a type of development that really suits its experience and skills, according to Shingler. These include its most noteworthy project of the year, the London Business School Sammy Ofer Centre in Marylebone, which combines civic, political and educational functions under one roof. With a 12-year gestation, its completion has been a milestone for the firm. More conventional higher education projects also remain strong, with a project at Brunel University seeing the firm return to rework the 1968 Wilfred Brown building.
Hotels continue to be a growing sector, with five currently on the drawing board. Sheppard Robson’s interior and architecture teams are also working increasingly closely to provide ‘turnkey’ solutions, such as at the new Interserve UK Hub in Birmingham and Hounslow Civic Centre.
There are no dramatic changes on the horizon: Sheppard Robson continues to demonstrate an intimate knowledge of what it does effectively, as do its clients. Consolidation and consistency are their watchwords – but without complacency.