The past year has been one of consolidation for Sheppard Robson but this has resulted from a positive business approach.
Alan Shingler, partner with the practice, says: ‘Our head count has gone down but turnover has been almost untouched for the past three years. We are more confident about turnover and are looking cautiously positive about next year.’
Where the firm has changed its approach is in its decision to concentrate on the UK and in particular on existing customers, rather than seeking too much work overseas. The completion of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg was one of the flagship successes of last year, but Shingler sees no way of it translating directly into either more projects in South Africa or particularly into hospital work in the UK. Instead Sheppard Robson’s work in healthcare is more strategic (and confidential). It is working for NHS trusts, helping with decisions that will assist them in realising the commercial value of all or part of their existing estates so that they can invest elsewhere.
This approach is similar to that which informed the work the practice did recently for Hounslow Civic Centre, which started on site this year. At Hounslow, the new civic centre is being funded by retail development but the health estate work is, says Shingler, far more complex. He believes the practice is particularly well-suited to this strategic work because of ‘our diversity of experience, in science, health and universities and also in offices and residential. We can draw on it all to create new development and value out of the exchange of land.’
Residential work remains a real focus, too. The practice has recently completed a project at Newhall for Bellway and a high-end development at Fitzroy Place in London for Exemplar. ‘There is a lot of opportunity for high-end residential,’ Shingler says. If Sheppard Robson’s housing projects are in London, they are mostly beyond Zone 2, but there are also now chances around the practice’s Manchester and Glasgow offices, where the housing market has previously been stagnant for a number of years. Another area of growth is hotels. Completion of the Citizen M project near the Tower of London has been followed by a further two commissions, again under wraps.
Sheppard Robson is enjoying a high level of repeat business, currently running, Shingler says, at 80 per cent. Clients include contractors, developers and end-users. There has been repeat business for the BBC and universities, and the practice has fitted out six offices in six years for KPMG.
Both the Glasgow and Manchester offices have expanded, offsetting to some degree the retrenchment in London. The practice has supported the Glasgow office with senior-level recruitment, and in Manchester it has found work beyond the city, in Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham. In London, Sheppard Robson has been able to renew the lease on the office it has occupied for 40 years in Camden and has extended it so that the entire team is under one roof again.
This is, perhaps, a reflection of a practice that values stability while carefully assessing the future.