Take me home, Ancoats Lane

Approaching our twentieth birthday, we’re delighted to be permanently returning to Ancoats and the iconic Express Building after a temporary nomadic existence.

Our love affair with Ancoats dates back to 2004 as the first business to venture across Great Ancoats Street and support an exciting New East Manchester vision. We signed up for the whole top floor of the seminal Waulk Mill development on Bengal Street where our only neighbour was the Ancoats Regeneration Company itself. Sankeys aside, nobody ever had good reason back then to explore these murky, cobbled backstreets so intrinsically linked to Manchester’s industrial heritage.  

Quite frankly, it was cheap as chips, wonderfully dark, full of urban grit and so ahead of the curve, we couldn’t see it behind us.

The remarkable rebirth of Ancoats

After stuttering progress up to and through the last recession, Ancoats exploded into life midway through the last decade. As cranes rose from the ground like the Undertaker in his pomp, rusty-framed developments put on hold circa 2008 were rapidly revived and soon populated with twenty and thirty-somethings from every corner of the UK. The coffee shops, bars and restaurants followed and by 2018/2019, Ancoats featured prominently in Time Out’s Top 40 list of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world. This new wave of residents craved craft beer, bao buns and chai lattes but Ancoats would even throw a Michelin star into the mix.

Waulk Mill was a fabulous home to us for so many years and it was a privilege to witness this rebirth of Ancoats – including the creation of New Islington marina – from our lofty perspective. From post-industrial decline to hipster paradise inside a decade.

However, our third lease expired in August 2019 and after fifteen years it was time for change. In a demand-heavy market, we struggled to find something suitable within the timeframe needed and instead committed to a short-term lease on a private office at WeWork, Spinningfields. A refreshing change to work in a different part of the city but you know, it never quite felt like home – because that home was Ancoats.

So we continued to look and wait for something of the right size, in the right place and at the right price. The pandemic of course broadened our patience as, like most companies, we were forced to embrace a hybrid working model in 2020.

Getting back to studio life

But as a creative business we passionately believe that the best solutions are achieved through close collaboration – with each other and with our clients. Technology can never quite imitate the subtle advantages derived from the presence of other human beings when delivering a strategy workshop or brainstorming creative concepts. Though some tasks can be done adequately from home, learning and development happens faster when we’re together. Distractions happen at home as much as they do at work and craving a separation between work and life, our colleagues wanted a return to studio life.

To assist us, we briefed the expert team at OBI Property who provided all the professional support we needed to secure our new space at One Express. They knew it better than anyone having designed and project managed the refurbishment works for the new owners. Internal floors had been stripped out to reveal original architecture, exposed M&E services were installed, and the expansive floors were now flooded with natural light.

It’s an aesthetic triumph.

There’s been no compromise on facilities either with colleague wellbeing high on the agenda. You can find out more about OBI Property here.

This experience was a real blast from the past for us. We’ve vague recollections of looking at the Express Building back in 2004 and it was definitely a tired, unloved option, ranking terribly against the exceptional value, raw heritage and blank canvas promise of Waulk Mill.

Seventeen years later, that dynamic had shifted significantly.

About the Express Building

The first thing that strikes anyone looking at the exterior of the Express Building is sheer disbelief that it was built in 1939. It just looks like it simply can’t have been.

Sir Owen Williams was the visionary architect behind the radical ‘streamline moderne’ design of the new HQ for the Daily Express. The glass windows allowed passers-by on Great Ancoats Street (previously Ancoats Lane) to gaze in wonder at the huge printing presses, churning out the world’s most popular newspaper. In 1974, the building was granted Grade II listed status, rare for such a relatively young building but testament to its importance and value to the fabric of the area.

Within this excellent piece on the building’s reinvention, Manchester Confidential editor, Jonathan Schofield, beautifully describes the modern day Express Building:-

“This building is all about elegance and verve. There’s a beautiful swish and swoosh to the structure with graceful curves at the corners. Externally it’s pin-sharp, glamorous even. The black glass layers between the clear glass make it look like it’s off to a black-tie event as the star guest.”

So, for now, we’re just in and we love it. We’re currently in a temporary studio space on another floor while ours is being made ready but we’ll share more when it is and who knows, we might yet combine a studio-warming bash with our twentieth birthday celebrations.

It’s good to be back and we look forward to warmly welcoming you to our new home again.

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