By Vijay Shah
As some of you may know, I currently work as a database researcher/integrity assistant for a conference company named Informa. In this job I work with and maintain our customers’ records on the in-house data system. From when I started in June 2007 up until last week, IIR Conferences Ltd, the Informa subsidiary which I personally am employed by, maintained an office situated at 29 Bressenden Place in Victoria, central London. It is well-known as a prime location, roughly equidistant between Victoria Underground Station and the tourist-and-camera honeypot that is the Queen of England’s residence – Buckingham Palace. It was a great location to work in as well. If you wanted a quick lunch, you had several options. Sandwich-lovers and salad-munchers could head around the corner to the Sainsbury’s Local supermarket in Allington Street, with its varied range of sandwiches, drinks, snacks, healthy-eating options, very much the stuff that you would expect a high street supermarket to have on its shelves. Cafe Moca, an Italian sandwich cafe, at the corner of Warwick Row had sumptuous chicken escalope and peri-peri poultry handmade baguettes and ciabattas. They were pricey but delectable. For Chinese, there was Noodle Noodle, with its customary fresh hot ramen and chicken in black bean sauce. There was two shopping centres in the vicinity of my office, an Argos and five pubs within easy walking distance, not to mention a theatre that had Billy Elliott on constant loop….
But alas, while Victoria was ‘Location, Location, Location’ and a socialising and eating heaven for local desk jockeys, all good stories must have an end…we are moving to a new office!.
For the past three years, the streets around Bressenden Place have been transformed into a massive building site, coinciding with the extension of the nearby Tube station. The current station terminus is a departure point for many millions of tourists visiting every year. The crowds at rush-hour become so thick that it gets ridiculous. Ridiculous to the point that overcrowding often partially shuts down Victoria station as burly LU transport guards and a loud beeping alarm keep annoyed commuters in almost-perpetual agony as they queue past the bus stop, around the block and all the way into the middle of next week. The builders in their dusty day-glo orange jackets soon made their mark, as their firm Keltray tore down a couple of nearby buildings with diggers and other earthmoving equipment. London Underground’s £509 million upgrade to increase the capacity of the Tube station was fully underway. By 2015, there will an enlarged Victoria Tube with a new ticket hall, lifts and escalators to cope with the never-ending stream of sightseers, not to mention London City’s growing population. By 2016 it is estimated that our city’s Tube network will carry up to 3.4 million passengers daily.
The numerous conversations, keyboard tinkling and mouse clicks in our office soon had to compete with a whole new set of noises. Construction staff shouting at each other, the rumbling of trucks and diggers, and weird thudding sounds. We even had tremors. Not quite Californian style ‘The Big One’ tremors, but if you kept your feet firmly on the floor at your desk and slouched a little, you could feel the shakes run up your spine in an unsettling manner. If you ever saw the scene in the first Jurassic Park movie where the Tyrannosaurus escapes from its enclosure, and you hear its feet stomping on the road while the glass of water in the kids’ jeep starts to ripple, you will get a good idea. Whenever I and my friend/colleague went out to the Sainsbury’s to get lunch, we always had to dodge an army of builders in garish flourescent jackets while negotiating our path through the rabbit’s warren of mesh fencing and Health & Safety notices, while a) not choking to death on the dust, and b) not slipping on the mud and cracking our heads open on the now-chewed up pavement.
It was maybe a year past that us guys at Informa, as well as the other firms sharing our office block at Number 29 were told that soon we would be hunting for a new place to plug in our PC monitors. An email from human resources announced that by September this year we would be either relocating either to Euston or Tottenham Court Road, as 29 Bressenden Place would also taste the wrecking ball as part of Victoria’s regeneration. By March , we knew for certainty that we were definitely going Tottenham Court way. And last week was our final week at good old Bressenden as we readied ourselves to up sticks to the swanky brand-new digs at Maple House, 149 Tottenham Court Road.
Ever since I started as a fresh-faced, somewhat penniless database researcher in the dying days of summer 2007, Bressenden Place eventually grew on me. It was a love-hate relationship though. The offices were very much a typical slice of corporate Britain with their pea-green and blue carpetting, strip lights, and kitchens stocked with the latest in microwave and hot-water technology. The kitchens were great because you had four fridges (three for workers’ lunches, one for milk) so you rarely had worry about your home-cooked pasta or ciabatta going off. You could go there to engage in some water cooler talk with your mates and there was always (usually) fresh milk, tea and two kinds of coffee, all wonderfully free of charge. It was hardly necessary to have the skills of Indiana Jones to find your way around the office – getting from A to B – it was just a case of walking down the corridor.
At the same time, this was an old office block. By the time it is demolished, Bressenden Place will have completed a full half-century. One of the biggest gripes we had with the building was that everything kept breaking down. The lifts (elevators) were particularly annoying in this respect. It was a real crap start to the working week, when on Monday you would saunter past the lone security guard, flash your identity card and glide towards the lift only to find the doors prised wide open with a sign positioned in front….”The lifts are currently out of order and an engineer has been called. We apologise for any inconvenience”. Some inconvenience it was. I worked on the sixth floor and seven or so flights of stairs at 8:30 in the morning is not my idea of fun. Kitchen appliances also had the nerve of developing electrical complaints too. I have lost count of the number of times the fridge, water cooler or the hot water dispenser would give up in protest at being constantly tugged at or opened by people needing a quick coffee fix. Numerous times our kitchen even had leaks. I will never forget the surprise of a month ago when first thing in the morning, I walked into the kitchen to find not only was there a preposterous quantity of water splashed on the floor (the new hot water machine has broken down and dribbled), but that someone, in an attempt to soak up the carnage, had left a pile of kitchen roll sheets all over the spillage. I commented later on my Facebook that it looked as if though several Andrex puppies had instigated a break of dawn foam party in there.
In the Sixties, global warming was not front page news and London was a chilly place. Not surprisingly, our office had no air-conditioning. So, when summer arrived, parts of Floor 6 became a sweaty sauna with Dell screens, forcing everyone to turn on their desk fans to the ‘hurricane’ setting as we tried to stave off the dreaded armpit stains. It was unbelievably stuffy and humid in there, and was off-putting to work in. The offices at Maple House conversely have a modern layout/decor, built-in air-con, floor to ceiling windows, four lifts, 24-hour security and showers. There is even a garden to imbibe some fresh air or to escape the boss’ ire after flunking yet another deadline.
Good or bad, Bressenden Place was my place of work and I have spent the largest chunk of my working life there. There were too many great memories…lunches at Nandos and Zizzi’s, after-work drinks at the Willow Walk, cricket practice at Green Park, tourists asking for directions, even being evacuated as the fire brigade tackled a toaster fire in a hotel kitchen in the same block as our offices.
THE LAST DAY
Our last day at the old workplace began as per usual. We had been given stickers issued by a third-party removal company on which had to be written our names and a 3-digit number. This very special set of numerals corresponded to our locations in the new building’s floor layout. The removal company ordained that everything that was not nailed to the floor had to be tagged with these stickers. I was spotting these labels on everything from the fire extinguishers in the corridors to colleagues’ computer mice. Next to every set of desks was a huge stack of crates, one for each employee. I must have felt like some sort of office-bound Godzilla walking past rows of container skyscrapers. Our management was very kind to give us half the day off, so that the IT people could start unwinding the network and begin boxing up all the monitors, wires and such. Soon the database research and integrity departments were in a frenzy of packing, clearing out desks and filling the heavy grey-and-red crates that will greet us at Maple House. Most of us just had the pens and paperwork we needed for the job, so our packing did not take more than 1/2 an hour at most. By 12 noon we were done, the PCs were switched off and we hung around reminiscing about the good old days, sharing memories and wondering about who was sitting next to who. A few of my friends expected me to break down into floods of tears, but I am made of sterner stuff. Nevertheless, after more than five years based out of here, it was slightly sad, maybe poignant. It felt somewhat humbling that everything around me would soon be crushed underfoot, petty insignificant rubble beneath the tracks of a Caterpillar. It is difficult to let an old friend go, even if its corridors stank of fish or burnt oatmeal half the time. Even if its men’s toilets often seized up. Even if the windows looked ready to fall out at short notice.
For a celebratory lunch, most of the department headed to Nandos at the Carpenter’s Road shopping mall, where Afro-Portuguese peri-peri dishes were devoured in abundance. I made a departure from my usual chicken burger special and went a little upmarket with a chicken breast pitta with salad and cheese, accompanied by a side order of chips and a bottomless Coke. Damn tasty. I worked off the spare calories in Green Park doing ten minutes of batting with members of our departmental cricket team before heading home to a long lazy August bank holiday weekend.
THE STORY BEHIND BRESSENDEN PLACE
The office block we were based in is located in the City of Westminster in London’s heart. At a height of ten or so stories, the L-shaped building was not only home to my employers IIR Conferences, but also other members of the Informa family, such as PTI, Informa Life Sciences, Adam Smith Conferences and TOC Europe – companies which specialised in conferences and seminars offering knowledge in fields as diverse as pharmaceuticals, shipping and finance with several thousand clients on their books. The complex was also occupied by several companies allied with the NHS, a consultancy firm, Hyder, and partially by the neighbouring Thistle Westminster Hotel.
The building is currently owned and rented out by Land Securities, a commercial property landowner which has assets of more than 29 million square metres in built estate, including offices, shops and housing. The office block of 29 Bressenden Place was built on what was once the bed of the Tyburn River many centuries ago. A brewery, now replaced by the Stag public house was a neighbour of the former tenements that occupied Number 29’s current location. During the period from 1959-1964, the Stag Brewery was pulled down as the post-war building effort of the Sixties went into full momentum. The main building, Lakeview Court, as well as the Thistle hotel were designed by architects Chapman Taylor Partners towards the close of the 1960’s.
It is most likely that the buildings of Bressenden including our office block will come down by next year, and once they are gone, will be replaced by a new mixed-use development, comprising residential, retail and hotel elements, according to an archaeological impact assessment by Westminster city council.
Below is a selection of photos I took of inside & outside our offices – including the lunch at Nandos and when I passed Buckingham Palace.
ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Transport for London, Land Securities Group, City of Westminster Council, Museum of London Archaeological Service (full PDF archaeological impact assessment viewable here ), 149 Tottenham Court Road official website.