Ipswich building consultancy Concertus is ready to collaborate

Concertus directors Andrew Rowe, Carl Lockwood and Matthew Self.

Concertus directors Andrew Rowe, Carl Lockwood and Matthew Self. - Credit: Archant

Property and design consultancy Concertus is approaching its second birthday since it being divested from Suffolk County Council control. Ross Bentley met the senior management team to talk about the journey the business has been on over the past two years.

It has been an eventful two years at Ipswich-based Concertus Design and Property Consultants.

The business was formed in April 2013 when it was spun out of Suffolk County Council’s Corporate Property Service Delivery Group, as part of the local authority’s divestment programme. Since then the management team has worked hard at developing a commercial culture at the company whilst also retaining the positive aspects of its public sector roots.

According to managing director, Andrew Rowe, the decision to form Concertus was made for a number of reasons.

“Before, we were one consultancy wing of the property team at the county council and were involved in designing new buildings, such as schools, community facilities, offices and libraries,” he says.

“The divestment has given us the freedom to be a limited company that can trade both with the public and private sectors. We are also no longer restricted geographically and can bid for jobs outside of Suffolk.”

But making this shift has involved taking a systematic approach to changing the way the company is run and evolving its culture. This goes right down to details such as the support services it uses and the way the desks are set out in the office. Whilst still located in the council’s Endeavour House in central Ipswich, the 75-strong team moved to a different office space as a way of demarking their new business from the old council department.

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“We took the decision that we wanted a space of our own with its own identity and its own reception area,” says director Carl Lockwood. “We’ve purposely set up the space differently to how the county council arranged the desks because we want to send a direct message to our staff and clients that this is a separate entity.

“We also found new service providers in areas such as finance, HR and IT because we sought providers who are a good fit for this new venture. It was also about marking our move away from council control and drawing a line in the sand.”

The mindset of the team at Concertus is also something that has changed over the past 24 months - moving from a public sector approach to a more commercially-minded outfit.

“For want of a better term, we tended to be fed jobs when we were with the council - we didn’t have to worry about having to get work in,” adds director Matthew Self.

“But now everyone across the business is looking for opportunities - from the administration team to our architects and surveyors they are proactively going out there and seeing the opportunity. We all have to take some ownership for the successes of the business.”

He adds: “We’ve had overwhelming support from our staff who are behind us and want to make that cultural shift - they are passionate about the business and can identify with our brand “

However, while the team has worked to develop this commercial edge, they have been keen to maintain some of the good things from their council-led heritage - a background of which they are proud.

Carl says: “The perception of the public sector is that it can be mundane and bureaucratic but there is some really good work that is happening in the public sector and many people are very committed to their jobs.”

One element, Carl says, the business has taken with it is the council’s ethos of co-operation - borne from an approach that typically sees different departments and stakeholders working closely together. The team at Concertus say they have adopted this approach and bring a “spirit of collaboration” to their work with their new clients.

Thus the name for the business - Concertus - derived from the word ‘concert’. “We’re a sending message out to our clients and our staff that that this is our approach and how we intend to lead the firm,” continues Carl.

Concertus’s belief in collaboration has seen it champion a new approach to building design and construction called Building Information Modelling (BIM). The technique involves different parties sharing 3D models of a building plan, so that any participant in the process can add their respective layers of detail and position actual components based on manufacturer’s data, into the design. The benefits of his process are increased efficiency at the design and construction stages and the ability to maintain a building more cheaply and simply over the course of its lifecycle.

“We’ve already got that collaborative feeling with our clients, partners and contractors so to adopt BIM is quite an easy journey for us,” adds Matthew.

Projects the company is already involved in include the design and management of a £5million scheme to bring together two special needs schools onto one campus on Sprites Lane in Ipswich; and drawing up a business plan and feasibility study for the so- called Mildenhall Hub – an ambitious multi-million plan to bring public services, a library and a school onto one campus in the town.

As hoped, the company has also branched outside Suffolk and is working with a number of academies in Cambridgeshire and designing school buildings in north London.