Orbiting into new space that will stand the test of time

| Leanne Forshaw Jones

Among the clients we represent in Greater Manchester is Orbit, a longstanding commercial property developer with an established reputation for investing in great office spaces across the region.

Here, we meet Orbit’s leasing director Rhys Owen who talks about the investments the company is making right now – and the role Canning O’Neill is playing. 

Manchester has developed quite the pioneering reputation over the years. So many ideas have been conceived in this city – from great music, to art, to textiles – to property.

But, while the city itself is filled with great, inspiring spaces that attract the brightest businesses, the suburbs don’t always compete. That’s not the case for Orbit though, where we’re striving to create spaces with the wow-factor in the suburbs of Greater Manchester and beyond. We’re seeing a lot of demand from customers, attracted to our portfolio as an alternative to the city centre.

Hot locations

Stockport and Sale are the big buzz places right now – all thanks to investment, major high street changes (Stanley Square in Sale plus the Underbanks and Old Town areas of Stockport), the vibrant independent hospitality and retail offers, great public transport and major road connections.

The scene is very much set in these locations, and it’s great to have buildings there, but we’re very  aware that a thriving town centre alone isn’t enough, businesses need dynamic working environments to match, so that’s why we work with agents and advisors like Canning O’Neill – highly experienced advisers who have their fingers on the pulse of what occupiers want, and therefore can help Orbit make evidence-based decisions as we upgrade our spaces.

Home from home

We have many examples where we have invested in our portfolio in line with what we’re learning from our agents. A recent example is Highbank House in the centre of Stockport. We worked with a local contractor, designing, building, and furnishing a 4,500 sq ft floor to create something quite different – with the resulting space offering a home from home feel thanks to a high spec kitchen, a breakout space, feature reception area with multi-purpose booths, and of course the usual mix of cellular offices, meeting rooms and open plan desk space.

The market insight from Canning O’Neill gave us the confidence to take this step and bring some of that city-centre standard workspace to the boroughs. James and John  gave real world examples that have helped us elevate our offering and the space at  Highbank House has already seen really strong interest.

Stockport’s journey

Such demand for Stockport much improved from a decade ago; back then Stockport as a business location was perhaps a less attractive consideration. The town has however turned a massive corner in the last few years, with headline grabbing food, drink and retail outlets, tech businesses like Distology, Shopblocks, Zync and Digital ID, all attracted to the high-quality space on offer and rents which are notably lower than other areas. 

Manchester magic

We’re seeing that out of demand in other areas too; Park Square in South Manchester is another investment that’s helped us bring that Manchester magic to businesses operating outside of the city. The building features a café, an outdoor event space, meeting facilities – even a Peloton studio! It’s an interesting building which, when originally built for the electricity board featured a restaurant, dance hall, sports facilities, bowling green and plenty of meeting spaces. 50 years later, we’re taking it up a notch – the completed space resulted in Orbit securing one of the market’s largest lettings last year to The AA in 2022.

This is of course evidence that aesthetics are important – especially as occupiers strive to establish vibrant working hubs which retain and attract great people. Contrary to commentary post-Covid, we’re seeing a rise in occupiers wanting more of such space.

SME market growth

Far from the downsizing journey you read about in the press, our own experience is that whilst the larger national PLCs are indeed reducing their footprint, the SME market is very much growing and taking larger spaces, notably investing in the fitout and the quality of the space they take as they strive to establish working environments that lure people in.

We’re way beyond the fads; pizza Fridays, a pool table and a beer fridge just won’t cut it anymore! Instead, staff want a base – somewhere they can spend 3-4 days each week, collaborating with colleagues and developing all those untapped ideas that define the North West’s innovative approach to business.

Evolving with the times

And Orbit will be along for the ride, listening, consulting with agents, and ensuring that we can accommodate changing demand not only in existing stock but creating entirely new spaces too.

Ultimately, it’s an exciting time to be involved in these projects and supporting our customers – both old and new – as they establish North West bases in which to bring together great people, and to do great work.