Friday, 15 February 2019

Insurance firm moves out to make way for new flats

Insurance firm moves out to make way for new flats

A COMPANY based in Henley for almost 60 years will move its entire operation out of the town centre this weekend.

Towergate Insurance is relocating its 45 staff from Brook House in Duke Street to Videcom House on the Newtown Road trading estate.

The firm’s lease on its current premises, where it has been based for 10 years, expires next month and the building is expected to be transformed into flats under its new owners.

Towergate managing director Mark Evans said the new offices would be more accessible for both customers and staff and would mean that everyone will be based on one floor rather than over three.

The only downside was that the staff would no longer have quick access to shops in the town centre.

Mr Evans, 58, who lives in Sonning Common, said: “It’s still in Henley and I was really keen that the business stayed here.

“We have a Henley identity with both the staff who live here, or close to here, and many long-standing Henley clients.

“I love being here because our business is about the staff and the clients, both of whom are lovely, and it’s a wonderful town to work in.

“We were lucky to have found a made-to-measure site because there’s not many places with office space of that size left in Henley these days. It’s a better office for us because it’s on one floor and it’s a nice, big open space. It’s a more modern office and a better working space. Splitting up the office on to three floors isn’t conducive to good communication.

“It will also be easier for clients to visit us as there’s better parking. I think a lot of businesses now prefer to be slightly out of town for the better access, parking and lower rates.

“We’re pleased to be making a new start elsewhere. We will be with other businesses on that estate, some of whom are our clients.

“We very much see it as a positive move and we have done our time in Duke Street, I think. Staff are generally positive.”

Catalyst Capital, the company behind the Market Place Mews development, has sold Brook House to the London-based LTC Group, which is set to convert the building into living space.

Mr Evans said: “The owner has changed and it was clear to us that the new ones were looking for change of use permisison to turn it into flats so we had to find a new home.

“They sent in their planners and people were marking it up and talking about how many flats.

“It would be a fairly straightforward conversion, I would have thought. It is a concrete floor building with entrances and access that would well suit an apartment building. We couldn’t afford as a business to leave moving until the last minute. We spoke to Videcom who had a spare floor to let. We were very lucky.”

The insurance company started in Henley in 1962 when it was known as Marshall, Paxman and Watson, or MPW.

In 1998 it was sold to the Arbuthnot Banking Group and in 2005 it became part of the Towergate Group and Mr Evans became managing director.

In 2011 it acquired a business in Winnersh and four years later another in Uxbridge.

Mr Evans, who joined the company in 2000, when it had about 12 employees, said: “I used to move job every five or six years but when I got to Henley and realised what a beautiful short commute it was and how I enjoyed working with the staff and clients, I stopped looking to move.

“I used to work in London, which I hated, Now my commute takes 12 minutes.”

The company was originally based at Dominion House in Gravel Hill before moving to Thames Bridge House behind the Henley Royal Regatta headquarters in 1985. It moved to Brook House in 2009.

Thames Bridge House was demolished last year to make way for four flats and a penthouse.

The company has a good staff retention rate and some employees have stayed for 20 and 30 years and, in one case, almost 50 years. Mr Evans added: “I still consider myself a new boy and I’m coming up to 19 years!

“It’s comforting in this day and age to see people stay loyal to their job and their customers for so long.

“It’s not the name at the end of the day because we’ve had three different names. I think it’s because they’re a nice bunch of staff, dealing with nice clients in a nice town.”

If the conversion of Brook House goes ahead, it will be the latest in a string of business premises in the town to be converted into residential use.

The former RPS Energy building, on the corner of Newtown Road and Reading Road, has been converted into a block of flats called Hill View.

The former Isis House offices in Station Road is in the process of being converted into seven flats with an additional third storey.

In August, a consortium of developers from London received consent to convert the Smith Centre, an office complex off Fair Mile, into 36 homes.

Plans have also been submitted to turn Andersen House on the Newtown estate, which used to be the home of digital signage firm Onelan, into 43 flats.

Ressance, of Newbury,  has applied for change of use consent to turn The Hub at Hallmark House, off Station Road, into 23 flats.

Mr Evans said: “I suppose there’s concern for other businesses that rely on staff spending money in town that if we keep replacing central businesses with residences it may not be beneficial to them.”

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