Trust's Swindon move complete

Mathew Little

When National Trust head office staff came into work on Monday morning, they were no longer greeted by the faded grandeur of their 103-year-old edifice alongside the regal surroundings of St James's Park in London.

Instead, they switched on their computers in a gleaming new solar-powered building in the centre of Swindon.

The trust's controversial relocation, two years in the planning, brings together 430 administrative staff from five different centres in a blue brick office on the site of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway Works.

In keeping with the trust's repositioning of itself as an environmental as well as a conservation charity, the building, called Heelis, has been designed according to sustainable principles. The flooring is made from the fleeces of 15,000 Herdwick sheep from National Trust-owned farms.

Photovoltaic cells on the roof harness solar power for electricity. The building is naturally ventilated and the urinals are waterless.

According to trust director-general Fiona Reynolds, the building is "an exemplar of good environmental practice in a location that will promote urban regeneration and use of public transport".

The building is named after Beatrix Heelis, better known as children's writer Beatrix Potter, who donated property to the trust.

The trust does not own the property, which has been designed by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley. It was built by developers Kier Properties at a cost of £12m. The trust says the move will cost it £6.15m, but grants and the proceeds from selling existing properties have reduced the amount by £4m.

The trust is renting Heelis on a 35-year lease, starting at £1.2m a year.

Rent and rates are £300,000 higher than those for existing offices, but the charity says running costs such as facilities management, cleaning and telecoms will be cut by £550,000 a year.

About 100 staff from the five offices that have been amalgamated at Swindon have opted for voluntary redundancy. Some have done so as part of the trust's efficiency programme, announced in April.

Twenty-five trust staff will remain in central London.

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