Nuclear family seeks ideal home

BNFL's new facility will mix and match, in the spirit of greater co-operation

Earlier this month, British Nuclear Fuels declared open its new Springfields research centre near Preston. Yet the general manager of research and technology, Peter Bleasdale, says it is already obsolete.

The building was conceived as recently as the beginning of the 1990s. But the company has already learned that it takes more than a physical redesign to persuade people to work together in more constructive ways.

Although it abolishes some of the class consciousness, it does not go far enough. Despite the intention to break down barriers between researchers and managers, the latter still strive to preserve their territory and rank.

Which is why BNFL's next big facility, the Nuclear Technology Centre at Sellafield, will have no private offices. As important, training is already under way to ensure that personnel will understand and welcome their new environment by the time it is ready for occupation at the turn of the millennium.

BNFL's earliest laboratories were built to a standard post-war government design with cellular laboratories located off corridors. The laboratories become "owned" by the teams of scientists in them. Teams would disappear into their labs and emerge at the end of the day possibly not having spoken to anybody other than the team. There was no space for research managers, who were given offices on another floor. With its role in Britain's post-war effort to assemble a credible nuclear defence, security was a priority, and the consequence of this was that interaction between research teams was actively discouraged.

"Facilities like this will hold us back if we continue to use them," says Dr Bleasdale. "People become territorial. It is the embodiment of the Upstairs, Downstairs culture, and the stairs are a real barrier, providing a significant disincentive for managers and experimentalists to get together."

The unsuitability of this environment prompted the move to Springfields. Here, research managers were relocated into offices at the ends of the laboratories. "At least the managers now have to walk past their teams to get to their offices - and that was a great shock to a lot of them!"

But these offices became the focus of competition. Senior management wanted large offices in order to impress visitors. The rest fought for the best location, the best views, and even for different offices according to the position of the building's columns against the window. "The unexpected things that crop up when you give people differentiators are incredible," Dr Bleasdale comments.

The intention had been that managers would have more frequent contact with laboratory scientists. The design may have got rid of the physical barriers, but it did nothing to remove the psychological barriers.

So, for this third-generation research facility, BNFL has chosen to abandon offices entirely, and is preparing people's attitudes for the change. Laid out by specialist planners of research environments, David Leon Partnership, the new building will be light and airy. Quiet rooms will be available for customer or personnel meetings requiring privacy, but any attempt to colonise these on a more permanent basis will be resisted.

In preparation for the change, the company has adopted a flatter management structure. It has appointed a facilities manager and also people to manage the team-building and other personnel issues associated with the coming transition. This leaves the technologists free to carry on their proper work with minimum disruption. Dr Bleasdale believes it will take three years to achieve the sustained cultural change - the time until the new building is readyn

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform