Council workers live the new dream

More than half of Suffolk County Council's new headquarters at Endeavour House is now occupied. Has the dream of creating a "new working environment" been realised? Political Editor PAUL GEATER has met some of the workers at the glossy new building.

More than half of Suffolk County Council's new headquarters at Endeavour House is now occupied. Has the dream of creating a "new working environment" been realised? Political Editor PAUL GEATER has met some of the workers at the glossy new building.

WHEN he showed me around the half-finished shell of Endeavour House a year ago, project manager Peter Revell was full of fine-sounding buzzwords.

"This much more than just new offices for the county council," he said. "It's all about creating a new working culture.

"For the first time members of staff from all council departments will be under the same roof - they won't be confined to their own little section," he said.

Now the first staff are working in Endeavour House - it's more than half full with the final people due to move in before the end of the month.

But it's too early to judge whether the hopes will be realised, isn't it?

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Not judging by the group of council workers we met this week.

They had been chosen by the council's communications department to meet us - but it wasn't difficult to see their enthusiasm for their new offices.

And all had stories about how they were already working closely with colleagues from other departments.

Matthew West, from the trading standards department, was so irritated by a letter to The Evening Star from an ex-council employee criticising Endeavour House that he sent his own reply to us.

"I sent that letter in without any prompting from anyone - I wanted people to know that this is a very good place to work," he said.

"There are people here who have been working for the county council for years but have never worked in the same building as others and who we're just meeting for the first time.

"On trading standards we're working on shops selling goods to under-age people. The other day I was standing next to someone from the youth offending team.

"As we just chatted we realised we were working on the same issue from different ends. We have now met up informally to discuss this and we're certainly moving things along with that," he said.

Other people had similar stories - Jan Scott from the education department and Kim Knights from social care both deal with children's issues.

Until now they had been based in different offices in different buildings - Jan in St Andrew's House and Kim in St Paul's House.

"What is so good is that you don't have to have formal meetings to discuss everything," said Jan.

"We're working on the same floor, so you can go to the coffee bar and discuss something informal over a drink - there is much more of a team feeling."

Kim agreed that the new building made it far easier to see issues from an overall perspective.

"We can see children's issues as a whole, not simply in the context of our own department," she said.

Council leader Bryony Rudkin remains very enthusiastic about the move.

The final council meeting at St Helen Court will be held on April 22 and the last staff will leave their offices there the next day.

Looking at the new council chamber, it seems hardly possible that it will be ready for debate within a couple of weeks.

"We are almost there - the carpets go in next week," said Peter Revel.

It's not just the building that's new - so is all the furniture and much of the computer equipment.

The ground floor restaurant and first floor coffee bar have retro-style seats that look as though they're from a chic 1960's penthouse.

"They're very Christine Keeler," said Bryony Rudkin - resisting the urge to recreate the famous pose - "The certainly give the place a certain style.

"But you have to remember that this isn't just a place for people to come to relax.

"There is a lot of work going on here in the open spaces - people are meeting over coffee and discussing their projects.

"This is a much easier place to work - and I'm sure it will make the county council much more efficient."

WHEN it is fully occupied at the end of the month, there will be 1,150 people working in Endeavour House.

Most people work in large, open-plan offices which are spread over five and a half floors of the huge building.

Many people don't have their own desk, but find a computer and phone to use in their work area.

"The move has gone very successfully," said Matthew West from trading standards.

"One concern that I had with many of my colleagues was about the amount of storage space we would have.

"In the event it was a very good incentive for us to clear out the clutter and we found we had more than enough space."

The floors are not organised on departmental lines, but on subjects - therefore staff from all departments dealing with children and young people are on the same floor.

The entrance to Endeavour House is very impressive with a massive atrium.

Outside there is still some work to be done, but by the end of the month almost all of this should be completed.

"This is the strategic headquarters for the county as a whole," explained council leader Bryony Rudkin.

"It doesn't mean that every county council worker will be employed here - there are still offices in other parts of Suffolk and there will also be some people working elsewhere in Ipswich.

"But this is the head office, where the strategy is set - and it's wonderful to have everyone involved in that working under the same roof."

Although it will be fully occupied by the end of next month, plans for a formal opening of Endeavour House have not yet been finalised.

There have been suggestions it could be opened by a member of the Royal Family during a visit to the area later in the year.

But there is already interest in the building - open days are being planned for families of council staff and for members of the general public.

A reception for civic leaders is already planned for the attrium next month which will show off the building.

And Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown may visit it during a trip to Ipswich to open the new Sure Start project at Gainsborough within the next few weeks.

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