Schroders lets 55,380 sq ft Department W in its entirety to Queen Mary University

Schroder UK Real Estate Fund (SREF) has exchanged a 55,380 sq ft letting to Queen Mary University of London at Department W – a comprehensively redeveloped office on Mile End Road in Tower Hamlets that was formerly home to Wickham’s department store.

Queen Mary, a member of the Russell Group of leading UK universities, is an established further education establishment with an enrolment of approximately 26,000 students across five London campuses. It traces its roots back to the establishment of the People’s Palace in Mile End in 1887, which was designed to bring educational and cultural opportunities to the East End. Creating a new base at Department W is therefore perfectly in keeping with its heritage.

The university will occupy the office space at Department W in its entirety, following the building’s redevelopment by SREF. The agreement for lease has been exchanged subject to completion of landlord works which are currently underway. Once complete, the fifteen year lease will house one of the additional support units across the property’s five floors. With Queen Mary targeting occupation to commence fit out in mid-2020, the building is due to open to students and staff in early 2021.

Department W has benefitted from an £11m investment programme to comprehensively refurbish and extend the 1927 Beaux Arts building that was formerly occupied by Wickham’s Department Store until its closure in 1965.

A sensitive redevelopment, designed by BuckleyGrayYeoman Architects, married contemporary requirements with historical preservation. Works included the installation of modern facilities – low energy lighting and natural ventilation, cycle storage and lifts, as well as showers and lockers – meeting practical needs and reducing the building’s environmental impact. Following the redevelopment, Department W was nominated for the BCO (British Council for Offices) Awards 2020 for refurbished / recycled workplace and was shortlisted in 2019 for multiple awards such as the FX International Design Awards and the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Awards. It has also been awarded a WiredScore Gold rating for its digital connectivity and Fitwel accreditation for its contribution to occupier wellbeing.

Critically, however, the redevelopment retained and conserved the building’s Spiegelhalter’s façade. The jewellery business famously refused to sell up in the 1920s to allow the Wickhams to redevelop, forcing them to incorporate the unit into an otherwise extravagant neo-classical frontage design. The resulting iconic juxtaposition is seen as a symbol of defiance and a source of local pride.

The Spiegelhalter’s frontage now serves as the main entrance to Department W, with the void behind the shopfront forming a courtyard with artwork to commemorate the unique story. SREF installed replica gold sovereigns into the cobbled entrance to pay homage to the story of the Spiegelhalters’ refusal to sell despite Wickham’s offer to fill their shop with gold sovereigns.

The redevelopment has also retained the original department store manager’s office, complete with its own safe, and original 1920s wooden staircases and glass skylight domes.

Jessica Berney, Fund Manager for SREF, comments: “We continually consider emerging structural changes to pre-empt future occupier trends and identify assets that will be in high demand for particular business sectors. This extends to both the geography of our investments but also the make-up of properties and their configurations.

“Whitechapel is becoming an increasingly exciting London submarket, particularly in the field of research and development, and local pride and history is a significant part of its growing occupier appeal. Our investment needed to celebrate and draw attention to this building’s heritage and draw the community in. The multi-million pound commitment to create this unique, bespoke space was made with this context in mind and a prestigious and proudly East End educational institution has seized the opportunity to occupy this inspiring property, beginning the newest chapter in the building’s rich history.”

James Neville, Partner at Allsop, comments: “It’s great to have signed this lease over to Queen Mary University, who were looking to expand outside its central London campus. The eastern corridor of the city is experiencing a significant migration of businesses from the inner city and is continuing to demonstrate the strength of the Whitechapel submarket.”

“Throughout the leasing campaign, we witnessed significant interest from companies within the architecture, media and tech industries, who would traditionally gravitate towards Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. However, thanks to contributing factors such the incoming Crossrail station, Whitechapel is proving to be a popular destination for a wide variety of businesses.”

Colliers International and Allsop acted for SREF and Daniel Watney represented Queen Mary.