The rebirth of Telegraph House signifies the rebirth of Grimsby as a global player in the new world of business. We spoke to the mastermind behind the Telegraph House Business Centre, the enigmatic lawyer and entrepreneur, Jonathan Stones. He shared his vision and reasons for building a world-class business hub in the heart of Grimsby.
As you may know, Grimsby is a town with a long heritage, from its Viking origins to its rich history as the fishing capital of the world. After the fishing went away, the town struggled to find a new identity, to develop new opportunities. Fortunately, the 21st century has seen a resurgence in the town’s fortunes thanks to new technologies, spearheaded by innovative local businesses and visionary entrepreneurs.
One such is Jonathan Stones, and he’s determined to do what he can to nurture other local success-stories. And he intends to do it from the imposing edifice of Telegraph House, a building which used to be at the heart of Grimsby’s thriving business community and will be again, if Jonathan has anything to say about it.
Jonathan has big plans for Grimsby’s business future. The sky’s the limit for his ambitions, and you can see a vast expanse of that sky from the panoramic views of Grimsby visible through the impressive picture windows of Telegraph House.
And, it all came about because Jonathan’s firm, John Barkers Solicitors, needed to expand.
When John Barkers were looking around for new premises, their gaze fell on Telegraph House, which was newly on the market. They saw that the building represented the history and significance of the town and could be the perfect signifier of Grimsby’s resurrection.
They also saw an opportunity to not only create a modern, convenient, comfortable and empowering working environment for themselves, but to offer the same to other local businesses with vision and ambition.
In a building that enjoys a spectacular view of Grimsby’s legendary docks, Jonathan Stones decided to create the rising business tide that will, in time, lift all boats!
As Jonathan noted: “If you look at the statistics, most people are not employed by large multinationals, they’re more likely working for local or regional businesses. So, as a part of the economy, local businesses are growing in importance.”
In his role at John Barkers, Jonathan has spoken to many business people, from enterprises of all sizes and, based on what they told him, he came to the firm belief that local and regional businesses are the powerhouse of the economy. What generates significant wealth for people in a region is businesses based in that region.
Telegraph House exists to support local business growth and create that local success.
And it’s working!
Telegraph House Expert Testimony
John Barkers’ vision for taking Telegraph House into the future was three-fold:
#1 Create a contemporary, spacious, comfortable workplace that supports and empowers their team, as well as offering a safe, reassuring and private environment for their clients.
#2 Restore and repurpose an important local landmark, finding relevance for the building in our brave new business world.
#3 Develop a whole community of like-minded forward-thinking businesses which would benefit from the latest technology and facilities, connect with each other, then work together in the interests of mutual growth.
As Jonathan observed: “Running a business and being responsible for other people’s livelihoods is a strange experience. It’s hard to explain the weight of obligation to those who haven’t been there.”
Therefore, anything that can help business-people shoulder that burden, reduce your additional workload and make the day-to-day running of their business easier – has got to be a good thing.
Telegraph House’s Office Management Team contribute to this, they’re always available for a chat and to offer a helping hand. So, in a forward-thinking centre like Telegraph House, no business person is ever truly alone.
Telegraph House The Discovery
To understand how and why Jonathan and his team have brought this noble Grimsby landmark back to new, vibrant life, we need a little back story.
About ten years ago, it became obvious that Barkers’ original chambers on Bethlehem Street in Grimsby were no longer fit for purpose. A maze of separate offices was, they felt, an out-of-date environment for a modern law firm. Jonathan Stones and the other partners wanted to reposition Barkers to reflect its true nature as a contemporary, forward-thinking firm and, to do that properly, they needed more room.
So, the search began for a replacement location.
The first question to answer was whether or not to stay in Grimsby. That decision was simple, because it made perfect business sense to stay where their existing clients were. Also, the firm had enjoyed a long and successful history in Grimsby, first opening its doors in 1884.
Whilst checking around to see what appropriate premises were available in town, Jonathan’s eye fell on Telegraph House.
Grimsby’s daily newspaper, The Grimsby Telegraph, had been produced on the site since the 1890s, initially in the original Victorian building, and then in the custom-built three-story complex that now stands on Cleethorpe Road.
The building was opened on the 26th of October, 1976, by Princess Anne. No expense was spared on the 85,000 sq ft construction, which was perfect for the hundreds of people and dozens of departments needed to produce the town’s flagship paper.
Of course, by the time the building was put up for sale, in 2014, all of that work was being done by a much smaller team, using modern digital technology, on just one floor of an otherwise empty building. The Telegraph team needed smaller premises, just when John Barkers’ team needed to go large.
As Jonathan learned from his contractors who were assessing the building with a view to remodelling and refurbishing it, the 70s building was incredibly well made, its specifications far exceeding anything else those contractors had seen in the area.
The scale of the building gave Barkers the room it needed to adopt a modern, open-plan layout, with plenty of additional space for when the business grew.
Telegraph House The Whole Truth
Workplaces are changing with the post-Covid rise of hybrid work, and the data suggests that, whilst employees choose to work at home, they’re getting different things from being in the work space. It’s a meeting space. It’s a collaborative space. It’s a communication space.
Workers come together to workshop ideas, which they then facilitate off site.
Based on that, a lot of forward-thinking companies are reviewing their real estate and realising the space they now need is something more flexible and smaller.
As Jonathan puts it: “We knew there was this change happening in the workplace. Maybe people are wanting a more tailored, managed space. We’ve seen it with our clients. To look after a building takes someone’s time. And, if it’s not primary to your business operation, why do it?
So, the economy has shifted and the demand for space has shifted and Telegraph House is ready to fill that space.
Telegraph House Taking a Stand
When it came to planning a purposeful future for the whole building, the project was a significant learning opportunity for Jonathan and his team because, simply put, they’re lawyers, not property developers.
But, as with any major project, the key was keeping everyone updated. Communicate the plan, make sure you get buy-in, resource it properly, take the right advice, then proceed.
Sam Burgess Business Development helped Barkers develop their vision and helped guide them on the path of developing more than just an office.
As Jonathan puts it: “It is easy to think of an office as just a desk, a chair, a phone and a wifi connection; but Sam helped us realise we wanted more than that. We wanted to create an environment, a culture, a community.”
Barkers were further supported by Clark Weightman, who advised that the market was crying out for bespoke business space, which is when the decision was made to offer managed offices.
With their strategy in place, Barkers just needed to purchase the site. Barclays Corporate assisted with the purchase. The deal with the bank was struck over a phone call, and that was just the beginning of the support the Telegraph House project received from Andrew Marsh, Kevin Peart and their colleagues at Barclays Corporate.
Then, once the building was theirs, there was the whole question of paying for the refit. Festino (Finance) provided the funds for the gradual redevelopment of the building.
“We wanted Telegraph House to be a place businesses and their staff want to be! That wouldn’t have been possible without the support of all these outside agencies.”– Jonathan Stones
The Daily Mail and General Trust purchased the building in 2012 and went on to spend in the region of £400,000 in modernising it, before deciding to sell. For example, they’d installed a new lift, but it wasn’t yet commissioned, which offered an interesting challenge for Jonathan’s building managers.
Ultimately, Grimsby Lifts offered considerable support in getting the new lift commissioned and functioning.
Jonathan Stones credits all of the above with being instrumental in John Barkers’ growth and Telegraph House’s rebirth:
Telegraph House The Evidence
In terms of building a business community, Jonathan and his team took their inspiration from office complexes in Leeds, Manchester and London, which gave them the ambition to create a centre with an elevated level of comfort and quality.
Barkers have been very canny in sourcing materials for their new centre. Big city businesses have been experiencing a change – some were booming and leaving their premises for new horizons, while others were falling victim to various global downturns.
In either case, they were leaving behind offices full of fixtures and fittings which were all-but unused. Barkers created a network of landlords and developers who were remodelling and refitting such offices and offering liquidated materials at keen, competitive prices.
In this way, Barkers manage to provide opulence-on-a-budget.
In this way, they managed to customise the working environment they needed for themselves.
The building was completely rewired, LED lighting panels and modern energy-efficient air conditioning was fitted throughout and they have constructed an impressive 30 kilowatt solar panel system.
John and his team offer a bespoke service to their managed office tenant businesses. Nothing is too much trouble. Anyone wanting to move in to Telegraph House will find a willingness to customise their space to their exact requirements. This can include everything from supplying furniture to fitting floor-to-ceiling glass partition systems or even repositioning internal walls (if feasible).
Telegraph House’s onsite Office Management Team are determined to make every office space perfect for a client’s individual needs, after which they are still around to make sure everything continues to operate at optimum convenience and efficiency.
That kind of management and responsiveness was something that Barkers’ research suggested was lacking in other local facilities. Not all businesses can flourish in a one-size-fits-all environment, so Jonathan and his team were determined to offer a made-to-measure service.
Telegraph House The Verdict
Another example of Jonathan’s ‘big city quality’ ambition is immediately apparent in Telegraph House’s main reception: The first thing you notice when you enter is the expansive reception desk, which actually came from the Swiss Re building in London (the building better known as The Gherkin).
Simply having a reception for Telegraph House has elevated its offering above the norm. It is not typical, in managed offices, to have a person greeting guests, but Jonathan Stones felt that it was important for all of his tenants to enjoy the benefits of having guests greeted by a human who would ring through and announce them, while they enjoyed a drink and waited in a pleasant, professional environment.
This isn’t the only thing that makes Telegraph House unique. After all, there are inevitable business benefits in having a friendly law-firm in the same building.
“When our tenants ask us for advice, we’re not a taxi firm, we don’t immediately put a meter on. But, that’s good business for everyone. We want to help our tenants’ businesses grow because, when they grow, they’re gonna need more legal services.”– Jonathan Stones
Furthermore, as well as formal or informal access to Barkers themselves, tenants can also benefit from access to the wide range of service providers that Barkers knows.
On a more mundane level, Barkers will deal with building maintenance. Tenants don’t even have to think about hiring a cleaner or keeping the rest rooms stocked-up with toilet rolls, because that’s all part of what Barkers offers.
Telegraph House Summing Up
As an investment for Barkers, Telegraph House has already proven to be effective in that it has furnished the business with an airy and modern working environment. It also offers wall-to-wall potential.
Of Telegraph House’s 85,000 sq ft, there is still something like 50,000 sq ft still available for development. Jonathan confides that there are plans afoot to tempt other big businesses in, which could occupy entire wings of the building.
The next business phase is to expand the use of the centre for conferences. There are already three boardrooms and numerous meeting rooms which are available on the site to tenants and non-tenants, and they will be developing additional training spaces.
One of the areas Jonathan is keen to expand into is self storage. That might seem quite random, but the building includes the cavernous Press Hall, where – back in the day – the newspaper was actually printed. Now the printing presses have gone, that space could easily lend itself to a storage facility.
But that still leaves plenty of scope to develop more Managed Offices suitable for ambitious and visionary SMEs.
Anyone interested in using the conference or meeting room facilities, or considering a full-time move to Telegraph House can look at what’s available at the Grimsby Offices website.
Don’t take Jonathan’s word for it, ask his tenants:
Witness Testimony #1:
“Our clients are coming in, they’re getting a great experience in reception, we bring them up in the lift, they notice how amazing our space is, they’re blown away by the view and we’re credible straight away.” – Matt Pattinson, MD of CMA
Witness Testimony #2:
“The Equality Practice has been resident at the Telegraph House for over a year now … Stuart, who manages the offices and clients, is always on call and responds quickly and efficiently. Not only that, we have a wonderful view of the estuary! I would recommend anyone looking for office space to consider this location.” – Tracy Todd, Director of The Equality Practice