The Impact of National Lockdown and Plans for 2021

Occupancy rates

Across our Innovation Locations, in the East of England, good occupancy rates are being achieved. Whilst there has been member downsizing and office spaces being vacated, the overall occupancy levels remain above 60% across the board with a handful of locations above 80%. Lab and workshop space continues to be well occupied, with enquiries and agreements coming through. Offices spaces, whether they are dedicated or shared, are being affected primarily. Being a year into this pandemic means that many people have now adapted to working from home offices. 

We need to review office space and its utilisation to ensure our industry keeps up with the adaption happening within our market. The move to project space and covid-safe hot desking is not going to reverse when lockdown is eased. We must change our offering and provide spaces which suit the new ways of working.

Rent support

To maintain these high occupancy rates, a variety of rent support packages have been implemented. Ranging from flat rate discounts, case-by-case rent deferrals, and blanket policies to stop collecting rent altogether. These efforts will have undoubtably contributed to the high occupancy rates, which buck the commercial real estate trends outside of innovation locations.

The purpose of our innovation locations is to support our occupiers and members, thus rent support strongly aligns to our values. It is our mission to support R&D, innovation, and growth. Our innovation locations are able to offer greater support, not because we all have the funds to do so, but because it is fundamental to our offering. We will go above and beyond to support our occupiers, which does sometimes lead to us as organisations and companies taking a hit on financial performance.

Business support

Our site occupiers and members continue to value being based at an innovation location. The dedicated teams and the network of support organisations we create have been providing support to businesses on the impact of covid, accessing grants, managing their teams remotely, safely, and through furlough, and adapting their business models. As we settle into our new ways of working, the support offering is starting to focus on growth such as pitching for investment and accelerator programmes.

The way we deliver this support has had to change, and we continue to adapt and try new delivery methods. Online networking, special interest groups, and podcasts have proved popular across our locations. A theme throughout these sessions, especially during lockdown periods, has been how locations and businesses can support mental and physical wellbeing. This will continue to be important, and shouldn’t be forgotten, as people return to our locations in larger numbers. Our locations will have to reinvent the communal wellbeing spaces to ensure members and their employees are comfortable, safe, and well.

Site adaption

Innovation Locations are no different to any other workplace. We have had to adapt out sites to implement covid-safe working. In the East of England, footfall on our locations is down to 30 – 40% of the pre-covid footfall figures. Security, site access, and personnel registering has improved, striking the balance between supporting vital sectors to continue working and reducing the risk to those who are attending site.

The occupational agreements which are in place have also had to adapt. Management of leases and licences has proved challenging; one that our locations have risen to. Depending on the type of occupier, management teams have made agreements more flexible for tenants, secured rents, and altered lengths to suit their individual situations.

Plans for 2021

Progress for the East of England has not ground to a halt. We continue to build new centres, phases, and parks across the region. These developments have sustainability and carbon reduction at their heart and are integrating the latest technologies and best practice. These future-proof, operationally excellent, beautiful buildings will be home to many R&D projects, start-ups, and high growth businesses who will improve how we live.  

Our featured development is:

Harlow Innovation Park

A new destination for pioneering scientific and technological development in the heart of the UK’s Innovation Corridor and Harlow’s Enterprise Zone. Designed to work in symbiosis with forward-thinking, highly driven businesses, Harlow Innovation Park offers a supportive and collaborative environment that encourages growth, nurtures partnerships and promotes wellbeing.

  • Phase 1 NEXUS building completed April 2020, now 80% floorspace committed
    • Phase 2 MODUS high quality Med-tech Advanced Manufacturing across six units. Practical completion April 2021
      • Units available between 5,220 sq ft – 25,973 sq ft

We also continue to develop new programmes to accelerate the growth of our occupiers and members. A number of our locations are launching new programmes in the next few months to support their members and the wider region, reaching out into the local economy. The impact of an Innovation Location is not only felt on site, we reach out into the wider community driving entrepreneurship and innovation.

Our featured programme is:

Innovation Grant Mentoring Project (Norfolk County Council)

Supported by Hethel innovation and Suffolk County Council in our group, the IGMP is an innovation mentoring and bid writing project to help smaller businesses secure the funding they need to develop their project ideas.

More information here: