Ascot is one of the UK’s – possibly the world’s – most famous racecourses.
Founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, the first race was held in August that year and was called ‘Her Majesty’s Plate.’ It had just seven runners and a purse of 100 guineas. Each guinea was worth about £1.05 in today’s decimal currency.
The course has come a long way since that humble beginning. It’s currently home to 13 of Britain’s 36 annual Group 1 horse races and stages 26 days of racing over the course of the year. These include flat and jump meetings.
Then, of course, there’s the royal connection. Held each June, the Royal Meeting is a major sporting draw, its highlight being The Gold Cup. In July, the most prestigious races of the year are run – the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Our offices have been within earshot of the racecourse for the last 30 years and yet we have, curiously, never worked there!
So we were delighted to be invited to pitch for and win the refurbishment of their commercial offices, located on the lower ground floor of the Queen Anne building.
And we had to get our heads around their very unique situation. Ascot is a commercial operation that expands by 20% for up to five months of the year simply for ONE prestigious week of racing! That’s why we spent so many hours with them – trying to fully understand how they operated and how we could come up with a design and build solution that would solve their problems and reflect this iconic brand.
We chose fabrics and finishes to reflect the elegance and sophistication of the Ascot brand throughout the office. The classic Ascot ‘blue’ features on the walls while a touch of the Royal Ascot gold is delicately used as an accent on the glazing and feature pendant lighting. Framed historic artworks are used throughout, while hat hooks allow ladies’ millinery to adorn the walls.
We threaded this intent throughout the whole design, including the two meeting rooms named Estimate (HM the Queen’s horse) and Yeats (the only horse to win the Gold Cup 4 times in a row) – both worthy suggestions from the Ascot commercial team. The rooms are finished in a monochromatic style and feature large images of Estimate and Yeats, creating a dramatic and timeless feel.
The two smaller rooms were styled to reflect the heritage of the racecourse. One like a gentleman’s reading room, with panelled walls, equine wall décor and Queen Anne armchairs in distressed leather. The other as quiet working room, with acoustic wall covering and a picture frame gallery wall to inspire the users.
We designed a large kitchen and breakout space, so that staff could grab a coffee or have breakfast in a communal setting before heading into the open plan office. Clothes storage was key, so we built in large coat cupboards with spaces for hats and shoes, a staff dressing area, with mirrors and lighting for any last minute ‘adjustments.’ Adjacent to the door is a huge mirror carrying the company promise ‘Raise the Standard,’ an ever present reminder to staff before they serve their clients on race days.
As clients and visitors enter the space, a bespoke infographic showcases fascinating facts, figures and key events that make the racecourse what it is today, before they reach a welcoming branded seating area.
We had a tight deadline to complete the works. Everything had to be finished so as not to interfere with the build up to the Royal week.
And then, during the early stages of the project, the scope increased to include CAT A works to bring the whole of the floor area up to a compliant standard.
We also had to work around a fully functioning racecourse. This meant factoring in many different events and their potential impact on our schedule plus, of course, any potential impact of our work on the client.
The client asked us to block all the windows for the duration of the works, so the project was kept very much ‘under wraps’ to create a reveal experience for the Ascot team.
There was a ‘grand opening’ event when the staff got to walk around their new workspace for the first time. The feedback, buzz and excitement were incredible. The Ascot team had no idea just how far we had transformed their workspace and how much of it was based around them and their needs.
We now hire a box every Christmas for the last race meet of the year at Ascot, and can’t help but peek through the window to see how great our work still looks.