Five minutes with: Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at British Land

Five minutes with: Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at British Land

The New Year marks a time when we all pay particular attention to our wellbeing. Many people are throwing themselves into diets or detoxes with gusto with the aim of looking, feeling and performing better.

Few organisations, however, consider how the external environment contributes to overall feelings of wellbeing, says British Land’s first Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing, Matt Webster.

He recently spoke to us about their new workspace at Paddington, and how paying particular attention to the environment can have a positive impact on happiness, health and productivity…

Contemporary businesses do not see an office with a desk, computer and phone as the sole place of work. Workspace encompasses the areas around the office, green spaces, coffee shops, softer collaborative areas, terraces and so on, with technology enabling people to seamlessly move between them.

This underpins our strategy of owning and managing our London campuses - Broadgate, in the City of London, Regent’s Place in the West End and Paddington Central – where we have the ability to curate environments around the office which support the health, happiness and productivity of the people that work and spend time there. 

There is a wealth of research that shows that being active and feeling healthy is critical to happiness and productivity. We are responding to this at Paddington, where we are introducing a rooftop basketball court at 4 Kingdom Street, which is currently under construction and due to be complete later this year. We have also introduced ‘floating yoga’ classes on some of the canal barges, and are creating an outdoors games area, where people can play table tennis and other sports.

We understand that nature also boosts productivity: simply having a view of trees or a park from a work or study space reduces stress and improves mental performance. Paddington Central is located on the canal side, just minutes from Little Venice, and we have opened some of the public spaces so people have more interaction with the water, which is known to have a calming effect. We have also undertaken a radical initiative to transform a vehicle carriageway running through the campus into a woodland garden, comprising hundreds of trees and plants.

This not only ensures people at Paddington Central are surrounded by nature, it creates a series of new social spaces. Social relationships are the most powerful driver of human health and wellbeing and we know people prefer places that encourage surprise encounters and interactions. Within the new woodland walkway, we have created four pocket parks, each with outdoor seating and USB charge points to enable people to work effectively and efficiently. We have also converted a retail unit at the campus into a ‘snug’ where cushions, soft furnishings and mock open fire encourage people to stop by and relax.

Our approach to wellbeing also recognises that there is a strong correlation between happiness, social trust, and a sense of belonging to a place or a community. At Paddington Central, we have been careful to represent the area’s rich history across the campus. Last summer we installed a new piece of public art celebrating the life of Alan Turing, one of Paddington’s most famous sons. This has been well-received and helps people working at the campus build a sense of attachment to the area.

We are also mindful that small gestures – such as greeting people by name in the morning or offering assistance – are extremely valuable in making people feel part of a community at Paddington.

We expect this trend to continue as the understanding grows that it is not just what you put in your body, it is also what you put your body in that has a positive effect.

A yoga class taking place on one of the canal barges at Paddington.

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