Focus on breathe
Does your workplace make you sick? A few years ago, "Sick Building Syndrome" was a hot topic in the news. Some workplace environments, it seemed, were literally bad for your health. People experienced symptoms of ill health which seemed to be linked simply to spending time in a particular building. Among possible causal factors, poor ventilation and poor humidity control - poor air quality - have been identified as the most likely culprits.
A Girton-based business called, appropriately, "breathe" (the lower-case "b" is important), aims to tackle this issue head-on, together with a huge variety of other problems concerning the working environment. From the most insignificant and mundane (do you need a single office chair?) to the most sophisticated (do you want to design and build an entire new office, or aircondition a giant warehouse?), Breathe will deal with the minutiae and the big concepts.
This ambitious young company moved to its present Oakington Road site in 2003. Originally based at a city centre site at Quayside, the company traded as Vitalis and Total Office Interiors, until the present Managing Director, Mike Bird, bought the business in 1999 and created "breathe". He and Sales Director Vince Marino have been with the company from the early years (Vince Marino was also one of the founders). Confident of growth, the new company took on all of the 15 staff. The confidence was not misplaced; "breathe" has now employs a staff of 35, and turnover has gone up from an initial £4m to £8.3m today. The main office, "The Workplace", occupies the site at Oakington Road together with two warehouses, and there is an additional warehouse in Cottenham.
There are a number of separate but interconnected strands to "breathe's" business. At the core is the design and planning of interior workspaces. This focuses on the business needs and operations of the clients - an all-round approach that is concerned with more than just sleek modern design. Breathe will deal with everything from the furniture and carpets to the lighting and ventilation, and not omitting the plants! For those exotic bits of greenery one sees in really nice offices are not there purely for show; studies have shown that green plants can remove pollutants emitted by office equipment and furniture, such as formaldehyde, ozone, and benzene, as well as reducing dust levels and improving humidity. "breathe's" offices contain some spectacular specimens which add an exotic architectural flourish to the surroundings.
Secondly, there is "breathe air", which, as its name suggests, provides air conditioning and ventilation systems. Here the problem a client may face is how to maintain consistent and appropriate temperatures with good air quality - perhaps heating some areas and cooling other areas at the same time. Among high-profile clients of this side of the business have been Peterborough District Hospital and the Thurrock IKEA.
Relocation can be a big headache for any company. "breathe options" wing offers to manage the entire process, including the fraught business of moving all those files … and getting all the computers up and running at the other end without any of the data vanishing into the ether. In addition, the 5,000 square ft storage facility at Oakington can act as a storage facility for businesses, for anything from items of current stock to ancient file archives.
At the opposite end to the customised design services for big multinationals, "breathe basics" offers good quality, basic office furniture for the simplest home office, for sale online - from the humblest tab pocket inserts for the filing cabinet, to the desk, chair, or filing cabinet itself.
There are two other related wings of the business. "breathe architecture ltd" is a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) registered practice occupying space within the "breathe" group building but also working as an independent business. "breathe technology" is an IT consultancy specialising in security and other IT "solutions".
And finally, housed within the complex but an independent entity, is Baufritz. This branch of a parent German company has just established itself in the UK under the direction of Oliver Rehm. The company designs and builds timber frame houses using the very latest in sustainable, renewable, and environment-friendly resources. There is a particular emphasis on providing a healthy living environment as well as innovative modern design, which puts it very much in tune with "breathe's" philosophy.
Keen to foster good relations with Girton, "breathe" has worked on a project recently for the Glebe School, and also has a big seminar space (with screen and projectors) seating about 40, which is available for hire to professional users and others (but NOT for parties and weddings!).
"breathe" is a wide-ranging business with a creative and adventurous outlook, and the fact that Steve Flintoff, "breathe's" Financial Director, completed the Great North Run in October 2006, shows the kind of energy and focus that one may expect to meet among the staff. The light and airy buildings act as a showroom for "breathe's" ideas of design, lighting, and layout, and demonstrate in "real time" how a good physical working environment can lift the spirits - and no doubt also the productivity - of staff. "breathe's" offices were converted from pig sheds, and perhaps they could stand as a symbol of Girton's future: away from farming, but towards new design, new technology, and a future that respects the environment.
"breathe", The Workplace, Oakington Rd, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0QH
Tel. 01223 209920
Fax 01223 209910
"Focus on Girton" is a series of occasional articles on the public service, commercial, charitable and other organisations of Girton for the information of local residents. Articles are written independently by members of the Editorial Team of Girton Parish News, with the consent and cooperation of the organisation concerned. They do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the products or services of the organisation. No connection exists between the publication of an article and any advertising in the GPN, and the article does not form part of any marketing or other promotional activity on the part of the organisation.