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17 January 2019
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Supporting the gene geniuses

To support the quest to find new treatments for diseases and make new scientific discoveries, FM support at the world-class Wellcome Trust Genome Campus research facilities in Cambridgeshire has to match the bold ambitions of the scientists. Following a recent BIFM Eastern Region event on the campus site, Rob Farman reports.

Genome 1
Credit: istock

8 October 2015 | By Rob Farman

In August 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Genomics England Limited, a company created by the Department of Health, was to partner with commercial sequencing firm Illumina to sequence the genetic codes of 100,000 people in the UK. 

The goal? To investigate the genetics of cancer and rare genetic diseases. The deadline? 2017, just three years from the announcement. The location? The new £27 million Ogilvie Building on the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.

It’s the latest high-profile project to be supported – from building gestation through to operation – by the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus’s projects and FM department.

About the campus

The 125-acre Wellcome Trust Genome Campus site is currently home to a population of about 1,825 staff in 59,000 square metres of facilities. Many of these are employed by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, an organisation primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust. The institute originally started out at Hinxton as a large-scale DNA sequencing centre to help deliver in the Human Genome Project and made the largest single contribution to the ‘gold standard’ sequence of the human genome. It is now a genomic research hub focusing on understanding the function of genes in health and disease and providing lasting resources for genetic researchers worldwide.

The European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) is based on the campus, researching computational biology to provide genomic data. There’s also the Wellcome Conference Centre, whose operations are based in Hinxton Hall, an original Grade II Listed Georgian building. Genomics England Limited is set to join the campus soon in the new Ogilvie Building. Also included on site – and in the purview of the campus’s projects and FM department – are a 300-seat auditorium, a nursery, gym, sports facilities, the River Cam Wetland Nature Reserve and some as-yet undeveloped farmland. The campus operates a Green Travel Scheme (both bicycle and free buses) and is registered to ISO14001.

Development on site has been substantial. On the campus’s South Field, five buildings have been completed since April 2005: a reception building, the Morgan Building (with “wet laboratories” and a striking floating meeting room suspended above its atrium); The Cairns Pavilion (with a ‘Sedum Carpet’ green roof, housing fitness and catering facilities); the Research Support Facility (RSF) with a controlled environment for scientific programmes; and a data centre providing information to the global research community.

In September 2013 the 5,000 sq m EBI South facility opened at a cost of £25 million; the Mulberry Court Residential Conference Centre opened in October 2014, and most recently the bespoke Shared Facilities building opened in January this year. The Ogilvie Building will be the next to open.

Wellcome Trust Genome Campus
Credit: Wellcome Trust Genome Campus
Here come the science bit

Property and FM

The on-site FM team is key to maintaining and developing the facilities that have enabled many of the scientific discoveries to be made on campus. And that’s no easy task. Since 2003 the FM team has become more specialised, growing its knowledge and capabilities in line with the size of the scientific workforce on site.

The site has developed significantly over time, including a large extension – the ‘South Field Project’ in 2005, which saw new buildings including laboratories, a data centre and staff amenities. As well as the new Ogilvie Building, there are plans for further expansion. Projected site growth over the next 10 years, as different clients arrive on site, will see the total campus workforce rise from 1,825 to 2,500.

To help deliver this vision the projects and FM department is a pivotal part of the campus’s day-to-day operations and its continuing development. It leads the drive to provide buildings that work properly, are easily maintained and which can be adapted readily to the changing needs of its end users.

The site’s 2005 expansion was the first development to highlight the importance of the team. “Space management alone justified the contribution of our FM team as the research space was retasked for new research programmes,” says Jim Hood, director of facilities and estates. 

Duncan Parsley, director of capital projects, is charged with ensuring that all new buildings are designed to meet challenging project timescales that are also capable of being easily run and looked after when they are handed over to Hood.

With 38 years’ experience of research sites, chartered building services engineer Parsley joined the Sanger Institute in 2003, when FM on site was just a “cottage industry”. Since then he’s seen the site triple to 59,000 sq m, with the number of buildings under his charge doubling from 10 to 20.

Parsley’s role is to cast a ruthlessly practical eye over all new facility requirements to meet project delivery deadlines and provide practical building performance. But this does not mean that the resulting buildings are boring boxes. 

Parsley’s work also strives to combine practicality with creativity. For example, attending the CIBSE Conference at the British Museum and seeing its glass-enclosed atrium, inspired the design of the new Kitchen Garden Conference Centre. The centre, costing £10 million, with seating for 300 and a bar for 200, opened in July 2015.

Hood came into scientific research facilities through Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and joined the Wellcome Genome Campus in 2014 when the management of construction projects was moved across to the FM team. Hood is responsible for scientific support services as well as the traditional hard and soft services.

Operational support

So that scientists can concentrate on their research, Hood and his team endeavour to take routine tasks away from them. Beyond standard cleaning and catering, the team oversee pipette calibration, autoclave operation, media preparation and the management of hazardous and chemical waste, as well as the critical space management. Owing to the research carried out on site, risk has to be thoroughly managed. The institute seeks to understand and find new treatments and diagnostics for diseases including malaria and MRSA, which require CL2 or CL3 laboratories. 

It’s a powerfully equipped site and FM also manages all the scientific assets and their service contracts, with the exception of the genomic sequencing machines, which have their own support organisation. Hood’s department registers new assets on site, disposes of them when they are no longer needed, and then de-registers them. The department is also responsible for ensuring that any service contracts only maintain essential in-use assets. It also provides ‘first-line’ maintenance for them.

Among these facilities is the largest biological data centre in Europe, which manages 36 Petabytes of data. The centre is modular, with both free-cooling and Combined Cooling Heat and Power (CCHP). In terms of research data storage management requirement in the EU it is in the same league as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. In the foreseeable future, with data storage requirements expected to quadruple, the centre will only increase in capacity.

Wellcome Trust Genome Campus2
Credit: Wellcome Trust Genome Campus

Fit for purpose

The Ogilvie Building, built for Genomics England Limited’s work and the Sanger Institute’s own DNA sequencing facilities, is a good example of how the campus’s project and FM department matches building performance to purpose, and is able to respond quickly to scientific need to bring new facilities online. Parsley emphasises the built-in practicalities of the new block; each storey will have a gantry on the outside to allow cleaners to walk along and clean windows (thus no cradles or long-reach poles). Also, the building’s laboratory space will be re-tasked often during its life span, so reconfiguration has been made easier through the deliberate absence of a suspended ceiling.

Parsley and Hood work closely with scientists and management to ensure that new projects meet expectations and needs without becoming what Hood describes as “cathedrals of engineering”.

Parsley explains: “We strive to use as much off-the-shelf, non-bespoke, UK-supplied materials and equipment as possible.” 

The two teams are rightly proud of the buildings’ equipment and design, which balance the needs for interoperability, operations and maintenance, low amounts of value engineering and low architectural input.

At a recent BIFM Eastern Region event, Parsley and Hood outlined their approach to developing site facilities. They focus on using standard components, providing what scientists need, delivering buildings that enrich the environment and are inspiring to those who will work in them, while simultaneously being as practical, adaptable and efficient to run and maintain as possible.

“The client is king,” emphasises Parsley, who ensures that his working relationships with proven architects and contractors is a two-way street of discussion.

Future frontiers

“The UK definitely punches above its weight in research,” says Hood, “and it is FM’s role to support these ever-growing capabilities.”

Hood has a simple philosophy when it comes to delivering high-quality services: “Don’t ask what someone wants. Instead, get them to say what they need.”

That, surely, lies at the heart of the art of FM – how to tease out from a client the necessary from the added extras.

Hood’s and Parsley’s teams’ ability to respond in any given situation is set to stand the campus in good stead as it adapts to future technological developments. And who knows where that might be?


The Wellcome Trust Genome Campus – at the forefront of human health research – has much to offer FM about employing advanced techniques to deliver projects and meet exacting, urgent requirements. 

Wellcome Trust Genome Campus
Credit: Wellcome Trust Genome Campus