Lowell: Debt collection specialist moves 1,600 staff into new £52m Leeds HQ on Thorpe Park
It has been described as the largest single out of town office deal ever recorded in West Yorkshire.
Lowell has now completed the move of its UK headquarters from two buildings in Leeds Valley Park to the nearby Thorpe Park, after staff began transferring across in mid-September.
Construction work conducted by GMI Construction began in 2021 but the scheme was under discussion before Covid.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, UK CEO John Pears said despite the impact of the pandemic on office working the company felt it was important to continue with their plans – and are already seeing the investment bearing fruit.
"The vision we had was a place where people could innovate but also collaborate as well,” he said.
"As we have gone through Covid with hybrid working and people getting more comfortable in a blend between their work environment and home environment, it is really important to have a welcoming work environment.
"The building is designed to have circles around it so as people walk around there is a natural interaction with people and people can just turn around and collaborate with one another.
"Wellbeing is key and we want to retain really good staff.”
The building includes a gym, coffee shops and two multi-faith rooms.
He added: “We have seen an uptick in people wanting to come into the office and collaborate. It sounds cheesy but we’re really trying to grow that sense of community.”
Mr Pears said while the original plans were slightly amended in response to changing working patterns due to the pandemic, in some regards it has supported their existing strategy.
"We wanted to create a space where people could thrive and have somewhere that feels special to go to work. Covid almost accelerated that dynamic.
"It is not a big bet if you get to the fundamentals that most businesses are just about the people that are in them.
"We made sure that rather than having a theoretical white elephant, which is always the risk with a big new building, to make it to a standard where it is actually an attraction rather than a millstone around your neck.”
He said the company has team-dependent guidance about coming into the office two or three days a week rather than a mandated five-day approach to reflect new working realities.
Lowell’s operating model sees the company purchase consumer debts from organisations like banks at a discount and then engage with those who owe the money to work out a repayment plan, often over a period of years.
The company’s latest results for the second quarter of 2023 showed an operating profit of £724m, up 42 per cent on the same point in 2022.
Mr Pears said their operating model allows them to operate with high ethical standards, taking into account the personal circumstances of each client.
"The discount gives us a buffer to be flexible around repayment and have a model that doesn’t charge interest or fees.
“Working across the different sectors that we do, whether that’s banking, utilities, telecommunications or financial services, a lot of customers have had a life-changing event which has driven the debt default.
"We are trying to engage with them about what the long-term sustainable plan is.
"Given our model, if there are customers unable to pay we can write that off but most of our customers come to a long-term very flexible arrangement with us.
"The majority of customers that do speak to us are actually relieved because there is a stigma of debt.
"Last year about 500,000 customers became debt free with us. We have probably around nine million customers in the UK, which means probably one in five adults in the UK has got or had an account with Lowell.
"We can get a good outcome for the customer so they can live their lives without that burden of debt and being worried all the time.”
Mr Pears said the sensitive and complex nature of the work of his company is central to why having a good office environment for staff is vital.
"These are really difficult jobs and there is a strain on people having to have conversations with people in severe crisis. So the more you can do in terms of the conditions in which you are supporting them, the better. If you have a network of support around you, that sets you up to better serve customers because you are mentally and physically in better shape to do that.”