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Built during the First World War as a luxury family home in the style of a French chateau, Radbroke Hall has been at the centre of Barclays technological innovation since the 1970s. As the Barclays ‘Innovation Centre’ celebrates its centenary, we find out what makes it so special.

With its imposing ionic pillars, white Portland stone frontage and carefully clipped lawns, Grade II listed Radbroke Hall cuts a striking figure in the Cheshire countryside.

Built as a family home in 1917 and bought by Barclays in 1972, the white chateau-style building outside Knutsford has been the centrepiece of the bank’s 64-acre ‘Innovation Campus’ – and the development site for ground breaking technological advances – for 45 years.

“Radbroke is one of the biggest employers in the region,” says John Rattray, Managing Director, Hosting Service Delivery. “We work hard to keep talent in the area – we want young people who are in the north-west to see us as a viable alternative to moving to London or going abroad.

“The idea that you have to move to find rewarding work almost feels like it’s become part of people’s DNA, but it doesn’t have to be the case. People want to stay in the region they grew up in. When individuals live and work in the north-west they keep the local economy vibrant.”

With a workforce of 3,500 in IT governance, administration and support, Radbroke has become expert at embedding itself in the local community

Plugging the brain drain

With a workforce of 4,000 IT specialists who develop and support our IT systems, Radbroke has become expert at embedding itself in the local community, reaching out to schools, colleges and universities to find the best and the brightest – and stop the familiar “brain drain” to the south-east.

The campus’s annual ‘Tech Challenge’ invites students from regional universities in Liverpool, Manchester, and Lancashire to develop and pitch their ideas, Dragon’s Den style, while the ‘Tech Innovation’ programme gives local schoolchildren an understanding of how IT is applied in a real work environment. Another regular is ‘IT Girls Allowed’, aimed at positively informing girls about the breadth of technology career options ahead of choosing their GCSE options.

“We’re trying to get individuals that maybe are unsure about their career choices to start to think about a career in IT,” says Rattray. “We’re showing that it’s not about being a tech geek: there is a suite of roles that aren’t about being a programmer or an analyst.”

Alongside the outreach work, Radbroke has a thriving apprenticeship scheme, bringing young people from the age of 16 on to a two-year programme with the option of financial support through further education – plus a guaranteed job.

“There are a lot of individuals who don’t want to go to university whose career aspirations are not being met, so we have that opportunity,” explains Rattray.

Julian Bucknall, Head of People and Engagement for Barclays UK Technology and based at Radbroke, adds: “We’re hiring local talent into roles to learn their trade. These young people are not even 20 and are already becoming credible and respected technology experts.” More than 400 young people who have gone through the scheme in the last six years are now employed within the business.

We’re trying to get individuals that maybe are unsure about their career choices to start to think about a career in IT. We’re showing that it’s not about being a tech geek: there is a suite of roles that aren’t about being a programmer or an analyst.
John Rattray, Managing Director, Hosting Service Delivery
“Brave enough to break new ground”

As the campus prepares for its ‘Radbroke at 100’ celebrations this weekend, Rattray’s team is working hard to move swathes of staff from short-term contracts onto the payroll.

Currently the split between permanent and contract is roughly 50/50: the bank aims to move that to 80/20 in a bid to retain hard-won knowledge. “Keeping that intellectual property within Barclays enriches us and gives us a passionate workforce who really want to be part of the bank’s success. That intellectual expertise is what will make success or failure for us,” he says.

Rattray is hoping it’s an exciting proposition for those serious about a long-term career in the innovation sector. Radbroke has been at the forefront of designing, testing and developing major technological advances, from the first ATM and debit card to the launch of online and mobile banking.

Teams are now developing the bank’s new Application Programme Interface (API) – a way for third parties such as fintech companies to access data from banks that will be required under new ‘open banking’ legislation. As Bucknall says: “Everything we do for customers starts here.”

The site’s ‘Command Centre’ – a large ‘NASA-like expanse’ which has a bank of over 50 screens on the wall – monitors the bank’s global operations 24/7 and is the first to raise the alarm in the case of any problems.

“Radbroke has always been brave enough to break new ground. We’re front and centre in terms of taking up the challenge,” says Rattray.

Ever since 1,400 staff were relocated from around the country, Radbroke has prided itself on its social clubs that make use of the site’s sports centre and extensive grounds.

“A sense of family”

Bucknall has worked at Radbroke for 22 years, Rattray for 28. Asked what makes it special, both talk about the self-contained campus and the sense of community. Ever since 1,400 staff were relocated from three Barclays departments around the country in 1972, Radbroke has prided itself on its social clubs that make use of the site’s sports centre and extensive grounds.

“We don’t tend to use the word family about Radbroke but we should because collectively staff would identify with that word,” says Bucknall, who joined in the mid-1990s after graduating from the regional Edge Hill University and a previous spell working in-branch with Barclays. “It has a really open, friendly culture and a real sense that it’s a community.”

“It’s that campus feel,” agrees Rattray, who worked his way up to Managing Director from Computer Operator. “We’re in the country and because we have these lovely facilities, people are a bit more relaxed, a bit more thoughtful about what they want to contribute.”

Radbroke also has a thriving speaker and event programme drawing on its links in the north-west, including development sessions for small businesses, Hackathons – hosted alongside the Barclays fintech workspace Rise Manchester – and coding events.

Among the celebrations planned to mark “Radbroke 100” – which include a special version of the site’s annual charity-fundraiser Family Fun Day, a fireworks display and a charity run – is celebration of the colleagues who have worked at Radbroke for more than 25 years. It could be a crowded occasion: there are over 300 of them.

“There must be something people like about this site,” says Bucknall. “People aspire to come here. The main reason a lot of them have stayed in their roles is about this site. There’s something they enjoy about coming to work that you just don’t find anywhere else.”

Find out more about Barclays’ move to Radbroke in 1972Find out more about Barclays’ move to Radbroke in 1972 My Working Day @Radbroke: Andy PiperMy Working Day @Radbrooke: Andy Piper
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