From a field, to pharmaceuticals, to planes, James Bond and now something new - the story of one of Manor Royal's most recognisable buildings - From the Manor

Steve Sawyer, Executive Director of the Manor Royal Business Improvement District, reflects on the changes going on in Manor Royal through the history of one its more recognisable buildings.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 7:08 am

After a few years of relative stability, even the most casual observer cannot fail to notice the amount of new development activity taking place on Manor Royal One such change is the redevelopment of The Base on Fleming Way that was purchased from Virgin Atlantic in August last year by Pictet Alternative Advisors and Marchmont Investment Management for a cool £30m.

There was a good deal of interest in the 10.4 acre site when Virgin announced their intention to sell as part of their plans to protect their business from the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the travel and aviation industry.

The Virgin Atlantic building is one of Manor Royal’s most recognisable buildings

Planning consent was recently granted by Crawley Borough Council that will involve demolishing the existing building as part of a £200m redevelopment to provide 230,000 square feet of first-class logistics and industrial units across two units – one of 144,000 square feet and another 85,000 square foot building.

The site on Fleming Way is one of the single largest sites in the business district but it has only ever had two occupiers. It was originally acquired and developed by US pharmaceuticals company Upjohns Pharmaceuticals in the mid-1950s, officially opening in 1957.

For over 40 years Upjohns was a familiar name locally and employed about 500 highly skilled people including scientists, doctors, teachers, nurses and chemists who made and tested new and existing drugs.

At the time Crawley and Manor Royal had a reputation for being home to drug development and manufacture with Glaxo Smithkline occupying a 30 acre site on Manor Royal road, now home to the Digital Realty data centre.

Sadly in 1998 Upjohns closed only for Virgin Atlantic to purchase the site in 1999 to create The Base. Unrecognisable on the inside, on the outside the iconic long white building remained and became a 210,000 square feet state of the art training facility for cain crew. It was home to training rigs, a life size mock-up plane, escape shoots, numerous classrooms, a beauty salon, an auditorium, a staff shop and wonderful restaurant areas.

The Base’s training facilities were even used in the 2008 James Bond movie Quantum of Solace starring Daniel Craig for filming the scene where Rene Mathis joins James Bond at the upper-class lounge bar of their Virgin Atlantic flight to Bolivia.

After 20 years it is now time for a change. The long white building that has been a feature for over 60 years will be replaced by two high quality industrial units to house new companies that otherwise would struggle to find the facilities they need as the economy changes and the demands for last mile logistics, home shopping, modern retail and decent industrial units grows. Indeed, logistics and distribution is, pardon the pun, driving the changes we are currently seeing.

Having first flown from Gatwick Airport to Newark in 1984, Virgin Atlantic will continue their long association with Crawley and Manor Royal as they will still be head quartered here working from their fabulous VHQ building on the Crawley Business Quarter – a modern, state-of-the-art office facility.

For The Base, a new era is about to start that is sure to open opportunities for more businesses to move to Manor Royal to make it their home under the stewardship of Pictet and Marchmont who, by making such a significant investment, have made a real commitment to the future and the on-going success of the Manor Royal Business District for years to come.

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