Inner city regeneration is believed to improve economic performance and tackle unemployment in our cities. It also enables making the productive use of some of the brown field sites. The Custard Factory in Birmingham is an example of how disused old industrial buildings can be brought back to life from what had seemed like terminal decline. Sir Alfred Bird, who invented Birds custard powder, built the Custard Factory 100 years ago. By the end of the 1800's Alfred Bird's sons had built the impressive terracotta fronted building on Digbeth High Street. This was the foundation of the much larger complex now known as the Custard Factory.
By the early 1980's the factories on the 5-acre site were in a derelict state. In 1990 Space Organisation purchased the site with the intention of renovating and aiding regeneration of the area by creating an arts and media quarter. The award winning first phase is generally regarded as a "model" example of how derelict industrial buildings can be "reborn" and help in bringing back to life run down inner city areas.
Located just 800 steps from the revitalised Bull Ring shopping centre the original phase of the Custard Factory is now home to 500 artists and small enterprises. In 2002 the 2nd phase, which offers a hundred studio/offices, lakeside shops, galleries and restaurants was completed.
The Custard Factory offers a vibrant environment for artists, businesses or those who just want to sample the galleries and enjoy the bar, cafe and nightclub.
"We had quite a few instances of theft"
Designed as an enterprise that would encourage innovation and creativity, originally free access was available to all who visited the Custard Factory. "Unfortunately," as Alan Cole, the General Manager explains, "this led to some problems. This area is improving but there are still issues with petty crime. We had quite a few instances of theft. It became obvious to us that we needed to tighten our security arrangements. We looked at installing an access control system. It is important to give a feeling of security to our tenants in the studios and in the offices in the Tower and Green House."
Net2, a PC based system from Paxton Access, was installed to prevent casual access to the non-public areas. The system is managed from the main reception, a large airy space that is the heart of the Custard Factory building. Access to tenants is granted according to the building and area they work in and the individual needs of the company.
Shad Everett, Marketing Manager for the site, explained how this works. "When a person joins a company which is based in the Green House, they are issued an access card which allows access to their areas. The card allows them through the main door to the lift area. The card is shown to the lift reader and the lift will then allow them to select the floor they work on."
"Access is only granted to that floor. Some of the companies who have office space in this building do business all over the world. Access is therefore needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to suit different world time zones. It is important that people working in the building feel secure, irrespective of the time of day or night. They now know that casual access to the building is prevented by the access control system."
To minimise "tailgating" (a unauthorised person following a valid cardholder through the door), two doors controlled by Net2 need to be passed through to access any area.
In the old Custard Factory building, the space is mainly let as studios. Access here is allowed between 7am and midnight. The studios can be accessed either by an exterior door or via an entrance in the reception area. Reception closes at 5pm, after that time the tenants use only the exterior door.
Shad adds "A few of the tenants and of course our staff need access to both buildings. This again is dealt with by setting up appropriate access levels in the Net2 software and allocating these to users when the card is issued."
"Using the desktop reader to add cards/users to the software makes the process very easy. It also helps if we need to change a user's permissions. The user's card is just placed on the desktop reader, their record pops up in the software, and permissions can be changed virtually at the click of a button!"
"Visitors tokens are issued with limited validity"
Visitors for any of the businesses call at reception. Depending on the tenant's request, the visitor will either be given an access token or they will be collected from reception. If an access token is issued, this is set to a limited time zone, for example the day of issue between 10am and 2pm.
The system is working well, as Adam Cole explains, "We needed to restrict access to some areas to safeguard people's property, but the whole ethos of the Custard Factory means we did not want it to feel like Fort Knox. With the Net2 system we have been able to offer more peace of mind to our tenants, without a major compromise to our values."
"With over 2,000 users the system has to be easy to manage"
Net2 controls access on 5 doors and two lifts in the Green House and on 7 doors in the Custard Factory. Shad says "We find the system pretty easy to use. It is very user friendly. Reception run the system most of the time. With over 2,000 users on the system it has to be pretty easy to manage. We do not use the reporting facility very much, but on one occasion when we did have an incident, it enabled us to pinpoint a time and then trace footage on our CCTV system."
Net2 is also linked to the stairwell doors on the Green House offices. In the event of an alarm, Net2 automatically sends a signal to open these doors.
"The benefits of the system are apparent," says Shad. "We are able to keep control over who has access. Having Net2 installed has really proved beneficial to us."