diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Let's visit one of London's smallest postcode districts - UB11.

It might well be the smallest if you ignore the City of London where EC3 is really titchy. I think it's smaller than SW5 which is the tiny fiefdom of Earl's Court. Whether it's the teensiest or not depends on whether you count the golf course - UB11 doubles in size if you do. But if you only count buildings you can deliver mail to it barely covers quarter of a square mile. However you measure it, Stockley Park is a proper postcode anomaly.

UB11: Stockley Park

What to do with a wasteland of brickfields and gravel pits between West Drayton and Hayes? The entrepreneurial solution in the mid 1980s was to build a golf course and business park, one of the UK's very first, plus the Yiewsley bypass straight down the middle. The site was smothered in topsoil and landscaped to within an inch of its life, before various HQ-sized buildings were added and multiple big-name companies flooded in. It was so well done that this pioneering park has recently been Grade II listed (you can read a full backhistory here). And arriving late to the party was enough to persuade the Post Office to gift Stockley Park a teensy mail enclave of its very own, a brand new postcode designation rather than hanging on the coattails of UB3 or UB7.

Not many people live near enough to make the most of the parkland and the barriers at each end dissuade non-employees from driving through. But unlike many other private spaces the public aren't discouraged from visiting - the London Loop threads across the site and three bus routes will drop you off right in the middle. So I dropped in.

What strikes you immediately about Stockley Park is the space and the greenery. They could have squeezed dozens of office blocks into this footprint but instead spaced everything out to give each business their own little kingdom separated not by fences but by grass and water. Just 16 blocks are located around the original parkland loop with another five bolted on further from the lakes in the 1990s. Most buildings have three storeys, a few two, with a convenient car park alongside to accommodate every employee who wants to drive. A small sign out front confirms who the occupant is - M&S, Canon, Apple, Samsonite, whoever - or that it's vacant and up for hire. A third of the blocks are currently occupied by nothing more than a security presence because office life isn't what it used to be.
[UB11 1AW, UB11 1BA, UB11 1DB, UB11 1FE]

Wandering across the site is very pleasant, if occasionally hindered because the developers only added a path on one side of the road. You might cross a footbridge, pass some sculptures or encounter some beehives, and those feathers on the grass confirm you're sharing the space with wildfowl. I watched two geese strut confidently across the road from one lake to another, pointedly avoiding the crossings for mere humans to either side. All this outdoor space is perfect for employees wanting to nip out and make a private business call as the park becomes an extension of the office. The management have even added a purple Think Tank hut amid the lakeside shrubbery, but only those who know the entry code can get inside and Think Big Ideas.
[UB11 1AF, UB11 1AS, UB11 1FG]

Maintaining a business park like this doesn't come cheap. As well as the barrier-keepers at each entrance a crack team of gardeners can be seen pootling round the site in their little green John Deeres. I spotted one truck with a pair of conifers in its claws, as well as several hedgetrimmers causing a racket outside MSC Cruise Management. The estate's trees don't just clip themselves. Helpful ambassadors in purple gilets ride around on bikes, possibly doubling up as unspoken security. Someone somewhere is definitely keeping an eye on you given the number of cameras on poles, but I was never accosted despite stopping to take multiple photos. Maybe that's the freedom of being a Green Flag park as well as a business hotspot.
[UB11 1BB, UB11 1EZ, UB11 1HU, UB11 1JA]

Up by the largest lake is The Arena, the park's equivalent of a shopping parade, although these days the content is a bit thin. Around its brick rotunda are a Greggs, a Costa and a Subway, plus the entrance to a Nuffield Health gym because obviously Stockley Park has one of those. A peculiar metal spire graces the far end of the building overlooking a fountain surrounded by sculpted kicking limbs. Behind all of this lurks a sprawling Travelodge, a later addition ideally located a short bus ride from Heathrow Airport, and beyond that the clubhouse for the golf course. It must be so much easier to flog corporate units to chief executives if you can promise them 18 holes within a short walk of their desk.
[UB11 1AA, UB11 1AQ, UB11 1FL]

The newest part of Stockley Park is called The Square, even though it's patently a long thin oblong, and is based round a central loop of round nicknamed the Squareabout. The buildings here have unusual geometrical footprints like the holes in a small child's posting block, and only two are currently occupied. From here it's a fair walk to Costa so an extra cafe has been plonked in the middle of the piazza where you can mingle with employees taking a break from their, touchdown zones, breakout areas and paper-free hotdesks. If the weather's nice sit out at a table, and if not grab a deckchair in the perspex igloo and see how far your wifi tethers.
[UB11 1ET, UB11 1FW, UB11 1TD]

The park's somewhat-sanitised landscaping does a fine job of concealing the outside world. For example the Grand Union Canal runs along the southern edge but you wouldn't know unless you followed a single path to a gate in the hedge. The sloping golf course forms a backdrop to the north and there are really good views across West London if you walk up to the top of that, as indeed the London Loop chooses to do. That's also the safest way to reach the other chunk of Stockley Park, the mostly recreational part, via an unusual asymmetric bridge. Just four UB11 postcodes exist beyond the main road, and with a completely different feel to the harmonious landscape of the business park.
[UB11 1BF, UB11 1BT, UB11 1BU, UB11 1FH]

This time the layout embraces the canal with a manicured slope above the towpath and several benches for smoking and/or lunching. But behind that the fortifications begin at a green fence emblazoned with notices about CCTV, security contractors and automatic numberplate readers, although nothing actually says don't enter. These four ginormous anonymous buildings must be distribution centres, I thought, each with dozens of identical delivery bays out back. But there was barely enough room to park a van alongside, let alone a lorry, and on closer inspection the bays had louvres like part of some utterly massive ventilation system. It turns out this is the UK's largest data centre campus, a Virtus facility offering "over 86MW of IT load over 37,000 NTM", and it takes a heck of a lot of cooling.

You can give the creepy data hub a miss but Stockley Park is a genuinely offbeat place to pass through and might even be a nice place to work. With willows budding and thousands of daffodils poised to burst forth it's definitely one up on your average business park, perhaps because it came first before privacy concerns trumped integration. Outer London's tiniest postcode district is an eyeopener, an enclave of what might have been, and very much not UB11quitous.

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