Question: When is a garden not just a garden?
Answer: When it is also a place where over 1500 employees can meet, converse, learn, meditate, grow fruit and vegetables, explore creative arts, and set up businesses.
Voxpro has seven Centres of Excellence in four different countries; the company Headquarters are in Cork, Ireland. ‘Campus 1’ sits on a four acre green field site that, until two years ago, was just a four acre green field site. But then someone had an idea. As part of an entry to the company Innovation Programme, a Voxpro technical support specialist named David Humber suggested that part of the site be opened up to staff who would like to grow their own fruit and veg. And it was approved.
David’s idea became the ‘Voxgro’ project. In just two years it has grown to include a bio-dome, gardens, a disco ball pizza oven, an outdoor bar, and a family of chickens, all overseen by a full time horticulturalist and volunteers. But far more than just being an outdoor space, it has become a channel through which the Voxpro community can pursue and develop individual creative and entrepreneurial ideas.
Here is the story of Voxgro, in the words of some of the people closest to the project.
David Humber – The Man with the Vision
The Voxgro Project first started in 2015 when Voxpro launched its Innovation Program. The Program enables employees to submit any idea to Voxpro’s leadership team for adoption by the company.
My original idea was to speak to the local authorities to see if we could use the spare bit of land next to Voxpro’s HQ in Cork, Ireland, for employee’s to grow fruit and vegetables. I’d always had an interest in food, horticulture, and the environment and it seemed like a very good/fun thing to do.
It was decided it would be best to first test the idea at an existing allotment close by. So during 2015 a number of volunteers and I transformed an allotment near Cork airport and grew loads of veg. It was a steep learning curve as none of us had ever done this before and there were some failures, but we all really enjoyed it.
A few months later, due to the interest in the allotment, it was decided to move the project to the land at Voxpro HQ. So we got together with some great builders and came up with a really funky garden to mirror the transformation which was taking place inside the offices at the time.
Following discussions with all parties, Voxpro engaged the services of a team of external professionals to advise and work on the project to bring it to its current stage of development. The result was a really funky garden to mirror the transformation which was taking place inside the offices at the time. This external team was headed up by Paul O’Flynn – Landscape Designer/Project Consultant, Tim Farley and Jack Thorne – Bespoke Structures who are responsible for our Geodome and all the nice paving. Hendrik Lapel – Bakehus responsible for the Pleasure Dome and unique disco-ball Pizza Oven.
By the end of the first phase, we had a huge Geodesic Dome greenhouse, vegetable beds, herb pyramid, chickens, outdoor amphitheater/cinema, plus a one of a kind ‘disco-ball’ pizza oven with attached bar… We even teamed up with a local cork brewery (The Rising Sons) to produce our very own Voxpronanian beer.
In May 2017 Voxpro hired a full-time Horticulturist called Kitty Scully to help expand the project. This is kind of a big deal as we believe it’s the first such hiring by a tech company in Ireland, showing Voxpro’s commitment to education, health, sustainability and the environment.
Since the project first started in 2015, there have been a lot more Innovation projects by other employees, all really feeding into one another. There’s Voxdetox: a juicing operation at our HQ’s restaurant, that aims to have all the produce coming from the onsite gardens; there are also cycle schemes and even plans for electric car charging points.
Voxpro also has an ambitious vision to completely transform the onsite Gyms, Restaurants and Outdoor Dining Venues too. All this combined really does have the potential to make something much greater than the sum of its parts.
I’ve really enjoyed my time here. When most companies say that they have glass walls, open doors, it’s usually just buzzwords. At Voxpro you’re encouraged to ‘DREAM BIGGER’ and given a level of freedom you just won’t find at other companies.
It’s really inspiring stuff and clearly paying off. When I started in Voxpro it was just a small section of rented floor space on what is now the 1st floor of Voxpro’s HQ. Just four years on, there are offices all over the world, an ever-expanding client list that works on the cutting-edge of the latest technologies, and the countless opportunities for Voxpro’s employees that go with that.
Hopefully, other companies will take a leaf out of Voxpro’s book. I think it’s what’s needed to make the really inspiring changes that we’re all hoping and, perhaps, need to see.
Kitty Scully – Voxgro Horticulturalist
Before joining Voxpro, I was Head Kitchen Gardener in the beautiful surrounds of Airfield Estate: a 38-acre working farm open to the public in Dublin, Ireland. It was such a wonderful place to work, a total gift of nature in the middle of Ireland’s capital city.
I came across the job spec for the position of Voxgro horticulturist in late January 2017 – it looked fun, challenging and cutting-edge, and I had the required skill set (plumbing and chameleon-keeping aside!). Also, having grown very concerned with how rapidly we are losing green spaces in our planet’s urban areas, I was really impressed that Voxpro were even considering a ‘Grow’ project, particularly one in an industrial area. Having said all that, I was also very happy in my role in Airfield so I had to give a huge amount of thought to leaving.
Ironically, what ultimately made me decide to join Voxpro was one of Airfield’s tag-lines: ‘A Gift of Nature’. Airfield’s original owner, hundreds of years ago, had had the innovative vision of establishing beautiful woodlands and gardens as a gift of nature to future generations. Joining Voxpro would give me the opportunity to be part of a similar vision at a start-up stage, and to lead a team dedicated to creating another gift of nature for posterity. Airfield is a gift, I wanted to create a gift.
I was also really excited to work with an innovative technology company such as Voxpro, and one that employs over two thousand Millennials from around the world. The fact that it was a Cork company and Irish success story made it even more enticing. Gardening, food and farming are generally the passions of an older generation so the thoughts of being part of a project conceived by and aimed at engaging a younger generation had big appeal. Greenfield sites also excite and challenge me.
My Vision: To Create A quirky Oasis of Productivity and Beauty
The project had enjoyed a really great first year when I joined. The garden infrastructure was in place and the vision for what the 3.5-acre green field site could become was evolving rapidly. My brief was not specific, but it was very clear that Voxpro wanted their gardens to expand and to be unique, quirky, beyond beautiful, engaging, and altogether representative of the company’s innovative ethos.
At the core of Voxpro, human connection and multiculturalism are both valued and celebrated. This aligns with my own personal philosophies. My vision is to create quirky, unique and beyond beautiful earth-based experiences that will enhance the lives of individuals and communities around the world. Voxgro will be a place to nourish nature, body and soul. The garden and dome are already epicentres for conversation, fun, food, learning, sharing, education, meetings, meditation, cultural exchange, relaxation, innovation and more. It can only get better.
The best is yet to come
- The site will be transformed into a hive of healthy productivity where humans feel refreshed, connected and inspired by land and nature.
- A diverse community of structures, trees, fruit, vines, vegetables, herbs, cereals, flowers, bees and farm animals will intermingle.
- Native habitats, wildflower meadows, foraging forests, garden structures, art and zen spaces for yoga and mindfulness will also feature.
- Education, events, markets and urban farm consultancy to promote sustainable food and pleasure production systems will contribute to the economic and ecological viability of Voxgro.
- Commercial profitability will be achieved by growing high-value crops under protective cropping and using every inch of space including rooftops.
Mighty Oaks from little Acorns grow and I feel our Voxgro seeds first sown in Cork will germinate, grow, flourish, inspire and yield similar ‘Beyond Beautiful’ productive projects and experiences for people and places around the planet, changing the world we live in.
Karolyn Feely – The Voxdetox Story
Being a person who has always had a passion for health and well-being, I quickly realized the importance of have access to healthy food at the workplace. As one spends so many hours at work I felt the need to try and bring some healthy ideas and options to the Voxpro Offices.
As the VoxGro dome started to blossom with ripe fruits, vegetables and herbs it inspired me to come up with an idea for how these could be used to their maximum potential. And that’s when the idea of the juice bar originated. What better way than to use these fruits and veg than in their raw uncooked form.
I initially submitted the idea to the innovation team, writing up a project plan and business case. After a few meetings, I was given the go ahead to set this project up on a pilot phase. I started with a trial and testing session by creating four juice recipe ideas which I named them according to the Voxpro core values.
I set up samples for people to taste, printed out flyers and posters and had a feedback form available for people to fill out. I was blown away by the reaction, feedback, emails, messages that I received after this. It was then I realized how much everyone was behind this project idea.
After the trial phase, the sales figures proved the viability of the project. We set up the juicer bar with abundant fruits and veg as I realized that it was more pleasing for people to pick and choose as they wanted. It was surreal to see the sales figures soaring as the weeks went by. The positive feedback was rolling in and the juice bar became a huge success. We quickly needed to buy a second juicer to cope with its popular demand.
The next phase now involves introducing items from the dome in the juice bar so we can begin the ‘Voxdetox cycle’. Presently we have fresh mint and basil at the bar each morning. This is moving into the next phase of growing wheatgrass and introducing a second type of juicer ‘The wheat grass juicer’ to the bar.
Furthermore, this project has just been extended to Voxpro’s Dublin Centre of Excellence as part of the first pilot outside of the main Cork office. I have no doubt that this will be a success and hopefully the story will continue is Voxdetox expands throughout all of Voxpro’s Centres of Excellence around the globe.
Barbara Falke – Photographer extraordinaire
For me, the garden is the perfect place where I can combine both my passion for photography and gardening. I find it fascinating to watch plants growing from little seeds to their full potential. A garden can be also very rewarding and in my opinion, teaches you about living more consciously. In addition to this, it has a very relaxing and soothing effect which is great for people who are in the office for most of their time. I think that this project was an amazing idea and the feedback we’ve received so far from employees shows that it is a loved spot for slowing down from busy everyday life and to learn about gardening. We had a very successful last year with growing and harvesting different kinds of vegetables and are continuing this year with even more green attractions.
Question: When is a company not just a company?
Answer: When it is also an eco-system where people can be creative, entrepreneurial, innovative, and ultimately where they’re part of a community, not just a workforce.
The user and customer experience is more central to success now than at any other time. This is why so many tech companies focus so heavily on beautiful product design and intuitive interfaces. Achieving excellence in these areas means hiring creative people with digital skillsets. Similarly, games, animation and visual effects companies are dependent on hiring people with technical and creative skills in equal parts. Technology and creativity are becoming more intertwined every day.
So do tech companies really need gardens? Well, of course not. And for the majority, space doesn’t allow it. But they do need to be places that encourage and nurture creativity. Some of the world’s most successful tech companies provide the space and the practical tools for staff to be innovative and creative, and not just in a way that is directly relevant to their work.
In Voxpro’s case that space for innovation has so far led to a beautiful garden project, and a rapidly growing juicing business. But who knows where the next idea might lead? From Google’s ‘20 percent time’ was born AdSense, which now accounts for about 25 percent of Google’s total revenue, Gmail, Google Transit and Google News.
Watch this space.
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