London Evening Standard

In Summer 2014 I undertook a work placement on the London Evening Standard’s features desk.

On the bench: the London offices promoting Wagamama-style seating arrangements

Pull up a pew — the hot desk has been scrapped and a shoulder-to-shoulder seating plan has taken over the office. Scooch along, says Sam Dix

Published 14 July 2014


We’ve all had that great idea while chatting to our colleagues on our lunch break but have you ever wondered why that “light-bulb” moment didn’t strike at the office? Well, according to one London company it could be down to the seating arrangement.

Office design is now a serious business. What once was just knowing where to put a coat stand and ensuring everyone could get to the coffee machine is now all about maximising productivity and promoting efficiency, ensuring you and your company get all they can out of you.

The latest idea? Benches. Based on the famous communal seating of Wagamama, where punters sit shoulder to shoulder with whoever is lucky (or unlucky) enough to be next to them, workspace designer Sketch Studios has decided to introduce this style to the office. It suggests we’re all soon to be sitting in rows — freed from the burden of having to tend to our own chair. The big idea goes like this: if you can sit in a row eating rice and noodles next to each other then you can damn well type and answer the phone too.

Justin Bass, managing director of Sketch Studios, which he formed seven years ago, said the inspiration for long, continuous desks came from home: “We looked to the kitchen table. A family comes back in the evening, they eat, talk and exchange ideas. Afterwards, someone’s doing their homework at one end and someone’s reading the paper at the other. It can be used for multiple activites.”

The “breakout area” — unallocated desks — (not as infectious as they sound) can often end up being overlooked, suggests Bass. “Typically a hot desk ends up being the worst desk in a building — the one that no one wants. We want to reverse that and make that desk the hub of activity in the open-plan office. So when people end up there they engage with other people. Using a bench when you’ve got interesting people promotes ideas and cross-pollination rather than a sterile environment.”

For those worried that it may promote dangerously high levels  of co-operation, Bass guarantees that this is a natural development in the modern office: “We used to go to meeting rooms but actually what we’re discussing is nothing confidential. Younger people are much more used to having that dialogue in open-plan offices.”

If all this seems a bit, well, Google (whose inventive “departments” range from a padded seating “traditional English pub”-themed office to one called “granny’s flat”), then rest assured the idea looks to be taking off.

Nina Stenning, head of marketing communications at Openworks, has them in her offices and is a fan. “People use them both as a formal and informal meeting area. They save space as you can get more people around the table. They’re functional, space saving and allow you to do more, rather than just sit and eat your lunch. They’re just much nicer to look at.”

Ellie Johnston-Price, office manager at, is just  as complimentary. “From a space planning point of view they’re excellent for creating a streamline effect,” she says. “If done well, they look sleek and professional and can fit more people into a difficult space.”

However, Johnston-Price says benches aren’t set to replace desks completely: “My only negative would be if we wanted to change the office layout. The Mother of All Benches, as we call it, could only fit in certain places.”

So what’s next for the office of the future? “Technology frees you so you can now work anywhere,” says Bass. “It’s about trying to get people to reverse their thinking about the office. The quicker we can do that, the better.” Take your seats now.


Should I stay or should I go? London’s prominent Scots on where they stand on the referendum on independence

The only topic of conversation for London’s Caledonian clan is the Scottish referendum. Susannah Butter and Sam Dix ask where the capital’s expats stand on the burning issue

I interviewed a range of Scottish personalities living in London on their views of the Scottish referendum .

This is about more than a taste for haggis and Tunnocks tea cakes. London has declared itself seriously concerned with the future of the Union. The looming referendum on Scottish independence takes place in a land nearly 500 miles from the capital but a “Yes” result on September 18 has far reaching consequences for those in Sassenach parts too. Londoners may not have a vote in the referendum but that doesn’t mean we don’t care.

A YouGov poll this week found that those living in the capital would overwhelmingly vote against Scottish independence if they were given a choice. More than 1,000 Londoners were questioned and 58 per cent of them said they would choose to stay together.

London has plenty of Scottish connections — the most recent census puts the Scottish-born population at 90,000 and Jeremy Paxman once referred to Britain as living under the rule of “the Scottish Raj”, because all the voices in power have a Caledonian connection.

The Evening Standard is hosting a debate with the City of London at Guildhall on Monday, chaired by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, where speakers including Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Helena Kennedy QC and Hardeep Singh Kohli will thrash it oot.

London businesses are also taking note. According to a recent survey, eight out of 10 of the capital’s businesses want Scotland to remain in the UK. This news came after shadow chancellor Ed Balls indicated he could resign from a future government if it proposed joining a currency union with an independent Scotland, and former PM Sir John Major said a break-up would damage relations with the US.

So do London’s Scots think we are better together, or is it time to go? This is where the capital’s Caledonian contingent stand on the issue.




I don’t have a vote, which is fair enough, because I’m an expat now. I’ve found the core debates hugely optimistic — the looking at new

forms of democracy, having discussions outwith party

structures — it’s all shown how tired and rigid the UK is politically. Either way, the UK will be different after the vote and it will do both countries good.


Fashion designer

If I could vote, I would vote with my heart for a free and exciting future for Scotland.

Scotland should take the chance and say yes. Go forward and be fearless.

Designer: Pam Hogg



Independence would not only be good for Scotland, it will be good for the rest of the UK by helping to rebalance an economy dominated by the City of London. As part of the UK Scotland is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. It has more top 200 universities per head of population than any other country in the planet. And according to the Financial Times, Scotland would be among the top 30 exporters in the world. It’s time to be together on the British Isles but as equal, independent nations — standing side by side.


Writer and broadcaster

Scotland is a different country with a different political agenda. For too long we’ve been overlooked by an increasing parochial Westminster village. Time for change. Time to restore our nation.





What’s best for the future of Scotland, her population and generations to come?

From my perspective the issue is complex and there is a strong element of risk. The decision is not something to be taken lightly, or to be swayed by heady patriotic emotion. It will be taken by the citizens of Scotland themselves, who need to seriously weigh up the pros and cons.

Musician: Annie Lennox



I’ll back my country whatever way they vote — I just hope they vote with their hearts and not as victims of politics which could or could not prove to be fake.



Long-term, I wonder if it will make any difference. Economies are now intermeshed: do states and countries matter?



It would be very strange to have to present your passport to come over the border. The world is getting smaller, it doesn’t need to be splintered any further.





If we leave, there will be no going back. This separation will not be quick and clean: it will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours. I doubt that an independent Scotland will be able to bank on its ex-partners’ fond memories of the old relationship once we’ve left.


Editor of the Spectator

It would be a disaster to undo the greatest of countries the world has ever seen. Not a single one of Scotland’s problems would be solved by this. As a Scot living in London I hate the idea that I would be forced to choose between being Scottish or British. I loathe the pernicious idea that the differences between Scots and English are so profound, so irreconcilable that we have to tear this country apart.


Comedian and author

I was born and raised in Scotland the daughter of a panel beater, I am of Scottish character thankfully, yet a Londoner for 24 years. I have no feelings of nationalism, I am a citizen of the world. I have no sentimentality towards “the union” in terms of its origins nor the monarchy. Scotland  is and always has been a Labour country, it’s been appallingly mistreated by the Westminster elite especially Thatcher, but there’s a lot of tartan Tories and unscrupulous capitalists for independence as well, one being the businessman Brian Souter the main SNP party funder who single handedly paid for a personal campaign of anti-homosexual propaganda in the 90s, not enough is made of this. So if you are gay and you vote SNP, you might want to think about this.

I worry for the Scottish people regarding taxes and the limitations in terms of trading with independence, but I want nothing but equality and fairness for Scotland, like many people living down south, however the thought of a long term tory government makes me want to jump off Suicide Bridge in Archway!


Naked commuter

Having Scotland break away from the UK is not only absurd but also very sad. I am proud to be Scottish.


Entrepreneur and star of Dragons’ Den

We might be a small island but we are a great country made up of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland that should stick together as one.


Owner of Ultimo underwear

I don’t think we can survive on our own and it would be really bad for business. Everything would go up and we don’t need it at the moment. Things are bad enough.



I think we’re great united, stronger united, and that’s it.



Nationalism has never done it for me. It leads to fascism. Ultimately, someone like Salmond manipulates people’s national pride and insecurities. He is obviously a power-mad kind of guy.



I am a proud, patriotic Scot, passionate about my heritage and my country. But I am not a nationalist.


Boisdale restaurants

I see a successful “yes” vote as being dangerously retrogressive and economically calamitous for Scotland. The English economy would be weakened too.


Actor and presenter

The pudding of our chieftain race is Alex Salmond. It flies in the face of everything that Burns stood for if we follow the lead of Alex Salmond and look across the border and only see differences. We are stronger when we stand together. Let us not like snarling curs in wrangling be divided.


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