AN INCUBATOR for hundreds of Winchester businesses has celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The Hampshire Workspace, a set of serviced offices on Southgate Street, has welcomed hundreds of businesses through its doors over the last 30 years since it was set up by George Dibben and his wife Sylvia.

Mr Dibben said he set up the Southgate Chambers site when he couldn’t find a lease that matched his needs.

He said: “At that time the property market was such that landlords wanted you to sign quite long term leases – five years and beyond – and were looking to tie tenants up financially with guarantees and the like. That didn't seem to me sensible because I didn't know what my business would look like in a month, let alone five years. I didn't want to tie my capital up keeping some landlord comfortable when I needed it to start up and work my business.

“There is a big difference between a five year lease and a three month commitment. People don't always understand that it is intentionally that way because it is the provision of a service and not the provision of a fixed amount of space, so it is very much a temporary agreement,” he said.

“That flexibility is really important because it means if your business grows for a period of time, you can take on more space and then you can shrink back down again if you need to, which is very difficult if you take on a fixed space.

“In practice we've had one or two people who've been here for long periods of time. One stayed here twenty years.”

Since it began Mr Dibben said he’s seen the face of the workplace environment evolve with the growing use of modern technology.

“The whole workplace environment has become much more mobile,” he added. “Mobile phones, laptops, small printer-cum-photocopiers and other devices remove the need for central services because people look after themselves. However there is still the fundamental business of providing a reception, mail handling and an office cleaning service.

“The thing that hasn't changed is that people working on their own need other people, they need a shared experience, an occasional laugh around the water cooler or something like that. That is one of the things we have always provided.”