"I was asked if I would write a blog, I asked what about and was assured that people would find it interesting to read about how the idea for Eagle Labs came about and where we are taking them going forward. Well here goes!"
The origins of the Labs goes back to the Digital Eagles when we were trying our best to give as many people as we could the confidence to embrace the opportunities the new digital (mainly mobile ) world offered. This in itself had grown from how we gave our own colleagues the confidence to embrace the new digital services we were offering to customers, such as Pingit and Barclays Mobile Banking.
The more work we did on digital skills, running “tea and teach” events for older people, coding sessions for children (Code Playground), and cyber-security sessions for businesses the more we as an organisation started to embrace the so called “digital revolution”. It also made us think about “what next”.
And about three years ago a number of things came together; we came across the FabLab and maker space movement as well as the beautiful “Raspberry Pi” organisation (who happened to be a customer of the bank - but I don’t believe we had realised how special they were and continue to be). We also became aware of something called “AI” that more and more people were talking about.
In parallel, I was increasingly concerned about how we could continue to be useful and relevant to the communities that we worked in as our branches were being visited less and less often, and becoming more and more likely to close.
The net result was us trying an experiment which was to open the very first Eagle Lab in the upstairs of a small branch in Cambridge (Cherry Hinton). This first Lab was only about 3,000 square feet and was based on a “FabLab” maker space and equipped with digital fabrication equipment such as 3D printers and vinyl laser cutters.
We opened the second Lab in Bournemouth about three months later, again another maker space.
Whilst the Labs were busy during weekends and with school visits, during the week they weren’t covering their costs and were relatively empty (just like the branches they replaced) for large parts of the time.
Fortunately, a few things came together to give us the answer as to how to pivot next. The CEO of Barclays UK had insisted that we make sure this experiment at least covered its costs - so we were very conscious we had to find a way of making them pay. Second, we intersected with a new business unit being created in Barclays which was focussing the needs of High-Growth companies andentrepreneurs, third, we were getting feedback from the labs that businesses visiting the Labs were saying “hey we would like to work here” - they liked the vibe and the work we were doing in theLabs to engage the wider community in activities.
The result was that we started building the Eagle Labs in formats that look nearer to what you see today, as centres supporting High-Growth companies and the wider community across the UK. And over the last twelve months, we have tried to keep listening and flexing and eveolving the model to fit both local and national needs. At the time of writing we are eighteen Labs with another five to open over the next few months. We have started to focus some Labs on industry verticals, such as LawTech (in fact the largest LawTech incubator in Europe), with others in AviationTech and AgriTech to follow. What we haven’t lost is our willingness to listen and flex and change to fit what our visitors and residents want and need.
We want to make ourselves “useful” in the communities we operate. I often use the analogy of when Barclays (as with other old British Banks) first started, we ran coffee shops in the city of London which were meeting places for merchants and customers. We provided a useful meeting place and then services, such as looking after people’s money. I see the Eagle Labs as replicating that “usefulness” but in a 21st century way.
So our journey is far from complete and we continue to revolve. Every new Lab we open learns from the previous ones and the growing community of residents, visitors and “alumni” continues to grow. All the time giving us more insight and feedback to keep making us better. We are trying our best to build part of the 21st century Barclays, please keep giving us your feedback and thoughts. We will only make ourselves useful with that.