Features | 27 Jan 2023

Vodafone’s Newbury HQ: 20 years and counting

As Vodafone announces the sale of its famous Newbury HQ – and long-term leaseback of several of the buildings there – we look back at the history of the campus.

This year marks 20 years since Vodafone’s UK headquarters opened in Newbury, Berkshire. Consisting of seven different buildings across 30 acres, it’s home to some of the company’s most vital functions, including the highly secure Network Operations Centre, its device testing and approval facility, a designated “war room” for business-critical events, and much else besides.

The HQ remains just as impressive today as it was when it opened in 2003 – a significant step up from its previous headquarters, which was a dark and dingy office space above a curry house in Newbury’s town centre.

While Newbury might just be a humble market town to most, there is a compelling argument to be made for it being the birthplace of UK telecoms.

It’s where the founders of Vodafone decided to set up shop back in 1985 – the only mobile network in the UK at the time – and also where the first ever mobile phone call was received over its network (by former Vodafone Chairman Sir Ernest Harrison, whose son Michael called him on New Year’s Day that same year).

Visitors to the Newbury HQ are often taken aback by the size and scale of the development. As you walk through the bustling Vodafone House – the largest of the seven buildings – and head outside towards the central lake, it feels more like a bustling university campus than a “traditional” workplace, boasting restaurants, a gym, a video production studio, a hairdresser’s, and even a dance studio.

Well before the rest of the competition, Vodafone led the way in embracing flexible working by introducing ‘hot desks’ and shared tables across all seven buildings, encouraging employees to sit where they like and get chatting to people they might never have met before – even the CEO didn’t have a dedicated office.

These ideas have since been embraced across the telecoms industry and beyond.

Maintaining such a large site in a semi-rural setting obviously comes with its challenges. In July 2007, a flood ripped through the site after the nearby Lambourn river burst its banks, causing significant damage and forcing staff to evacuate. Employees were able to return safely after a few days, but there was plenty of restoration work required to return the HQ to its former state.

Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to Vodafone's Newbury HQ in 2008.
Queen Elizabeth II on a visit to Vodafone’s Newbury HQ in 2008

It was this restoration work that the late Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh came to see on 14 November, 2008, the Queen dressed in ‘on brand’ red especially for the occasion. She and the Duke were given a tour of the HQ and shown the extensive repair work carried out after the flood, followed by a quick crash course in the latest mobile technology. One lucky employee even got to show Her Majesty how to log in to Facebook on a mobile phone.

Vodafone celebrates 35 years since first UK mobile phone call

At just after midnight on 1 January 1985 in Parliament Square, London, Michael Harrison made the UK’s first mobile phone call over Vodafone’s cellular network. He called his father Sir Ernest Harrison, Vodafone’s founder and first chairman, and said: “Happy New Year dad, it’s Mike here. This is the first call ever made on a … Continued

The Royals weren’t the only famous faces to visit. That same year, a fresh-faced Lewis Hamilton, newly crowned as F1 World Champion, came to The Pavilion – a dedicated events space at the HQ – to talk to a rapt audience. He took questions from employees and signed autographs. In 2014, former Prime Minister David Cameron came to say hello, touring the campus and celebrating what he described as “a great British success story”.

Fast forward to today, and while Vodafone is still absolutely committed to its future in Newbury, COVID and the switch to hybrid working has had a big impact on office-based working across the UK. With employees only needing to come in a couple of days a week, the business doesn’t need the same amount of space it once did.

A lot can happen in 20 years, but the Newbury HQ remains an enduring symbol of Vodafone’s success as a pioneering UK technology and telecoms company.

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