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RB’s new World of Inspiring Science

A £105 million investment has transformed the Hull R&D site with new laboratories, collaborative office space and renovated, heritage features. An inspirational science hub, it enables groundbreaking innovations to meet the consumer health challenges of the future.

When RB announced its largest-ever investment in 2014, it promised to create “a world of inspiring science”. Today, that promise has become reality with the official opening of its new Science and Innovation Centre.

The new centre in Hull houses around 600 scientists, all working towards fulfilling RB’s goal of creating healthier lives and happier homes. The juxtaposition of renovated and new buildings blends RB’s 179-year history with the latest technology. Visitors and RB employees can now look directly into glass-walled laboratories to see the future of consumer health in development.

On one side of the site sit the original red-brick and stone buildings, now restored; on the other is a striking state-of-the-art steel, glass and stone structure built to the highest sustainable standards. The old buildings still house offices – much of them now open-plan with breakout spaces and a restaurant – while the new buildings boast a beautiful atrium reception area and three floors providing 13,000m2 of innovative labs full of cutting-edge technology and industry firsts. Here, RB’s scientists have the space, equipment and resources to create, test and refine products that will put health in the hands of people worldwide.

A world of inspiring science  
Bruce Charlesworth, Hull site lead and chief medical officer health relief, wellness and hygiene, says: “One of the many great things about our Science and Innovation Centre is the visibility of our science; glass walls allow everyone to feel immersed in chemistry and experimentation. You’re actually able to look inside the future we’re creating today.”

Among the world firsts in the new building is a glass-sided stability cabinet – the size of an average garage – which RB will use to determine and optimise the shelf life of its products. There’s also the company’s first fully equipped pilot plant, dedicated to testing how new products and formulae scale up for manufacture.

“Until now we couldn’t mimic a fully operational factory across our broad range of formats, we had to shut down production lines in order to do scale-up testing. The new pilot plant, where machines can produce products at one tenth of factory scale, allows us to keep the factory lines running while validating scale-up and processes with more confidence,” says Charlesworth.

The new building also has an innovation suite, enabling the company to invite consumers to co-create and offer their opinions on product innovations.

“There’s a 360-degree projector that can create specific environments to mimic real life – say a doctor’s waiting room in the UK or a pharmacy in India. And we’ve got real wet testing booths with showers and bathrooms for Veet and Scholl to see how consumers handle and use our products. There’s also a room for flavour testing with a hatch so we can do controlled testing,” he says.

Celebrating heritage and innovation
Our employee input has been invaluable – from designing a room on each floor for relaxing, playing and inspiring creativity, to the ergonomic labs with U-shaped workspaces, each with their own dedicated equipment.

“The old labs had been converted from offices and had very inefficient workflows. We looked at the process flow of our scientists and designed the new labs around how they really work. They’re built with our scientists in mind and are much more efficient,” says Charlesworth.

But the story is not all about the new. The site is where Isaac Reckitt’s original starch mill stood from 1840 and has been home to many innovations since then. The £105 million project has respected and enhanced priceless buildings, artworks and effects that are core to the company’s history.

Parquet flooring has been restored, as has original plasterwork. Where dilapidation made restoration impossible, original features have been replicated, such as the oak panelling in the old boardroom. The busts of various Reckitt family members have been carefully restored and re-waxed, and the portrait of Isaac Reckitt has been rehung in the boardroom alongside an original grandfather clock and the famous Dettol sword trophy.

“Again, we’ve mixed up the old and new. We have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. We’re all about strong heritage and a purposeful future and this is reflected in all we’ve done with the building,” says Charlesworth.

Global impact and inspiration
The external grounds have also benefitted from the restoration, including a £100,000 project to restore the listed memorial dedicated to RB employees who lost their lives in wartime. “The monument, a fountain called Sacrifice, was carved by William Aumonier. It’s wonderful to see it working again,” he says.

Although there is a huge emphasis on inspiration, experimentation and science – some 600 scientists work there, after all – it’s important to remember that the site is also a manufacturing facility, producing 300 million consumer units a year for domestic and overseas markets. And many of RB’s world-leading brands – Mucinex, Strepsils, Nurofen, Gaviscon and Dettol – are made there. As befits a modern operation, the workforce is diverse, with at least 30 different nationalities and an even gender split right up to senior leadership levels.

RB is proud of its new Science and Innovation Centre and some of our employees and others have already seen it for themselves. For those unable to get there in person, our virtual tour offers a glimpse of RB’s new world of inspiring science.