Edinburgh based 7N Architects launches Employee Ownership Trust

After 15 years of success the Scottish firm sets up employee-owned structure to secure long-term future

May 13, 2024

The long-term future of one of Scotland’s most pioneering and innovative independent architectural practices has been secured following a successful transition to employee ownership.

Edinburgh-based 7N Architects, which came to prominence by masterminding the ‘placemaking-led’ transformation of many of Scotland’s most significant civic and urban areas, has set up an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) with owner and founding director Ewan Anderson transferring 100% of his total shareholding to a trust acting on behalf of all the company’s 24 employees. The EOT structure allows every member of the 7N team to share in the future success of the company.  

The company’s leadership will now be spearheaded by a Board of Directors composed of Ewan Anderson together with co-directors Ben Watson and Craig Tait. They will work in collaboration with a Board of Trustees bringing together Ewan with independent Chair of Trustees John Hume, and 7N team members Lisa Blyth and Laura Adamson who were both elected by fellow employees.

The company currently employs 24 staff and, with a formidable track record combined with a burgeoning project pipeline, Ewan Anderson felt that now was the right time to secure the company’s long-term future.

“7N Architects has come a long way since the practice was formed during the financial crisis of 2009,” he explains. “Despite many challenges along the way, we have grown steadily and incrementally, and through a defined focus and commitment to putting placemaking at the heart of everything we do, we have had the privilege of being involved on some of the most transformative and recognised development projects in Scotland and the UK.

“It’s an exciting time for the practice, with projects from London to Lerwick. We’ve created the City Centre Strategy for Glasgow, masterplans for University of Glasgow and Inverness Campus, a new station concept for Network Rail, built hundreds of new homes in some of the most deprived and affluent parts of Scotland and have developed transformational proposals for new workspaces which put people’s wellbeing at the heart of the design.

“I look forward to being an integral part of a new era for 7N Architects - and seeing the company, our employees and our clients continue over the longer-term to reap the benefits of our enlightened and progressive approach to making better places.”

Ben Watson, Ewan Anderson, Craig Tait

Co-director Ben Watson adds: “The successful completion our Employee Ownership Trust marks the next significant step of 7N’s journey. All team members have been involved in this process from the start, and the new leadership structure creates both a strong management framework whilst empowering every member of staff to play a significant role in the future of the company.”

Architect Lisa Blyth, who was one of the original founder members of the practice, was voted in by fellow staff members to become a member of the new Board of Trustees. “The whole employee ownership process was a hugely insightful experience showing how all our employees could play a significant role in the future of the company,” she says.

“All team members took part in a variety of workshops ranging from defining our purpose statement to exploring what kind of work we wanted to focus on in the future. We now have a flexible and democratic management structure which reflects the representative and collegiate working environment that 7N has worked so hard to create over the years.”

7N Architects has been involved in many of Scotland’s most transformative development projects during the past 15 years. Originally a masterplanning specialist, the company has latterly diversified to include the end delivery of a range of high-profile residential, civic and commercial developments.

Current projects include a ‘Re-Imagining Railways’ project for Network Rail having been selected from 200 international entries to design the railway station of the future, with design guidance being published in 2022 for more than 2000 stations across the UK. 7N is also leading West Town in Edinburgh, helping to deliver a brand new ‘twenty-minute neighbourhood’ featuring 7,000 homes to the west of the city.

When the decision was made to move forward with Employee Ownership, Ewan Anderson went straight to Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates UK, who he had known for over 20 years to manage and guide the transition process. Employees were involved in the process from the very early stages.  An initial presentation at the annual away day in East Lothian sounded out thoughts on the proposed move to employee ownership.  Once the transition project launched, there were a series of workshops held with all staff to explore what their aspirations would be for the studio under employee ownership, and incorporating these into the companies legal documents.  At the same time, a rigorous selection process was running to appoint the new directors to the company board.  A session on the role of the Trust and Trustee was followed by a well contested election to appoint the employee trustees.

The company celebrated their move to employee ownership, and their 15th anniversary with a reception in their Edinburgh offices, attended by employees, friends and clients.