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My role is to look at new sites, new opportunities and appraise their potential.
Within a typical week I might get 20-30 emails and phone calls from landowners and agents but only one or two of those might actually work for us. We have quite stringent criteria of what works for Adlington Retirement Living.
We look for easy access to local amenities for our Homeowners, so often we choose sites in bustling market towns, suburbs or large villages. Many of our retirement communities have beautiful settings next to rivers or canals with views of hills and countryside. Population is also key, so we do a lot of work on demographics.
There’s a lot of analysis and appraising involved in the role. Not just from a location perspective but also from a planning policy and technical perspective. We deal with a lot of brown field sites – petrol stations, pubs, schools, builders’ merchants, old industrial sites, railway sidings, gas works. Often, they are well located but have been neglected for a number of years. A development to transform a brown field site is often welcomed by the local community and planners but can be challenging for our technical team because these sites add a layer of complication.
It’s a three or four year process to secure a site, get it through planning, design the scheme and build it.
An opportunity is identified. Due diligence may take a month or two before it gets signed off by the board and we submit an offer. Getting that accepted can take days, weeks or months. Typically, you will then agree heads of terms, which can take another couple of months. You then go into full contract negotiation, which can take anything from two months to 12 months.
Once contracts have been agreed and are exchanged, we submit a planning application. It can take around six months for it to be approved or, it can take another 18 months to two years if it goes to planning appeal. Once we get a positive decision, we continue to work with the council for several months to sign off any necessary pre-commencement conditions. Once all parties have agreed these details and the planning decision has been made, work on the site can start. By that point our technicians and architects will have a scheme ready to go. Our build programme typically takes 14-18 months.
The Sales and Marketing team can then launch the marketing campaign and commence selling the apartments.
I like the ‘feel good’ factor of finding a really good site.
Without the sites, there would be no business. That means there’s a lot of pressure and responsibility, which can be a little overwhelming at times.
You might have a week when everything seems to be going against you and then you get a phone call or an email with some good news, that a landowner wants to accept an offer for example, and that’s a huge relief.
Individually, you probably only get a handful of successes per year. They don’t come around very often. I’ve been working for the Gladman group for nine years in total and occasionally you’ll have a bad year when you only get one or two sites but then you’ll have a cracker of a year when you have three or four. You have to hold onto those successes and enjoy them.
It’s a lovely feeling that you’re providing a product that people want, and people need, often transforming a brownfield site in the process. It’s nice to be able to say I do this for a living.
I actually studied computer science at Uni for a short period of time, realised that I didn’t want to do that, and moved into Town and Country Planning instead. One of my housemates was on the course and I saw some of the work that he was doing and thought it looked interesting. I used to like drawing and part of the course involved sketching out plans. It seemed like a good combination of something that I could make a career out of whilst including a little bit of design work and using my imagination.
I don’t do any drawing or sketching as part of my role now. I’ve left the artistic and creative side behind and grown into the planning and analysis side of the role. Recently, my two-year-old daughter has got into painting and drawing, and she likes to get me involved, so that’s a nice excuse to go back to it!
One of the great things about working for Adlington Retirement Living is that you’re given the opportunity to make the role your own. You can work to your strengths and find the best way of working together as a team in order to achieve the best outcome for the business and our Homeowners.
I did a masters degree in Town and Country Planning, which involved some time working with a housebuilder in the North West. After that I got the opportunity to join the Gladman Group as a planner, which I did for about four years.
One of the things that attracted me to the Gladman Group and Adlington Retirement Living was that it’s a family run, family focused company. We’ve always had bi-annual events and people’s wives and husbands, and their children come along. Everybody in the business knows what everybody is working on. The directors and the partners take an active interest in how you’re doing, and I think that filters down.
The opportunity came up to join the Adlington Retirement Living team in November 2015 doing a similar planning role, which I did for about 12 months until I moved into a planner/land buyer hybrid role and in November 2018 I became land director.
I’m quite reliant on other people in my role – engineers, architects, solicitors, planners. Handing over work to other people and then having to wait for their responses to get the answers that we need can be a challenge for me.
Other challenges can be the landowners themselves. If you’re dealing with one at a time, it can be relatively straight-forward, but sometimes you might have two or three involved or there might be a trust, a family, or even a multinational company with its own levels of red tape. When you have more parties involved, there are more agents and more solicitors, and everything seems to progress more slowly. You’re relying on other people doing their jobs again and it’s out of your control, which can be difficult. Something might be a priority for our business, but it might not be a priority for another party involved in the process.
When you’re dealing with more than one party, they each have their own agendas and their own wants, needs and desires. We try to align those in order to make the deal work. If one party doesn’t agree to it, the whole thing can fall through.
Everybody does things their own ways and works to their own strengths. I always try to be as transparent as I can be. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If everybody is striving for the same result, there’s no point in messing people around, especially if it’s just going to add complications. I believe in being open and honest from day one and being very transparent. If it’s going to happen then it will happen. If it’s not, then I thank everybody for their time and move on to the next one.
I think the family ethos that I mentioned earlier filters down to the sort of people that are recruited into our business. With that family ethos, we’re not scared to report bad news to the board, and that probably has a very positive influence on how everybody behaves and how we deal with these issues.
I enjoy the variety of my role. Sometimes I’m office based, sometimes I’m out on the road. I can be meeting people, land agents and visiting different places.
It can be the hardest job in the world, or it can be the easiest job in the world, if you enjoy what you’re doing and you have a bit of luck. With a bit of luck, you can buy three, four or five sites in a year with minimal effort, or without it you can work 60 to 70hour weeks and get nothing. You have to be pretty resilient. You also have to have good people skills to get on with everybody and get the best out of them and you have to be very organised.
I like the fact that I can be myself and do things my own way, and I think that approach has paid off over the years. I’d like to think that I’m a nice person to work with and I like to work with nice people.
I would say that you learn your best lessons from mistakes.
If, for example, you get to the end of a contract and you find out that you’re liable for a big contamination bill for remediation, or maybe you’ve not spotted Japanese Knotweed, or maybe you’ve got your sales data wrong and an amount is wrong, that can have a big impact further down the line. I’ve known of instances where developers have pulled out of a site off the back of something like that or where the land buyer has had to go back to owners and renegotiate the contract.
You have to be open and honest about what the problems are when they arise and more often than not, there’s a solution to it.