Abel Collins – the end of my term!

You might know that I have been involved in Abel Collins, an Almshouse Charity based in Beeston for some time. Actually for about 5 years.

a bit strange - my name in stone!

I got involved through Business Champions and became Chairman fairly soon after joining the Board of Trustees. Then last year we split the responsibility of Chair-person – I held onto property and resources.

I resigned my position last week. This was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my workload in my real job has increased significantly this year particularly – and ‘spare’ time has become a little scarce! Abel Collins took quite a lot of time – it is big business and I was not really able to commit the time and energy I felt it needed. In fairness my Co-Chair really helped over the last 12 months…

Secondly though, I did agree to head up the Charity on the basis that we actually ‘did’ something. It is a fantastic Charity which has been around for 300 years, but I felt that it needed a project. We set out on a new build scheme and completed 4 new bungalows in late 2009 – designed by Marsh Grochowski, I think they are fantastic. It was a great day last November when Leon Unczur, The Sheriff of Nottingham officially opened them!

So it is the end of an era for me. I have played a very tiny part in the Charity – it remains in great hands and I am sure it will do so for another 300 years.

I will miss the Trustees meetings which were often quite exciting! But I think most of all I will miss the residents – with all of their little foibles!

I shall have great memories!

The Sheriff bows out

I attended a celebration on Saturday at Nottingham Castle to bid farewell to the incumbent Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Leon Unczur.

The real Sheriff of Nottingham and his Lady

The Sheriff is an ambassadorial position – and the role is said to be:

To promote Nottingham as a destination for visitors for short breaks, conferences, business and shopping
To encourage local residents to use and take part in cultural/leisure activities opportunities in the city and county

I went to America with Leon last year in search of world class attractions as I blogged about. I think my lasting memory was of Leon’s ability to talk to people – everywhere we went he was doing exactly what the job role says on the tin – being an ambassador for the City. His opening line was well received, “Hi, I am Councillor Leon Unczur and I am the real Sheriff of Nottingham..”

But Leon also opened the bungalows I built at Abel Collins in Beeston – and he did a similarly brilliant job – the residents still talk about the day the Sheriff came to the complex!

In an era when I have little regard for Politicians – especially after the General Election debacle – Leon does stand out as someone who genuinely cares about the City, its residents and his constituents.

Leon was also instrumental in setting up the Sheriffs Commission – a body set up to encourage the City to make more of Robin Hood – and he has made great progress. Even if there is still much work to be done – at least we have got started.

Michael Williams Corporate Director for Communities spoke about Leon’s year and the theme of ‘ambassador’ featured highly. And praise was given the Sheriff’s lady – Adela Hampson, who was presented with flowers by Leon for her help.

The new Sheriff is Penny Griggs – she starts on Monday!

Leon will be a difficult act to follow.

Housing – a market on the up?

There have been some really mixed messages this week. I have spoken to two Architects about their workload and the general state of the market. Both indicated that the residential sector of their work had increased in recent weeks.

My charity Abel Collins contributed 4 houses to the 2009 total!

This is against the backdrop that the number of new house builds in England was at its lowest level since 1946 during 2009, according to the latest figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG).

Around 118,000 new homes were built in 2009, which is 17% lower than the number built in 2008. And this is some way off the Governments target to build 240,000 homes each year until 2016 – to satisfy the anticipated number of households.

Although there does seem to be an increase in demand (which may be better described as ‘interest’) I am not convinced that developers are falling over themselves to buy into land.

In fact my conversation with a London based Architect revealed an interesting change in how sales are being achieved. As an agent acting for a vendor of land it was our aim to try to reduce the number of affordable houses on a plot of land – as they had a negative impact on the value (in one case where I was involved the cost of providing the affordable housing was £5m – the resulting residual land value was only £7m). The ‘norm’ for provision depends on the Authority but is frequently cited as 30%. In London, according to the Architect I spoke to, on some of the schemes, 60% is being voluntarily offered as this is the only cash available. It looks as though we might be moving back to building Council Houses!

Yesterday Housing Minister John Healey on the announced a boost to housebuilding in England, confirming nearly £500million funding to build around 8,000 affordable homes across the country. He suggests that this takes total Government funding for housebuilding to £3.5 billion since June.

You can see the scale of the problem – the target is 240,000, we built 118,000 and the Government are going to ‘kick-start’ another 8,000 – so had that number been delivered last year we would still be only around half of the requirement…

As part of my blog earlier this week I did express my concern about our kids getting on the housing ladder. Maybe the affordable housing route is going to be the only way. And that means private renting (possibly through a Social Landlord) or through a shared ownership scheme.

Nottingham at MIPIM – an update

I have blogged before about my attendance at the MIPIM property show in Cannes.

Hotel 'Nottingham' in Cannes

Today the Evening Post have published a story that the City Council are pulling out of the show next year. This is primarily as a result of budgetary cuts. But they will be present this year – in fact Councillor Jon Collins and Planner Nigel Turpin are cycling there for charity!

The private sector are also going in the form of Mabers – Architects, Morgan Tucker – Engineers, Gleeds – Cost Consultants and my firm, Innes England. In fact we are all working together as ‘team Nottingham’.

Nottingham City Council will be announcing a really exciting ‘partnership’ at the event and will also be showcasing their six buildings which become vacant as they move to their new HQ at Loxley House, next to the Station. My firm will be explaining our market data analysis of the last year – compared to the preceding four.

It is a real opportunity for us to promote the city – and to try to create inward investment. There will be nay-sayers, as always who think it is a ‘jolly’. But, I will not be wrestling pigs!

It would not be right to categorically say that we are coming out of recession – but there are some signs of improving confidence – and it precisely for that reason that we should promote the city now. We will have a talented pool of people there – including the CEO of Nottingham City Council, The Leader of the Council – Jon Collins, the inward investment team and members of NRL. This is the public sector which forms the other key component of ‘team Nottingham’.

I think it is a pity (and perhaps short-sighted) that the City will not be principal sponsors and organisers next year. Before the ‘jolly’ spoilers start we should remember that our competitors for investment (Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester etc.) will all be there selling their wares to the world market.

The public sector and private sector both have roles to play in encouraging inward investment to Nottingham.

2009 – a year in review

I think as you get older the years just seem to fly by much quicker. But looking back on 2009 as the year draws to a close, I tried to think through the highs and lows of the year. On reflection, many more highs than lows I think. Which can only be a good thing! So here goes:

High Points

1. A great weekend in September at St Andrews celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We stayed in an amazing hotel overlooking the 18th hole at the Old Course. Where did 25 years go? St Andrews is a magical place – I can’t believe we had not discovered it earlier. It helps if you like golf…

St Andrews - and the 18th hole on the Old Course

2. Our son Jack getting 8 GCSE’s and a place at Confetti. This despite his Dyslexia. And then Jade getting a hard-earned place at TeachFirst and working in two challenging schools. Adam worked on another film – the details of which I will spare you, but if I said it was an NHS Information film – that’s enough of a clue!

Jack, Jade and Adam - in the Summer.

3. Lesley and I seeing The Killers at Madison Square Garden (New York) in January. Quite a long way to go to see a gig but they were just brilliant – and then we came home and saw them again at The Arena in Nottingham. Musically the Isle of Wight featured in the calendar again – and was great – especially the infamous toilets & showers… I wasn’t sure about Neil Young though!

The Killers play Madison Square Garden NYC

4. The opening of the Abel Collins ‘Drury Bungalows’ in November – at the end of a three year stint! I think they are great and four couples will move in shortly! The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Lady did us proud on the day – and I think the bungalows are brilliant! Designed by Marsh Grochowski they are ‘of their time’! High green credentials make them highly energy efficient.

The Abel Collins Almshouses - Drury Bungalows

5. My trip with the Sheriff of Nottingham to the USA in September – to research World Class attractions. We visited six cities in 10 days, flying 12,500 miles. It was exhausting but informative – and there was some fun along the way. Highlights – Segway riding, The Experience Music Project in Seattle, Getty Museum in LA, Alcatraz, The High Line in New York and Little Boots in concert – and much more!

The USA tour team - at Top of the Rocks NYC

6. Seeing Jack play his first gig as part of the Hockley Hustle 2009. They were great (I may be a bit biased). That all of their friends turned up was just great to see.

Jack playing drums in his first gig

7. A great holiday in Dartmouth – including an interesting two days sailing – more so for me than Jack – who was none too well! It may have been something he ate – or could it have been the force 7/8 gale?


Dartmouth Harbour

8. The celebrations in Paris for our friends John & Denise celebrating their 50th birthdays! They are getting old and I am one of the babies of the group. Good to see the gang growing old disgracefully – long may it continue.

The NHR gang do Paris in the Spring!

Low Points

Seeing Nick Hammond and Nick Lewis leave Castle College – both loyal clients over 17 years, but also really nice people & people I regard as friends. I do expect both of them to make returns in 2010!

Nick Hammond in LA (on the right.. in case you wondered)

And that’s it. I wonder what 2010 will bring – hopefully the same split again – or preferably no low points. But already things to look forward to – Minsk in January?, Skiing in February, MIPIM in March and at some point New York (again). I have also agreed to help the Bromley House Library look at the possibility of building an extension / upgrading the wonderful facilities they have!

Lots to look forward to then…. Happy New Year!!

Corporate and Social Responsibility & Branding….

If you read my blog regularly, you will know I have an involvement in a Nottingham based Charity – Abel Collins. The Charity provides low cost accommodation for the elderly and needy.

Commemorative Stone at Abel Collins

Sometimes it feels a bit like a full-time job! But, of course it isn’t – I volunteer my time and expertise. I originally joined at the request of Business Champions at emda. When the pressure is on (and it was at times when we were building our four new bungalows recently) I did wonder why I was doing the work! It can be stressful – but ultimately it is rewarding.

Interestingly Readers Digest published a survey about the ’2009 Most Trusted Brands’ a few days ago. The winners across Europe were Nivea and Nokia. Kellogs and Canon (cameras) were commended too. One of the key questions in the survey related to ‘trust and the environment’ – i.e. how people perceived the brands beyond the actual product they made. So there is something deeper at play here. Trust requires another dimension in an increasingly competitive world.

And perhaps that is where Corporate and Social Responsibility can play a part. A business can make sure it scores highly on these matters where it looks beyond its own back yard. It can play a part in the wider community and as a result can perhaps gain some trust from its customers – who see some wider ‘good’ for the environment (which I don’t see as always being just the green agenda!).

In my case, I didn’t really think this through before agreeing to help the Abel Collins Charity. I have been involved in various Charity work for the last 30 years or so – starting at Nottingham Hospitals Radio, working with the Trustees of Princes House and with a Charity in Derby who helped children who had been in Care and were seeking work. I joined Abel Collins five years ago. I have really enjoyed it – and the reward is four fantastic new bungalows and my name in a stone (which is very nice but a bit strange!)

If you get the chance to do some work and it fits the CSR policy of your company I wholeheartedly recommend it! It can be great fun – you do get to meet new people outside your normal mix – and who knows – you might get your name on a stone?

A fantastic day!

I promised I would not whinge at the end of my week; today was the official opening of the four new bungalows at Abel Collins Almshouses on Derby Road Nottingham. I have blogged previously about the journey these bungalows have taken us on. But that is all in the past – and today was a celebration. A celebration of the first new homes on the site being built since the 1980′s.

Abel Collins bungalows

The Sheriff of Nottingham, Councillor Leon Unczur and his Lady Adela Hampson officially opened the bungalows and handed the new keys to four residents. All were keen to show Leon and Adela their new homes.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and the general feeling around the homes was fantastic. Back in the Hall, I gave a small speech about the history of the Charity and the legacy – which started 300 years ago!

L-R : Me, the Sheriff, his Lady and Meryl, my Co-Chair

My thanks were extended to the Board of Trustees, the staff on site and the professional team – Julian, Joe, Mike, Steve and Guy at Marsh Growchowski Architects, Lois Plaistow at Price & Myers Engineers, Tony Harris at D H Squire M&E consultants and Charlie Smith at Appleyard & Trew Quantity Surveyors. But also to Nicholas Bird at Birds of Derby for donating the biggest and best cake I have seen for some time! I couldn’t manage all of it.

Leon spoke about the new bungalows not in terms of bricks and mortar (actually there’s not much of that!), but rather of the care with which they had been designed. When I first showed him the bungalows – he actually said ‘wow’ and later said he was ‘bowled over’.

The donated cake from Birds of Derby - amazing!

I have said before that the real test is when our residents have moved in and are living there. I think they will love their new homes. I would be happy to live there!

The Sheriff trying not to cut my tie!

It really was a great day – and a milestone in the history of the Charity, I think Abel Collin would be proud – I certainly am. It has been a challenging project, but worth it. I love the architecture – it is different – but you can be of no doubt as to the fact that it belongs to this time.

Now what shall we do next?…..

Ever wondered what a Hon. Secretary of State does?

In my capacity of Co-Chair of Abel Collins Almshouses I have managed to find out. You might recall I blogged previously about some really bad customer service from British Gas Business – look at their credentials here though!

Yellow Barriers approved by the Secretary of State (for barriers)

In essence we paid British Gas Business £12,500 in July for a new gas main to serve a number of properties. The litany of excuses between then and now are fairly tedious. But work started today. We had been waiting for the Secretary of State (which one I was not told – yellow plastic barriers?) as we needed permission to work in the road. This is because the A52 is a designated Trunk Road. i.e. it’s busy.

I was delighted to hear that the work was to be done today – 136 days after they cashed the cheque. Not that I’m counting!

Imagine my disappointment when I saw the closure. You can see for yourself. This process has involved British Gas Business, Enterprise, Fulcrum, The Highways Agency, their agents, The Notts County Council and the Secretary of State. This is not to mention Nick Palmer (MP) and my professional team (Architect, engineer & Contractor). I wonder how many man hours have been used to achieve this ‘closure’. Hundreds? At least there were two blokes digging and no one watching! Two days work maximum – £12,500. I presume £12,000 is for ‘administration’?

Sometimes (actually – quite a lot of the time) I think / know the world has gone mad. Completely mad.

So I am going to move on and stop blogging about this. We have our official opening on Friday by the Sheriff of Nottingham – and I will blog a happy story I hope after the opening!

But rest assured that I think the role of the Secretary of State is an important one!

p.s. I am very grateful to Nick Palmer for helping us out!

    Update 19th November

I was right not to get too excited. It seems that British Gas have just realised that a Governor has gone missing; so I have a gas main but…no gas! Next week now before that gets sorted. They did ring me to explain, I have just run out of energy to express any form of emotion. Perhaps that’s their tactic. Grind you down?

Architecture – the great divide pt.2

I blogged previously about how architecture divides us.

Abel Collins new bungalows designed by Marsh & Grochowski

New bungalows at Abel Collins Nottingham November 2009

This week is the official opening by the Sheriff of Nottingham of the four new bungalows I am involved in at Abel Collins Almshouses in Beeston Nottingham. I accept that they are not part of the sites vernacular architecture. But that I think is the point. The original houses were built on the site in the 1930′s, and then phases were constructed in the 1960′s, 70′s and 80′s. They are of their time. The new bungalows certainly make a statement – and I am proud that they represent a 2009 legacy.

I took the photograph here yesterday morning and was quizzed by the son of one of our residents. He wanted to know what we were thinking – and what Prince Charles would have to say. Firstly, what we were thinking is that we had an opportunity to make a statement. Secondly, I personally dislike pastiche architecture and was keen to avoid replicating what went before. Thirdly, these are very sustainable – with green credentials – rainwater harvesting, a sedum roof, high levels of insulation, a low carbon footprint, solar shading and underfloor heating. The level of ‘green’ is somewhere between 25-44% better than the current Building Regulations require. What would Prince Charles say? He would think they were a Carbuncle no doubt. I respect his views, but don’t always agree with them. We have moved on and need to move on further if we are to hit our sustainability targets. Highgrove House won’t quite have the same levels of insulation! Nor is Poundbury, in my view, great architecture.

What really counts though is whether our residents will like living in them. In their current bare state they appear warm and light & airy. The rooms are well proportioned and the space will hopefully turn into a home for the new residents. Time will tell!


University of Nottingham Grace Building

As I was out with my camera, and the sky was fairly photogenic, I came back via The University of Nottingham Triumph Road Campus. I have been buying up land here for the University for many years. The latest building is the Centre for Geospatial Studies – lovingly known as GRACE. When it was being constructed I had a fear that it was going to be a ‘box’. But what has emerged is something really quite special. And yes – it is a box! But it demonstrates that with the use of colour and really good materials even a ‘box’ can look great.

Would either of these buildings worked in ‘brick and slate’…. I think not, but I am willing to be challenged. Architecture, like Art, is a matter of personal taste. A ‘marmite‘ moment! And it’s got people talking… which they tend not to do about our other houses and bungalows?

p.s. I love Marmite!

The beginning of the end or vice versa?

My business is at the heart of the property industry in the east midlands – although we do work beyond too.

The most frequent question we are asked is – is the worst of the recession over. And the answer is we don’t know. I am not a fan of talking the market down – the press do a pretty good job of that. But, it is difficult to say it’s green on this side of the field – it isn’t. The market is tough. Deal are hard to do.

Gerald “Crap” Ronson said this week that “We are only two years in to the nightmare and we need to be prepared for another five to seven years before we see sunshine.” I am not sure I share this view. But I do think it will be difficult for a bit longer yet.

2010 is not looking too good – we have a winter of discontent on the cards by the looks of the number of strikes on the cards (post, fire fighters, council staff et al). And then we have an election in May? Followed by a period of ‘review’ – i.e. do nothing!

We are now closed gutted

Another one bites the dust

And this week we saw data from the Local Data Company which showed that out of 251,000 shops across the UK, 25,000 have closed since January! Department stores, Womenswear and Childrenswear were hardest hit. In Nottingham you can see this just by walking down into Hockley. But, I was in Hornchurch in the week and that seemed a remarkably resilient place with very few vacancies. So, again the picture is not clear.

It’s pretty cold comfort if you have a business and you are in trouble. The BBC reported yesterday that there were 35,242 personal insolvencies in the third quarter of 2009, up 28% from the same period last year and an increase of 6.6% on the previous three months.

I would like to think that this is the beginning of the end… But just like the date for my gas supply pipe at Abel Collins, I’m not holding my breath!