The true value of understanding communities

By Nicky Godding. Pictured: Eleanor & Peter Deeley
Eleanor and Peter Deeley

The business might be more than 80 years old, but The Deeley Group has always pioneered modern development ideas for business and residential communities.

There isn’t a government statistic that reveals the true value that local family businesses contribute to the economies of the UK’s regions.

It would be great if there was. Because to those who aren’t familiar with companies like the Deeley Group, which has its headquarters in Coventry and undertakes projects across the Midlands and into Oxfordshire, this 83-year old construction and development company might look like any other.

However, just five minutes into a conversation with two generations of the family who work in the business – Peter Deeley, 77, and his daughter Eleanor, 43, two things become clear.

This company is commercially very savvy, but the directors feel just as strongly about supporting and encouraging local communities and understand just how much the built environment can help them thrive.

The Deeley Group is an award-winning company with thousands of successful developments under its belt.

One of these, Fordham House, won the Residential Property of the Year in the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) West Midlands Awards this year.

Developed by The Deeley Group on the site of a redundant office building, and sporting an unusual but architecturally attractive “living wall” planted to wrap around two sides of the building, Fordham House is now owned and run by housing provider Orbit. It offers 82 private rented apartments with a letting strategy to support local workers and residents. This is Orbit’s first such scheme, and it’s a success Peter Deeley said. “Fordham House opened two years ago. It’s fully rented, with 85 per cent of the total number of residents working in the town.”

The Deeley Group is involved in all forms of residential development, including building houses for other companies and for its new Deeley Homes division.

“We work with many housing associations,” said Peter. “One scheme in Leamington Spa includes 140 houses and 20 apartments. Of those, around 50 were shared ownership, many of which went to young graduates working at Gaydon for Jaguar Land Rover. We are great believers in shared ownership.”

Flexible living for a mobile workforce and those in later life

The private rented sector is growing, and property agents Knight Frank report that 22 per cent of UK households expect to be renting privately by 2023.

There are many reasons for people renting rather than owning their homes – affordability being a major issue, but Knight Frank’s research also reveals that many people, particularly those aged over 50, don’t want the responsibility of owning a home.

Eleanor, who joined the family business in September after 10 years heading property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield’s Midlands residential team as a Partner, understands this.

“Many people reaching retirement want an easier, more flexible life. And the private rented sector can offer that. You can lock up your flat and spend time abroad if you want to. New PRS developments have technology wired into them and are linked into local services. Why go and pick up your shopping if someone will deliver it? That’s what connectivity enables you to do.”

The private rented sector also suits the younger generation, she said. “University graduates used to modern halls of residence with gyms and wired with technology don’t want to compromise when they start their career.

“Living in purpose-built accommodation gives them career mobility rather than being tied into a longer lease on a traditional flat or house.”

Better social spaces drive successful communities

It’s also about creating social spaces, she added. “It comes back to the traditional principles of community.

“Life is better with people around us, and that’s true in both residential and business communities, where a good building design can drive serendipitous meetings and relationships.”

This community cohesion also benefits landlords. “There is research to show that if you have a relationship with two people in your building, you are 50 per cent more likely to renew your lease. If you know three or more, you are 75 per cent more likely to renew. It’s really interesting how personal interactions impact on value.”

It’s also great for landlords and investors. “Pension funds are investing heavily in private rented because it provides them with a de-risked income stream,” said Eleanor. “And the councils like it too, as being one answer to the national housing shortage.”

It can sometimes be difficult to put your finger on what makes a space work, but some things are almost guaranteed to drive social interaction, said Eleanor. “Staircases are now built in the centre of a development rather than being hidden away at the back because they provide a place to meet. It’s healthy and interactive.”

The Deeley Group works in practically all development sectors and Peter says he particularly likes mixed use schemes – which can put off other developers.

In September, Deeley began work on a £3.7 million mixed-use development near Aylesbury, which includes a new children’s day nursery, retail unit and 17 apartments in Pegasus Way, Haddenham, in partnership with Henry Davidson Developments.

The National Co-Op has committed to the convenience store, which will be on the ground floor along with a nursery and pre-school, with the two-bedroom homes on the first and second floors.

The scheme, on a former airfield, is set for completion next summer and will bring the site back into use for the community.

Smaller businesses need space to grow

It’s not just about homes. Small and medium-sized enterprises are calling out for space to grow. The Deeley Group is building 18 2,000 sq ft workshops at Tachbrook Park, Warwick for developer AC Lloyd.

“The beauty of this development is its flexibility,” said Peter. “The space is ideal for creative, technology or traditional businesses. But the region needs more such development, including investment in our science parks to offer high-tech space for emerging businesses.”

Deeley Group demonstrates the power of family

The Deeley Group is a family business. Peter joined in 1958, taking over as Chairman from his father in 1986. He is now Managing Director, having passed on the Chairman’s role to Peter Hartill in 2009.

Eleanor built a successful career with national property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield before bringing her wider experience to the company in September. Deeley is well respected across the Midlands community for its significant investment in local communities and charitable endeavours, and not least because of how it treats it sub-contractors.

“We pay our sub-contractors promptly, on 25 days. This is less than half the time of some other, larger contractors,” said Peter. “And that policy gives us fewer headaches in getting skilled and experienced people to work with us. Being a family business certainly gives you strength.”

Eleanor agreed. “Having worked in a corporate, before coming into the family business, it’s a different perspective. I do think that people place importance on relationships. And we work as a team. That is slightly different in a family firm. We can take a more considered view because sometimes those things are just more important than they are seen to be in larger organisations.”