How did the co-founder of Liverpool and Manchester developer Capital & Centric keep fit during lockdown and what piece of advice did John Whittaker give him that steers him through business life?
Why did you choose a career in property?
I love the idea that what I do for a living is simply a bigger version of buying a terraced house, doing it up, and hopefully selling it on for more than it cost. This has always appealed to me since I was a kid, but I realised that by doing it on a bigger scale I could fundamentally change an area for the better, creating places that will hopefully be around for decades or even centuries to come. I’d be super proud if one
day my future grandchildren pointed at, say, Kampus and told someone that their grandad and his pals created that.
Who was your mentor and what was the best piece of advice they gave you?
The best mentor I’ve ever had was John Whittaker of Peel, a complete visionary who taught me to “leave no stone unturned”. In other words, try every single option to resolve a problem, just keep going and you’ll eventually find the answer. This is so true in business. I drive my team mad with this even now, as I still live by it every day.
What building or project do you wish you’d delivered?
I’d love to have developed the big old mills that you find across the North. Really, they should have been quite functional plain buildings, but they were unbelievably opulent and a symbol of supreme confidence in a town or city. This often informs what we do at Capital & Centric even now. We try to inject a bit of playfulness and push the boundaries of our designs, like our tropical city centre gardens or rooftop villages.
What key lesson have you learnt from 2020 and the pandemic?
I think it’s shown us that nothing stays still. Despite the pandemic, towns and cities are evolving and adapting. This year we’ve been working with towns like Rochdale and Stockport, looking at how we can bring more people to live in their town centres and reimagine their high streets. The future of these places isn’t going to be retail, and the pandemic has only accelerated that, but these towns are already seeing the
opportunities opening up for them and I honestly think some will end up being better off as a result.
What was your lockdown hobby? Did you get ‘Covid-fit’ or gain the ‘Covid stone’?
I spent the first four weeks of lockdown eating snacks from the fridge. Then I decided I needed to stop that and get fit again, so I decided to master the gymnastic rings – it’s never too late to learn, as they say! Well it turns out it actually is, but following John Whittaker’s advice, I haven’t given up.
Are you a rebel or a conformist?
I suppose Capital & Centric was built on us not conforming, on pushing the boundaries, and this has got us to where we are. I’m lucky in that it’s just owned by Tim (Heatley) and me, so we don’t really answer to anyone else, which suits me perfectly.
What keeps you awake at night?
Contractors running late, architects not designing buildings how I want them to look, landscape designers insisting on weedy little trees when I’ve specified giant oaks, stuff like that….
What’s your proudest achievement?
Undoubtedly, it’s what Tim and I have achieved with Capital & Centric. When we started out, it was just the two of us doing small workspace developments and getting options on food store sites, and now we’re delivering some of the biggest schemes in the region like Kampus, Crusader Mill, Weir Mill, Littlewoods Studies and more.
What’s your biggest regret?
Genuinely, I wish I’d had the courage to start Capital & Centric 20 years sooner. Tim would still have been at school though, which would have been weird.
What’s your top wish for 2021?
Business-wise, I want to get on site with Littlewoods Studios in Liverpool as it’s the single most transformational scheme that I’ve ever worked on. In a wider sense, I’m desperately keen to see things return to normal in the economy as people need their job security and mental health back. We’ve got a few great projects coming up in Stockport and Rochdale, but delivering Littlewoods Studios is my absolute dream for next year. The fire in 2018 was pretty devastating, but if we can pull it off it’s going to be the most important regeneration project in Liverpool for years to come, creating thousands of jobs and giving local people the chance of a career in film and TV.
What was the best book you read this year?
Because I’m super highbrow, it will have been a ‘Jack Reacher’ book by Lee Child. No idea which one as they all effectively have the same storyline, where he goes around fighting people. Brilliant.
If you hadn’t gone into property, what would you have been?
An electronic dance musician, absolutely no doubt about it. I have no interest in being on stage, but I’d craft the tunes behind the scenes and just count the royalties from somewhere in the Mediterranean.
What trend do you believe will have the most profound impact on placemaking in 2021?
What Covid has taught us is that businesses, and indeed councils, can be flexible. I’ve loved the fact that the streets themselves have been opened up as eating and drinking venues. In the (admittedly few) weeks we had between lockdowns, Manchester’s Northern Quarter was transformed, with temporary street closures allowing the city’s life and vibrancy to spill out, giving this amazing European feel. I’d love the councils to continue to embrace this, as it’ll bring people back in and remind everyone why we loved cities in the first place.