Warfield Go Green
When Charles Birch Sr saw the opportunity to expand his caravan sales business into the park homes market in the early 1970s, he would not have foreseen that this was the start of the Birch’s brand we know today.
Now, synonymous with the highest quality homes in some the most desirable locations in England, Birch’s Park Homes are one of the UK’s leading operators in luxury residential developments.
As Chairman of Birch’s Park Homes, Charles Birch Sr has long since handed over the day-to-day operation of the Cambridgeshire-based business to his sons Charles and James Birch. With a growing portfolio of ten parks across Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Hampshire, Somerset, and soon Essex, Birch’s Park Homes are renowned as a luxury operator but as a family-run business, like to keep their feet on the ground. “Our business has grown so much over the years and we are constantly expanding and looking for new opportunities,” explains Managing Director Charles Birch. “It’s not just about growth though. We like to be the best we can be. Attention to detail at every level is an important part of the Birch’s brand. We are continuously working with new products, new landscaping and new ideas to push forward our business and make our next park better than the last.”
The number of homes in Birch’s parks varies considerably from under 20 select plots to over a hundred in their largest parks, but the emphasis is very much on quality over quantity, regardless of size. Class-leading homes (often designed in partnership with Birch’s themselves) placed amidst careful landscaping to maximise residents’ privacy and security are key to each overall park design.
Bluebell Woods on the outskirts of the beautiful city of Cambridge is typical of a Birch’s development. Opened in 2007, this small, gated estate offers just 16 high-specification homes in a pretty, woodland setting. All Birch’s parks are aimed at retired and semi-retired people with residents generally required to be aged 45+.
Key to the success of many of Birch’s ‘boutique-style’ developments is their stunning locations. Sandbanks, in Clevedon, Bristol, is an exclusive development of just 23 contemporary homes on a private, gated estate. Opened in 2009, the park has been expertly designed to make the most of the spectacular seaside setting, ensuring that every home benefits from magnificent views over the Bristol Channel to the mountains of Wales. Additionally, each home boasts a stylish glass balcony from which to enjoy the incredible views. Indian stone paths wind around the landscaped terraces and lead to private access to the bay below and a lovely coastal walk to the Victorian seaside town of Clevedon, just 13 miles from Bristol.
New to the Birch’s portfolio is another brand new waterside development. The Estuary will be launched in March 2017 and will offer the highest standard of park homes, each offering unrivalled marina views over Hamble, one of England’s finest spots for sailing and watersports. According to Charles, interest in the limited number of homes available is already “at fever pitch.” With prices starting from around £300,000, The Estuary will offer truly luxurious park home living.
Pushing the boundaries of the park homes business and its reputation is central to Birch’s vision. “In the past, park home living has sometimes suffered from a poor reputation due to a handful of unscrupulous operators,” says Charles Birch. “Thankfully, the tides are changing. We like to think that our unique brand of parks, our partnerships with quality manufacturers and our emphasis on exclusivity is all helping to change the perception of park living. At Birch’s, we genuinely believe the potential for the park homes sector is limitless and we want to keep Birch’s at the forefront.” Charles says Birch’s aim is to grow their park portfolio so they have a “park in every county in England.” Acquisition is a key part of their future expansion plans. “We’re actively looking to acquire new parks at the moment. Residential parks, caravan or camping sites… We’re keen to get any parks with additional development opportunities on the Birch’s radar,” says Charles. Having outgrown their existing HQ in Waterbeach, Cambridge, Birch’s are also in the process of constructing new offices and looking to expand their team of staff from 20 to considerably more. A new website is currently in development and Charles, James and the team are working on a number of exclusive projects that will ensure Birch’s profile in the park homes business and property world only continues to rise.
In the 1950s, a chance enquiry by a stranger wishing to store his caravan set off a chain of events that has led to Keat Farm Parks becoming one of South East England’s most successful and long established holiday and residential park groups.
Keat Farm in Kent started life as a smallholding and family home for the Kent family who moved there from Hertfordshire in 1954.
After struggling to make ends meet as a B&B, Ronald and Muriel Kent took the opportunity to turn their old orchard into an impromptu campsite and, following planning permission, Keat Farm Holiday Park was born. In 1964 the family purchased a near derelict caravan park and turned it into their first park home development, Woodlands, near Canterbury.
Today, Woodlands Estate is a thriving development of 90 homes surrounded by a conservation area and offering splendid views across the rolling Kent countryside to the coast.
Woodlands is now one of nine Keat Farm Parks in a business worth over £20 million and employing 45 permanent staff throughout Kent. Five residential parks are home to around 600 residents aged 50+ in Canterbury, Herne Bay, Maidstone and Whitstable. A variety of single and double occupancy homes are offered with most fully furnished homes being supplied by Omar and Prestige.
Keat Farm may have grown somewhat over the years but for Malcolm Kent, who celebrates 50 years in the business this year, it is still very much a family-run affair just like his parents intended: “I joined the company in 1966. My elder sister was company secretary and my two brothers-in-law both worked here. In 1986 my father died and I took over the control, with my son joining the company in 1999 and my daughter in 2001.”
Malcolm attributes business success to ‘never taking uncalculated risks.’ Under his management, the company has grown steadily through the acquisition of other parks in the region and through taking on major holiday home distributorships.
Keat Farm’s philosophy has always been to make their customers as happy as possible. “Quality of product and customer care are both paramount to increasing market share,” explains Malcolm. “Customer expectation is so much higher than ever before. It’s a much changed industry since I first joined, but I think we can be proud of the fact that parks have moved with the times and continue to meet customer expectations.” It is this eye on future sustainability that has led to Malcolm making a sideways move from Managing Director to Group Chairman this summer. Malcolm’s son, Ben Kent, moved into the role on August 1st after serving on the board since 2011 with responsibility for sales and marketing.
“Dad’s aim has always been to ensure that he leaves a legacy and not a burden,” explains Ben. “Moving to the position of Chairman helps manage the transfer of Keat Farm Parks to the next generation and means better security for our investment. I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead and building on the superb work from both my Granddad and Dad, not forgetting all of our fantastic team here.” Supporting Ben is newly appointed board director Paul Taylor who joined the company in 2003 in a sales management capacity. Other Directors of the group are Malcolm’s wife Janet, their daughter Justine Beba and son-in-law Wayne Beba.
Close family friend and colleague for 30 years Godfrey Brown also retired his directorship this summer. Malcolm pays tribute to the “magnificent support and pivotal role Godfrey played in Keat Farm’s success story.”
So what’s next for Keat Farm Parks? Malcolm says they have plans for a small development in the near future but expansion “depends on the political decisions made in Westminster.”
Asked to comment on the challenges facing the park home industry at this time, Malcolm mentions the as yet unknown potential impact of leaving Europe and ongoing issues with the minority of park operators whose poor practices tarnish the industry’s reputation.
“There comes a time when a new generation must take the reins but after 50 years, this is still a fantastic industry to work in despite huge changes over the years,” says Malcolm, who was Chairman of the NCC from 1996 till 1998, and more recently completed two years as National Chairman of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association.
Describing themselves as a village within a village, it is hard to imagine the residents of Witchford’s Cathedral View Park could be any happier. No wonder when you take a glance around the immaculate five star finishes within the gated complex in rural Cambridgeshire.
There is an unmistakeable buzz of community spirit amongst residents of the park homes site, many of whom are latterday London evacuees who have moved to the Park to enjoy their retirement. Owned by the Webb family for about 11 years, Cathedral View currently boasts some 20 homes with both plans and the space to increase the community to 34 residences.
Part of the Cambridgeshire Parks group, the family enterprise exudes great pride, care and consideration not least in the top quality accommodation provided, as well as the first rate finishing touches.
"You won’t see this calibre of home on any other development,” enthuses Matthew Webb, as he shows off the £200k award-winning show home with its own balcony and garage. “It is the Rolls Royce of the park scene.”
With 38 residential parks in attractive locations across the country, Turners Parks Group is one of the largest park home providers in the UK.
Founded in 2009, the Group has grown steadily and now owns parks from North Yorkshire to the Cornish Coast with a high concentration of 18 parks in the Heart of England in Cheltenham and the Cotswolds. The latest addition is Bittaford Word in Ivybridge, which has given the group a much needed presence in Devon.
“Our parks are for either the over 45’s or over 50’s age group depending on location. We try to appeal to a range of tastes and budgets by working with five of the main park home manufacturers and offering a variety of park home styles,” explains Rebecca Peachey of Turners Parks Group.
“Where possible we also offer a mix of single and twin units as we appreciate a single person looking to move to our parks may want a smaller home.”
Across its 38 parks, Turners has 2,500 plots housing approximately 3,700 residents. All new homes on the Turners Parks Group sites are sold with a fully landscaped plot, shed, and the majority also have a block paved or tarmac driveway. Many of the homes are fully furnished down to the bed linen which means the residents can literally move straight in. Including part time on-site wardens who maintain the communal areas on the parks, Turners has 44 employees.
The management team, accounts, and customer services departments are located in Newmarket, Suffolk, with regional area managers based around the UK who are responsible for looking after each park. A dedicated aftersales coordinator forms the important link between resident and manufacturer and is also part of the package offered to all new residents.
Commenting on the challenges that are currently facing the park home industry, Rebecca reveals that unscrupulous park operators are the biggest issue: “The tighter regulations and powers given to Local Authorities are helping to weed out those that do not operate in the interests of their residents but sadly on occasions the press attention park homes receive due to a minority of operators can be detrimental to the industry.”
Takeley Park near to Stansted Airport is Turners Parks Group’s flagship park. The parks warm and welcoming atmosphere is partly due to the very active Resident’s Association and the number of events they coordinate alongside the park manager Rebecca explains: “Takeley Park has recently been awarded Bronze David Bellamy Conservation Award due to the environmental work we have been trialling on the park – for example the introduction of bat boxes, bee hotels, wild flower planting and recycling schemes. We are aiming for a Silver award in 2016!”
The next phase of development at Takeley Park is currently underway with a small cul-de-sac of eight plots. The group is also working on plans for Twinbrook Park in Falmouth - a former holiday park - which will see the whole park developed for residential homes, with work likely to start in the summer.
Turners will also be focussing heavily on improved customer service following a programme of research conducted last year. The group will aim to offer its residents a greater level of service when it comes to reporting any issues they may find in their home or park and have this month launched a new CRM system built with this in mind.
Turners Parks Group
Tel. 01638 722232
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