This week’s exclusive interview looking at the career of a senior figure in the housebuilding industry is with Andy Fancy, managing director, North and South London, at Countryside Partnerships South, who takes us through his role and how he got there, as well as his thoughts on the industry as a career option for young people.
Please tell us a little about yourself, your role and Countryside.
I was born and raised in Oldham, Lancashire and currently now live in Hertfordshire. At the age of eight, I decided I wanted to be in construction and haven’t changed my mind since!
Construction is very much a part of our family life, having met my wife, who is a commercial development director in London, on a building site. I am a father of two and our little girl already wants to follow us into construction, looking at project management, which would be amazing to see. Our son is also now looking into a career in architecture.
As a managing director for Countryside Partnerships South, I oversee all developments in the North and South of London, from pre-planning to on-site delivery. Under my remit, I have approximately 6,000 new homes across ten sites from Brook Valley Gardens in Barnet, New Avenue in Enfield, Feature17 in Walthamstow and extending down into Kent, with Rochester Riverside, where we are delivering 1,400 new homes, a new school, hotel and 110,000 sq ft of retail.
I am responsible for the end-to-end delivery of residential developments, which includes everything from securing new work to managing the process of customers moving into their new homes. It is a hugely varied and wide-ranging role.
Our Partnerships business typically works with councils and housing associations to redevelop existing housing estates. We work in very busy residential areas and most of our developments entail rehousing existing residents into new homes.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
Never a true academic student, I chose to leave school at 16 and complete an Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) in Building Studies at Oldham Technical College. Following this, I completed a Building degree at Leeds Metropolitan University and was fortunate to secure sponsorship from Taylor Woodrow, where I gained experience working on major construction projects in London through placements with the firm.
After graduating in 1991, I wanted to see more of the world and volunteered in Borneo working on a number of community projects, including the construction of a 300-foot suspension bridge in Sarawak.
Returning to the UK, I joined Tarmac in 1996 and travelled throughout the UK, France and Spain working as a project manager on complex town centre redevelopment schemes. I cut my teeth on major construction projects, such as Woking Shopping Centre and the Extended Arm Project for the London Underground, after the King’s Cross fire disaster in 1987.
I joined Wates Group in 2000, building a new part of the business focused on the retail sector throughout the UK and Ireland, and growing this to £200m turnover. In 2012, I was made responsible for the company’s residential business in the South and then joined Countryside Partnerships South as operations director in 2015.
Working in the residential sector transforms lives and the environment in which we live; there’s nothing like it – it’s superb!
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
My old boss Steve Price taught me that it’s crucial to see things from the perspective of others and to “stand in the customer’s shoes”. This is excellent advice for all walks of life, but especially in construction. At Countryside, we strive to ensure that our teams deliver excellence for all our customers and that their journey with us is positive and truly memorable.
I’ve worked on small schemes such as Graff Diamonds on Sloane Street and The Little Ships Club in Southwark, to major residential schemes such as Oceans Estate in Stepney and St. Paul’s in Mile End. What I love about construction is that every scheme is different and has its own challenges and rewards.
What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?
Undoubtedly it is the positivity of the people that I work with and their can-do mindset that make the role what it is. I also love the huge variety – no day is the same. It’s hugely rewarding to see your ideas and hard work come to life on site and to witness the real difference that developments have on people’s lives, through transforming communities and influencing how people respond to and interact with where they live.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
Yes, there is much more opportunity for people looking to break into the industry as it is much better organised and careers are more carefully managed. Site culture has also changed. Standards are far better with safety being the number one priority – an aspect that needed addressing.
Countryside has structured training programmes across all levels and disciplines, guiding people through their training and development.
Whilst there is an array of opportunities available, success comes down to the individual. The industry has huge opportunity for personal development, but you have to be willing to reach out and take it.
As you travel around the projects you are working on, are there other jobs that you find particularly admirable?
I very much admire the role of architects. Whilst this has changed significantly over the years, creating something extraordinary from a blank piece of paper is just superb. Great architecture stands the test of time and transforms how people live, work, learn and play.
Are there roles in housebuilding that we’re in particular need of at the moment?
There is a widespread shortage of skills across the sector, for trade and management roles. Public and private sector companies in the industry must do all they can to address this and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to explore the opportunities and apprentice schemes available.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?
Most housebuilders are looking for raw talent at all levels in the industry. At Countryside we run a number of apprenticeship and graduate programmes and are committed to nurturing employees of all ages and from all walks of life.
You don’t need to start in management if you’re not that academic. A large proportion of Countryside’s project management team started their careers working on site. This equips people with key management skills, as well as the technical, communications and programming skills that they’ve learnt from hands-on experience, working on-site and as part of a team. Some of our best managers started their careers as tradespeople. It is a great way to get into the industry.
I would encourage anyone who’s even the slightest bit interested in getting involved in the industry to go onto housebuilders’ websites, explore the range of opportunities available and register their interest. Above all, my main advice is to follow your heart and go for it – this industry really does give great rewards!