In the latest of our ongoing series of interviews with senior figures in UK housebuilding, we talk to Lovell’s Justine Elliott about what she loves about her role and the career journey she has taken to achieve her success.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Lovell.
I’m 42, mum to three children. I’m based at Lovell’s Tamworth office and live pretty close by too. I love my work, no question, but I love spending time with my family and trying where possible to achieve a work-life balance. I’m a pretty keen boxer, it keeps my mind sharp! We’re going through some really exciting changes at Lovell, historically we’ve been closely aligned to the affordable sector, but this is changing. Our portfolio of developments across the UK is moving into new geographical areas and also delivering far greater numbers of homes across all sectors.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
Housebuilding is all I know. I started my career onsite, selling homes for developers such as Barratt and Fairclough Homes. From there I developed my career at Crosby Homes, part of the Berkeley Group and then also part of Lendlease, then I moved to Lovell and accepted a post on the Board in 2013.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
City centre developments always excite me. Working on iconic buildings such as Symphony Court, The Mailbox and the Orion Building in Birmingham were huge learning experiences. Equally, The Green Quarter and Potato Wharf in Manchester presented their challenges, but still incredibly rewarding. From a personal development point of view, the most humbling experience was working on a township housing project in South Africa, working for charities carrying out that work put our housing challenges in the UK into perspective.
In terms of mentors, I’ve been very privileged to work with talented people throughout my career. David Walker at Crosby Homes gave me great grounding and the confidence to progress my career; and latterly, former Lovell managing director Stewart Davenport has been my mentor for the last seven years and continues to support me in his retirement.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
That’s an easy one. Always challenge the status quo. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career to have been given the scope to make change, so I spend a lot of time listening to the team and really getting to grips with the demands we face, both locally and nationally. I’m keen to challenge the status quo particularly when it comes to delivering against the expectations of a diverse range of buyers. We don’t have all the answers, so we’re developing unique partnerships with our supply chain, most notably British Gypsum, to build homes that overcome some of the purchase barriers in the new build space. As an industry, we need to be better at putting the lifestyle needs of our buyers at the centre of our decision making and rather than treating our suppliers as a commodity base, we should be seeking their insights and embracing innovation. Building materials innovation is all around us – we just need to use it!
What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?
I’m passionate about regeneration and seeing the difference good-quality homes can make to people in all situations and budgets. Equally, I love seeing the Lovell difference in areas of the UK where we are challenging other developers. Heath Farm in Holt is a great illustration of how we’re creating change – we’re the first national homes builder to introduce innovations such as Silent Floor and super-strength plasterboard as standard – it’s those sorts of differences that make Lovell stand out.
With all the meetings and site visits you do, are their other roles and skills that you come across in the business that you find particularly admirable?
I love seeing trades at work in building our homes, some of the skills I worry are going to fade away with the ageing population of our subcontractors and the skill required in certain aspects, such as flint work. Equally, I can remember my early days in my career selling homes onsite and I always keep front-of-mind how we can support our teams carrying out that vital role. It’s so important that they feel passionate about the homes they’re selling, if you take Heath Farm as an illustration, having the ability to say to a customer “we’re the first national homes builder to use Silent Floor in our homes” gives them something tangible to talk about with a customer.
What’s your advice to those considering a career in UK housebuilding right now?
There has never been a better time to join: we have a great housing need and a skills shortage, it’s simple supply and demand. But we also have a huge opportunity to build homes that families really want to live in. We must always advance the way we build and what we build. It’s the old adage, if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got – if we want to build thousands of future-ready homes, designed for the needs of today’s modern, busy family, we must always challenge and be ready to embrace innovation when it’s presented to us.